The South African Institution Of Civil Engineering
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AQUALIBRIUM – changing learners’ lives one water competition at a time!

The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) has just had their 13th annual Schools Water Competition. What started as a South African competition where learners had to design, build and operate a water distribution system, exactly the same way qualified civil engineers would do in a municipality, has over the past two years become international with Swaziland and Zimbabwe also participating.

Very few interventions or career days have the advantage of practically illustrating what a career is all about. The finals of AQUALIBRIUM, the SAICE Schools Water Competition 2016, took place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg on Friday 29 July 2016. This is an adventure that everybody remembers once they had been there to experience the excitement first-hand!

The 2016 winners, for the second consecutive year, was Hoërskool Diamantveld from Kimberley with team members Paul Henri, Zander Boshoff and Alecia Brits, with only 19 penalty points. The second place went to Hoërskool Oos-Moot in Pretoria, with team members Stefan Beukes, Ruhan Potgieter and WP Struweg with 30 penalty points. In the joint third spot was the Fundukuwela High School team from Swaziland and Domino Servite School from Pietermaritzburg with 40 penalty points. The Swaziland team consisted of Sanele Malindza, Buhle Malinga and Bonsile Msibi, and Domino Servite’s team was Ndumiso Dumakude, Sphesile Nzama and Sehliselwe Hlonga. In total the winners shared prize-money of more than R23 000-00.

Regional winners came from as far as Bloemfontein, East London, Harrismith, Kimberley, Malmesbury, Pietermaritzburg, and Richards Bay, to combat the teams from Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as the national winning team from Swaziland and Zimbabwe! Many of the teams were flown to Johannesburg and accommodated in a four-star hotel ― an experience that these young people, and some of the educators will never forget! For most, this was a first encounter with the ‘big city’. Without the sponsorships of Rand Water, AECOM, the Water Research Commission, Mhlatuze Water, Bosch Stemele, EWSETA and DPI Plastics, this would not have been possible.

This competition affords learners the opportunity of planning, designing, constructing and operating a water distribution network and they encounter all the same challenges that occur in real-life situations!

The 2015 finalists’ team from the Winnie Mandela Secondary School in Ivory Park, Midrand, are all (three) currently studying civil engineering at the University of Pretoria! Phomolong Secondary School in Tembisa, a really disadvantaged school where 80% of parents are jobless, has already delivered four civil engineers from the Universities of Cape Town and WITS! Currently the three winners of 2014 are studying civil engineering at the University of Stellenbosch – because of this competition! How does one put a value to a competition that has led to so many learners, especially from rural areas and townships, studying civil engineering and which, at the same time, makes a difference to the priority scarce skills situation and the lives of many people!

The competition
Water distribution systems are important to supply safe and clean drinking water to people. The teams are tasked to design a model water distribution network to distribute three litres of water equally between three points on the grid using two different diameter pipes and connection pieces. They are then judged on how well they execute the task – working on a penalty points system. The teams have a period of about an hour in which to plan, design, build and operate their network.

This competition exposes learners to the practical application of processes that influence their daily lives, which is how water gets to their homes. They are made aware of the intricacies involved in the design of water distribution networks and the actual water delivery to households.
The grid used for the water distribution network is on a background that depicts the entire water cycle with all the major impacts affecting this scarce resource. This grid intrigues learners, as well as educators, who find it a very useful educational tool.

The competition creates awareness regarding the issues surrounding water in South Africa. It spreads the message that water is a precious commodity, which should be recycled, re-used and respected, while the use of water should be reduced. Through this annual competition SAICE takes the responsibility of spreading the news that water should be used wisely, that infrastructure should be maintained and that new infrastructure should be developed to provide potable water to all in South Africa.

In two consecutive years (2012/13 and 2013/14) the AQUALIBRIUM initiative had the honour of being chosen as one of four finalists in the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Awards, the oldest and most prestigious in South Africa, in the category where an individual or team is recognised for their outstanding contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) through science communication and through creating science awareness.

AQUALIBRIUM strengthens government’s initiatives aimed at encouraging learners to take Mathematics and Science at school and to follow a career as a science or civil engineering practitioner. Only in this way can we assure that the quality of life of all South Africans will be better in future!

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