Mr. Levi Zulu, a consulting engineer, took time off his busy schedule to talk about his career, the construction sector and the future of civil engineering in Zambia. He served as past chairperson of the Association of Consulting Engineers in Zambia which is a member of the African Group of member associations of The International Federation of Consulting Engineers, commonly known as FIDIC (Federation Internationale Des Ingenieurs-Conseils). With a career spanning almost four decades Mr. Zulu also served as chairperson of the African Chapter of FIDIC from 2000-2003.
The association is made up of the elite of the engineering fraternity in Zambia, comprising about 30 firms. Making the cut is no mean feat. One has to have practised as an engineer for at least ten years and will usually assume individual membership by virtue belonging to a member firm. One of the main functions of the association is to govern the professional conduct of its members. They are technical advisors to project promoters, right from determining whether a project is feasible or not, to designing infrastructure, giving specifications as to how it should be built and finally overseeing the construction of that particular project. Consulting engineers consequently carry a lot of responsibility on behalf of their clients including professional liability. All members have to carry indemnity and conduct themselves well. Consulting engineers are members of the Engineering Institution of Zambia and fall under Engineering Institution of Zambia Act but have their own constitution.
On the potential for growth of the construction sector; “we are going to continue to improve our infrastructure in terms of the road network because we are getting more and more interconnected in the way we are performing as a country either in terms of agriculture or tourism or just connectivity.” The future is bright in as far as the infrastructure sector of roads is concerned. There’s a huge demand for the improvement of lives supported by water and sanitation, an area that remains untapped. Going forward, the energy sector is likely to take centre stage because it drives other aspects of development. Energy could be either hydro energy or solar energy. The consulting engineer will continue to be at the centre of it by being alive to new technologies and just changing the way things are done in order not to be swept away by the tide of change. The government being the biggest promoter of projects should be a very close partner to consulting engineers. A partnership already exists but it should be stronger. Many people have rightly said that Zambia is a construction site. Construction and the activities surrounding it is currently contributing significantly to the gross domestic product of the country.
There is however, a glaring need for a new crop of young engineers. A number of engineers after being trained are being employed in the banking sector. This could be attributed to their analytical thinking skills. A gap has also been identified in craftsmen. Formal training by engineers could help to mitigate the problem.
It goes without saying that there comes a stage where the engineer has blend engineering into the corporate world because a business has to be run. The two have to be balanced carefully. Sitting on various boards and serving as the chairperson of various corporate bodies has allowed a healthy interaction with other professionals and has helped him improve on the day to day running of his firm. To look at him today one would hardly think hr had such a humble background.
A former ‘village boy’ as he refers to himself, Mr. Zulu was raised in Nyimba district of the Eastern Province of Zambia where he spent his childhood. Herding cattle in the 60s he had no idea that many years later he would have a seat at the table with the ‘big boys’ or even that such a table existed. After scoring very well in the grade seven national examinations he was selected to enrol at Munali Secondary School in 1969. Mr. Zulu recalls how coming to Lusaka for the first time he was mesmerised by the lights and the buildings of the capital city. Having lost his mother at a young age he became the ward of his maternal aunt who with her son had a positive influence on him. The motivation to work hard at school came from that cousin whom he would visit at the University of Zambia. The love of engineering was sparked by the desire to create something out of nothing and was likely nurtured by his older cousin who went onto become a mining engineer. Civil engineering in particular attracted him because of the tangible impact that he wanted to be part of. “I could see things that weren’t there before. There was no road before and now there’s a road.” The prospects of being able to contribute to society in such a way were very appealing to his intellect.
Our lunch was hosted by Hussar Grill at Lusaka’s Eastpark Mall. The original Hussar Grill in Cape Town South Africa opened in 1964 and the Zambian Grill opened in 2105. The steakhouse serves only the finest Class-A-beef for its legendary beef cuts. The menu is quite diverse and offers fresh seafood and poultry aside from it’s signature steaks. A wide range of wines and spirits is also available to accompany a meal. Tucked away in the corner of a shopping mall the restaurant provides the perfect environment to dine.
One the menu for the day was lemon butter kingclip served with butternut with creamed spinach accompanied by fruit juice.
His encouragement to any young (or not so young) people aspiring to be an engineer is that there is never a dull moment. The rewards of making an impact in peoples lives goes beyond the monetary. It’s very fulfilling to see people enjoying a nice drive on a good road and knowing you had something to do with it. People enjoying life at a shopping mall is another example of the satisfaction that comes from making a difference in people’s lives. A sense of duty to care for human life is assumed. An honest opinion and word of caution to young would-be entrepreneurs is that they shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to venture out alone. The importance of getting hands on experience to put theory into practice cannot be over emphasized. Similarly, the need to have personal life skills and financial discipline are essential in succeeding in the corporate world. There are no short cuts to success. “Life is about building a strong foundation and building upon it.” Having mentored and nurtured a number of engineers his heart is gladdened when he sees them mature in both their professional and personal lives.
The secret to this humble man’s success is no secret at all. From the time he became a Christian as a teenager his life has been governed by his faith. While he enjoys watching soccer and reading, most of his time out of the office is spent either at church or with family.
His parting words were that “is very possible for a kid to come from looking after cows to become a consulting engineer. It is possible.”