Many people have their profession or vocation identified by the use of a title: Doctor, Matron, Sister, Advocate, Reverend or Father.
Further, they identify themselves by the use of the title. You will phone up and the person will answer: “Yes, it’s Father John speaking” or “Dr Soom speaking”. The titles are important – if you are in a hospital, you really want to know if you are discussing your medication options with Sister Claudia or the floor sweeper. The same is true if you hope for somebody to diagnose an illness – you would rather be talking to Dr Soom than his alter ego Mr Standloperboytjies, who is in charge of the rodent control plan, which is why he is wearing a white coat.
One would think that there would be an attempt for some of the unrecognised professions to have title recognition. For example, in West Africa, I am routinely referred to as Engineer Mackenzie Hoy (well, also C’est stupide d’Afrique du Sud) and the same would happen in Germany or Austria. But not in South Africa or England.
It would, I think, be handy for members of the public to know that they are dealing with somebody who has some qualification and, thus, having titles for an engineer or a lawyer would be convenient, I think. Or would it? One must look to what happens in any of the large commercial hospitals. They make the nursing staff wear ‘scrubs’ or the garb that they would wear when working in an operating theatre. The staff wear these even when they are in the wards where the scrubs are unnecessary. Why? This is to conceal the fact that, of the 12 or so nursing staff in the ward, only two are actually qualified nurses. The rest are nursing aids, which is to say they have a very basic qualification, if at all.
Members of the public call all of them Sister and nobody corrects them. In the same way, if we were to now insist on addressing qualified engineers as Engineer, then the result would be that the public would quickly find out how many people they deal with are, in fact, not qualified. If I meet somebody who says he or she is a qualified engineer, I will routinely check this up with the univer- sity or institution and I am often quite amazed at the bald audacity that emerges when I find that the person is not qualified. These individuals say: “Oh, I have much more experience than an engineer” or “I feel that I am an engineer.” It is hard to get the lay public to appreciate that there is a difference between a qualified person and an unqualified one – the dangers are so obscure.
If I say to the public: “Would you rather the driver of the school bus have a licence or not?” the affir- mative response is swift. If I say: “Would you rather the bus be designed by an engineer or not?” the response is less sure. If I say: “Would you rather the electrics in your building be signed off by an engineer?” the response is rather vague.
Naturally, things could get out of hand and even become cumbersome. If we took the matter to a distant point, we could end up with silly titles. I would have to call Cecile Office Manager Van der Westhuizen and Rachel Design Engineer Viljoen. (I could get away with addressing the rest of the staff as FI, which would stand for Fellow Inmate.)
Getting back to the point, I think that having the title ‘Engineer’ should apply to qualified engineers in South Africa, as much as it does in over 40 other African countries. There was an attempt to apply the title ‘Ing’ to South African engineers but this fell away. Now it is very unlikely that any of the engineering bodies will address this matter. They address so few matters that one more will certainly not be on the agenda. So we have to do it ourselves. From now on, I am going to sign my business correspondence as Eng Mackenzie Hoy, PrEng. I encourage all you engineers out there to do the same.