AllyCAD Showcase

Overcoming Botswana hurdles


Doug Horton said that the art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity. Take a simple piece of flat earth like Botswana, and try and solve the complex puzzle of making water run - in any direction. Richard Laborn relishes solving these problems, which he faces daily.

Richard first got a Higher Diploma in Civil Engineering, worked for three years, and then went back to UCT for a further two years before finally obtaining his B.SC Engineering.

How has this interesting education process helped him? "It helped me to develop a better vision of what I can become, and what my purpose is. I still believe that the degree is the better qualification to have. You don't just apply an equation, you know where it is coming from and what it means," he says, serious for a moment.

"I was employable immediately after my degree because of my work experience and my diploma. Lots of so-called work experience while studying is really not worth much. "I was very fortunate, however, I always seemed to land the big projects - a double-arch concrete dam, for example - so once I qualified with my T4 I was nominated to be the ARE on a big roads project for two and a half years."

"A lot of opportunities came my way. I made sure I took them and I made the right choices. I love my job, I really do, and I wanted to mix in the bigger picture, so I needed to be adequately qualified," he says passionately.

Landing in Botswana came about through the same decision-making process. "I liked working on big projects, and knew that I would have more chance of doing the kind of work I wanted if I was in Gaberone. I took over a job as soon as I got here, and was then made a Resident Engineer. The RE qualification is one that clients investigate; they want to know who is managing their project," he says proudly.

In pure civil engineering projects there are no project managers. "The RE has to look after everything, including the finances. You need to have vision and experience to run these jobs; it's a very important job today."

The two biggest problems for engineers in Botswana are existing services and the topography. The existing services problem has its roots in a well-intentioned desire to deliver services to the people. "Things happen so quickly here, a sort of 'get the services in, and we'll fix it later' attitude. So whoever was first, telecom, power or water, just went ahead and put in the service. There was little or no forward planning."

A typical scenario sees a track winding its way through a little village. "Then the village grows and the track becomes a road, and the existing services are in the way. And because it's so flat, you can't just drop your invert level and say 'I'm going under those cables'. You find that you will never see daylight again."
  Being so flat, the terrain creates all sorts of problems for the engineer. "The layer work here assumes critical proportions; if you make a slight change, you could find your road nose diving into a cut," he says with a chuckle.

Because of the 'flat slopes,' large culverts are the order of the day. "You have to increase the pipe culvert to carry the required capacity, so you can't go over or under cables. You also sit with silting problems. And of course the services run randomly," he says, exasperated.

"The only way to solve these problems is to look at them as a puzzle and do a lot of hard work. Take each problem as you find it. The contract surveyor is a very important person here. Because of the flat terrain, even 50mm matters sometimes."

"Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. We have just had a project where the sewer line was going right through the project site. Only when you go on site can you see why. If they had stayed on the road reserve, they would have hit a rock outcrop. So they just detoured the line through what was then an unproclaimed piece of land, around the rock outcrop, and didn't tell anyone of the change. Fortunately, we were able to make that area of the project a parking area; that's a 400mm sewer line under there," he says, shaking his head at the thought.

"If you are lucky enough to get a green-fields job, you don't have those problems; just the lack of any slope. You scratch and scrape each and every level. You become meticulous about levels. It's a continuous trade-off between pipe size and levels, and it's tough, the yellow machines are behind you all the time."

"Claims are another major aspect of projects. Here we budget about 10-15% of project value for solving problems caused by unknown existing services."

Civil Designer and AllyCAD are good programmes to use, because here you have to work in small sections, keeping a very close eye on levels."

Richard has been in Gaberone for over 5 years and still loves getting up for work every day. "I have good relationship with our clients now, and I get on really well with the City Engineer. Here at Bergstan, we have more than 200 years of Botswana experience, and I am part of a good team, so for me the exposure is good."

Malcolm X, the famous American activist was emphatic, "Without education, you're not going anywhere in this world." Richard Laborn is living proof of that maxim.

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