The establishment of a new construction sector umbrella body, the Construction Alliance South Africa (Casa), has been labelled an “act of opportunism and tenderpreneurship”.
Casa, an umbrella body of 29 South African construction sector associations, was officially launched last week.
The National African Federation for the Building Industry (Nafbi) and Black Business Federation (BBF) have added their voices to criticism by the SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) about Casa’s establishment.
Nafbi national president Aubrey Tshalata said on Tuesday the establishment of Casa is an act of opportunism to hijack a noble ideal in the industry to elevate individuals to positions and position themselves for state tenders.
Tshalata said a number of large representative industry associations, including Safcec, Nafbi, the National Black Contractors and Allied Trades Forum (Nabcat) and many others, have been deliberately excluded.
‘Flawed and without credibility’
“This renders the Casa process flawed and without credibility and, in our view, it [Casa] will not serve the agenda of transformation, growth and development of the sector, black economic empowerment, SMME development, rural and township economic development and youth and women empowerment,” he said.
However, Tshalata said Nafbi will participate in Casa if “a credible process is established, we are invited and Casa is inclusive and transparent”.
Tshalata said however that the primary focus of Casa seems to be to rush and present their names to the Presidency and the Department of Public Works as leaders of the sector so that they may be co-opted to drive the infrastructure recovery plan.
“These tenderpreneurship, opportunistic acts undermine a genuine industry growth and development agenda,” he said.
“The Minister of Public Works is being lobbied to support an agenda of individuals in the name of the sector.”
Tshalata said the group that “now purports to be the sector” are in fact members of the defunct Covid-19 Rapid Response Task Team, which tried to compete with the Public-Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) and failed and has now resurfaced as Casa.
“Nafbi rejects acts of opportunism and tenderpreneurship and calls for a genuine industry process to unite the sector.
“We warn the Department of Public Works and the Presidency [Infrastructure Recovery Team] not to be misled and be used to create havoc in our sector, which may taint the infrastructure recovery plan,” he said.
Robert Ndlela, secretary-general of the BBF, formerly known as the Federation for Radical Economic Transformation, said it views the formation of Casa as “yet another effort to further exclude black industry players”.
“The attitude of the individuals involved with the formation of this alliance will make it even harder for the construction industry to enjoy true unity, growth and competitiveness our economy needs,” he said.
Actions speak louder than words
Ndlela said the exclusion of key construction industry players, such as the BBF, Safcec and other key players in such initiatives, “proves that the motive is never to unite the industry but to strategically position the interests of individual players at the expense of unity and majority sidelined players”.
“We hope our government is not going to entertain this ‘national umbrella body’ as a true solution to the challenges facing the construction industry. However, we call upon government to initiate a fair process that will bring all key players around the table,” he said.
Safcec CEO Webster Mfebe said last week the three most important structures in the construction sector – Safcec, Nafbi and BBF – were never invited or informed about the new forum.
Mfebe said Safcec is the “critical player” in the construction sector in that it constitutes 70% of the sector and has the biggest investors in terms of capital expenditure in construction assets and skills development.
“To exclude the main players in the industry, I regard as a hostile takeover of the industry so that we are dictated to by people who have got nothing to do with construction sites.
“It is not about unity, it’s about creating positions for certain individuals in the industry,” he said.
Casa chair John Matthews said during its launch that Casa is a voluntary organisation, organisations were not specifically invited to join it, and any construction sector organisation could join Casa by signing its memorandum of association.
Matthews claimed Casa was a product of “the collective effort of the entire construction industry in South Africa” and its formation is a historic moment with far-reaching effects that will transform, grow and improve the industry.
He added that Casa’s intention is not to compete with existing associations and bodies but to complement them to make the industry more inclusive, transformed, innovative and competitive.
‘Beyond’ turf wars
“There are always turf wars between bodies but the intention of Casa is to look beyond this. The intention is to find some commonality to be able to approach government with one voice,” he said.
Matthews claimed Casa was trying to find some common ground with Safcec but Mfebe countered that Safcec was never consulted or invited.
Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Chris Campbell alluded during the launch to the tension between some construction industry entities.
Campbell said the construction sector has been “in a tug of war” for far too long and the establishment of Casa provides a unique opportunity to get government to know “who we are because I think they get confused about ‘who is who in the zoo’ and this struggle for dominance and identity should now come to some kind of balance.”