Almost 30 South African construction sector associations and bodies have united to form an umbrella body, Construction Alliance South Africa (Casa), with the aim of speaking to government with one voice.
Casa chairperson John Matthews said on Thursday that Casa is 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.
“Its formation is also notable because it comes at a crucial time when the construction industry is leading the country’s economic recovery efforts, through the roll out of Strategic Integrated Infrastructure Projects (Sips) to revive the economy,” he said.
However, SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) CEO Webster Mfebe claims the three largest and most important structures in the construction sector were never invited or informed about the new forum.
Mfebe said these structures were Safcec, the National African Federation for the Building Industry, which is by far the biggest representative body of black contractors in South Africa, and the newly-established Black Business Federation formed from disgruntled black construction businesses.
‘Critical player’ not consulted
He 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.
“I don’t know who they [Casa] are. We were never consulted. We were never invited.
“If things are done properly, there will be proper consultation, a proper invitation and an explanation of why we have this plethora of structures.
“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. The sad thing is that some organisations are politically naive because when they see somebody talking unity, they don’t probe the real reason why the main players are not involved,” he said.
However, Matthews said Safcec has not declined to become a member of Casa and they are still busy with that process.
Matthews added that Casa’s intention is not to compete with existing associations and bodies but to complement them.
“There are always turf wars between bodies but the intention of Casa is to look beyond this and whose turf we are playing on. The intention of Casa is not to override or undermine any of those association’s mandates or their objectives. The intention is to find some commonality to be able to approach government with one voice.
“We are trying to find some common ground with Safcec. Currently we are engaging with some of their subcommittees on collaborative work and hopefully we will get them formally on board.
“But we wait and see. That is their prerogative,” he said.
Idea ‘might have merit’
Mfebe said there might be merit in establishing an umbrella body to speak on behalf of the industry with one voice but stressed that its establishment must not be done in a clandestine and hostile manner.
“You do it in a proper manner. You do not form such an organisation in opposition to and exclusion of the main player in that industry.
“To exclude the major players in the construction sector is fake unity,” he said.
Matthews said Casa’s objectives are to make the industry more inclusive, transformed, innovative and competitive.
He said the need for unity in the sector cannot be overemphasised because of the enormous challenge of rebuilding the construction industry out of the rubble of the Covid-19 pandemic and also making it more inclusive, transformed, innovative and competitive.
“The burden of Covid-19 has laid bare the need for urgency to create work opportunities, entrench fair competition and ethical business practices, eradicate the culture of fear created by Mafia-styled criminal groups, adopt innovative building technologies for productivity improvements and enable sustainable, meaningful economic participation of our people.
“These are issues that are beyond any individual or organisation,” he said.
Consulting Engineers SA CEO Chris Campbell said the establishment of Casa is “a wonderful development”.
He said the construction sector has been “in a tug of war” for far too long.
“This 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,” he said.
Campbell added that the time is ripe for the sector, under this banner, “to stop being on the menu but at the table of our infrastructure master planning”.
“The manufacturing sector has a master plan. The automotive sector has a master plan. It’s high time that we now become integral to the infrastructure master plan.
“This is the first port of call. Can we find out why government is kicking the can down the road on our infrastructure development when that is supposed to help drive our economic growth?
“We are going nowhere slowly,” he said. “It’s like a big ship that needs to leave the harbour but nobody has untied all the ropes from the berth in the port.”