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New construction sector umbrella body aims to speak with one voice

But its establishment is described as a ‘hostile takeover’ because the three largest sector bodies have been excluded.
The alliance may have spoken too soon but says it hopes to get Safcec ‘formally on board’. Image: Shutterstock

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.

Read: Building the post-Covid SA calls for greater vigour

Turf wars

“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.

Read: Covid-19 impact on construction sector will be ‘catastrophic’

“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.”

Read: Government’s credibility issues are affecting the civil construction sector

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Construction in this country is dead.
The government might have all these grandiose dreams of smart cities and infrastructure spends but the reality is they cannot even afford to buy a vaccine !!

Yes, they can afford the vaccine, it’s simple, it takes time to work out exactly how the grafting and creaming of such a momentous deal will eb managed. Bbesides we need to avoid the future costs of another Zondo type commission where the current perpetrators are doing the lessons learned thing form the old school boys.
On the other hand, questions could be asked if there is a plan in place for logistics around distribution, storage and proper priority selection as to what tribe gets the first batch.
Suspect, rather like Trump Admin, there was no plan in place never in in action.

Unfortunately on this continent there is no me CASA sua CASA, construction sector is flawed by natural flaws of zero vision going forward on which the industry depends on. From idea or recognising the need for a project to practical completion of the same project might takes as long as a political mandate. That does not work for those wanting and living off heavy pockets now.
Again I raise my regular flag, forget commenting in what state the construction industry is in, simply look in the political mirror and it’s a perfect copy/paste image.

The industry has been under pressure for years now. Delays of payments in the public sector killed cash flow. Projects are planned and approved and then then cancelled or postponed creating uncertainty . The “mafia “style behavior of the residents postpone completions and add further pressure to cash flow. The entire construction industry became non-attractive and there is a chain reaction right through to the architecture and QS sector. Promises of mega projects do not materialise and created false hope. The Government should establish an urgent high profile sector of people with know-how and without a political agenda to resolve and create a clear priority plan for the next 5 years by sector . Do away with public works and establish a solid provincial / municipality sector with the private sector.

It is not possible for the creation of a body that represents most of the industry to be created in a “clandestine” manner.

It sounds like Mr. Mfebe has some sort of personal are to grind. This is an exciting development for the industry.

End of comments.

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