HARD TIMES

John Matthews, President, Master Builders South Africa

It seems things couldn’t get a lot worse than the Executive Director of an industry’s representative body having to remind Government that its bad payment record has contributed to a huge financial problem, and plead for an intervention to prevent “further destruction of the industry”. It’s true though, and we have all been aware of this for a very long time. Private clients are also not blameless.
As a result, five major building companies have succumbed to fatal financial losses in less than a year and for an industry that employs 11% of the South African workforce, its plight is quite correctly described as a national crisis.
It’s all in your SA Builder magazine this month, so it’s not helpful for me to labour the point.
What is just as disturbing, however, is that a struggling industry should now find itself under threat from criminal gangs intent on disrupting projects estimated to have a total value of R25.5 billion. Claiming to want a slice of the pie, the invading offenders then proceed to damage or destroy the work being done and send the professionals and artisans fleeing for their lives – 110 of them are reported to have actually left the country.
The results have been bad. Foreign investors in infrastructural projects have withdrawn and projects have been halted.
There’s no doubt that in both instances, it’s the government’s task to rectify the wrong. Sure, contractors can employ heavy security to keep projects safe and reassurances can be given to foreign investors that the invasions will stop as a result, but how is this a way to build our country’s vitally needed infrastructure? Are we to believe that criminal activity has become the norm at all levels of civil society? I personally don’t believe that – and put it down to poorly applied, probably badly-trained, law-enforcement, combined with poverty-driven criminal desperation.
This does paint an awful picture and nobody could be more regretful than I am in having to make it the subject of my contribution to our industry magazine. I pray for the day when our hard-won skills, tireless work, diligence, honesty, integrity and plain downright decency win out in the end.
I must however not let the gloom overshadow a remarkable achievement by one of our number, Stefanutti Stocks Building KZN who up to 31 January this year had worked 3 031 818 hours without a lost time injury over a period of 58 months. This is highly commendable and even more so in an industry like ours where the potential for harm is high, considering the workforce numbers, machinery and materials involved. The company puts the achievement down to management commitment and a very stringent occupational health and safety regimen.
Congratulations to this admirable member of our industry whose achievement stands as a benchmark and objective in respect of safety for all of us.
It’s news like this that gives us the motivation to forge ahead in difficult times.

All the best to all of you.

John

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