SEASON OF CONTRASTS

SEASON OF CONTRASTS

It’s a time of year when exactly what we should be focusing on is not immediately apparent. We’re still stuck with the same preoccupations that we carried over from 2018 – none of them in any way inspiring. This year has brought little by way of solutions.

But now we have begun to pass through a season of other essential things, like conferences and award ceremonies. Our own conference was a stimulating event and I hope we’re still somewhat revved up by the resolves we all made there in a spirit of renewal.

John Matthews, President, Master Builders South Africa

There are also some ironies like the KZN 2019 Awards for Excellence in Construction and the SAISC Steel Awards 2019 this month in counterpoint to the news that companies in the steel industry have reported 10 000 jobs lost in the past five years due to a number of negative factors that don’t seem to have any prospect of going away. Like cheap steel imports at below the cost of local production, and very low demand. This was underlined by the announcement of the voluntary liquidation of downstream steel supplier Robor. 

Paolo Trinchero, CEO of the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction is reported as saying that the job losses have been predominantly suffered by employees of only five or six companies. That more retrenchments are planned is not really news, as the steel industry has been in decline since 2014. By now, it may have passed its tipping point, is an opinion he’s put on record. 

Another irony, related to the woes of the steel industry (not the only one to offer bad news) is that President Ramaphosa’s controversial speech of dreams that envisaged a new smart city and bullet train for South Africa at the start of the year, could be the way to go.

Quoted in the Daily Maverick, Trinchero says: ‘What the sector needs is positive sentiment and engineering projects it can get its teeth into. But how do you do this when there is no strength on the balance sheets of state-owned enterprises? You build a bullet train to Durban, Cape Town and Harare; expand the Gautrain; get trucks off the roads. Government will not need to finance this, it will have to facilitate the process, but then it can step out of the way. What we need is leadership that dreams.’ He is yet to explain this in detail.

And the outlook for yet another sector looks bleak with the announcement that the Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA) is preparing to enter dormancy.

According to an Engineering News report, ITC-SA General Manager Amanda Obbes says the resolution comes as a major blow, not only to the Institute as a critical and essential custodian of the sector, but to its members who deliver world-class timber constructionroofing and decking. ‘Without an entity enforcing high standards and protecting the consumer, the future of quality timber roofing and construction in South Africa is uncertain,’ she says.

So, it’s not really surprising that the FNB/BER building confidence index during the third quarter of this year stood at what was reported to be a 20-year low of 22, from 29 in the second quarter, indicating that close to 80% of respondents are dissatisfied with prevailing business conditions.

That probably sums it up.

John

Hard-Hitting Master Builders South Africa Congress 2019 Sets The Scene for Re-construction Of The Construction Sector

Hard-Hitting Master Builders South Africa Congress 2019 Sets The Scene for Re-construction Of The Construction Sector

Emperor’s Palace, Johannesburg, 9 September 2019

In what is arguably the most robust construction-related events in recent history, the Master Builders South Africa Congress pulled no punches in presenting the dire state of the construction industry and trying to find solutions to help struggling contractors and to revive the sector.

The panel discussions often became somewhat passionate and heated, and the presence of bodies such as the Federation for Radical Economic Transformation (FRET) certainly surprised the audience. However, the Congress resulted in concrete resolutions being formulated on how the industry will work together in resolving complex matters such as the sensitive issue of transformation in the industry, and how to tackle the culture of late and non-payment of contractors by the state and state-agencies.

The event was well attended by some 210 delegates representing all facets of the construction and related industries, including the full staff complement and office bearers of Master Builders South Africa – as well as a number of its Past Presidents; Master Builders Associations from all regions of the country; Directors of Government Departments; the South African Police service (SAPS); the SA Reserve Bank; the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC); the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB); the National Federation for Building Industry; the Forum for Radical Economic Transformation; various industry Sector Charter Councils; the Black Business Council in the Built Environment (BBC-BE); the SA Association of Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS); the SA Property Association (SAPOA); the National Union of Mine Workers; the Construction Education Training Authority (CETA); the Joint Building Contracts Committee (JBCC); National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC); the Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM), amongst others.

Setting the scene in his opening address the President of MBSA John Matthews, noted that such forums were critical to break the log jam inhibiting the growth of the construction sector and the economy. “The show must go on,” he said. “It is our collective responsibility to heed the call to continue to seek solutions.”

The keynote speaker, Mr Choeu Makabate of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Centre for Applied Research and Innovation in the Built Environment (CARINBE) of the University of Johannesburg, presented his report on “The Collapse Of Construction Companies In South Africa And Implications For The Sector” which was commissioned by MBSA.

Makabate noted that contributing factors include inter alia: late or non-payment of contractors resulting in their inability to pay suppliers and subcontractors and the misinterpretation of pieces of legislation which resulted in the emergence of Community Business Forums – commonly known as the “construction mafia”. Other factors cited included the economic decline experience since 2018 which has resulted in a negative impact on infrastructure investment; the reduction in infrastructure spending post-2010; and corruption in the public and private sectors. These challenges had in-part, resulted in the liquidation of major construction companies in South Africa, and negatively affected emerging contractors’ sustainability.

[The full report will soon be available online at www.sabuilder.co.za]

The Resolutions of MBSA Congress 2019 were summarised by MBSA Vice-President, Vic Naidoo as follows:

1. Re-model Construction Industry Procurement System;

2. Aim to re-establish trust (between all parties – contractors/professional teams/clients);

3. Engage with all legitimate role players such as industry bodies and forums, including the Forum for Radical Economic Transformation;

4. Look at role of “implementing agents”. Engage closely with National Department of Public Works (NDPW) – raised by the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS);

5. Evaluate and review the tender framework, including training requirements;

6. Engage CIDB on 30% set aside for SMMEs, designated groups (Some felt the CIDB’s draft standard on issue should simply be scrapped).

7. Look into circumstances to claim Force Majeure provided in the JBCC Principal Building Agreement

8. Consider the effect on the building industry with property developers’ preference to invest in countries other than RSA.

The MBSA Annual General Meeting, a closed session, followed the Congress formalities. Here John Matthews and Vic Naidoo were both re-elected for their second terms as President and Vice-President respectively.

The Master Builders banquet followed in the evening – the highlight of which was the announcement of the winners of the National Safety Competition, in which the overall winner of Category I for projects of over R750 million was the River Creek Deloitte project currently under construction by WBHO.

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Construction industry urged to recommit to Code of Good Practice to solve current challenges

Construction industry urged to recommit to Code of Good Practice to solve current challenges

A group of construction industry stakeholders has urged the industry to return to basics in order to overcome its current challenges successfully. The call was made at a stakeholder meeting initiated by Master Builders Association North, as mandated by a recent sub-contractors’ committee meeting.

 

The stakeholder meeting consisted of Master Builders South Africa, represented by Mr Roy Mnisi, MBA North, represented by Mr Mohau Mphomela, the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA), represented by Mr Neil Gopal, and the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS), represented by Mr Yunus Bayat.

“It’s no secret that the construction industry is in crisis, with several of the leading companies either liquidated or in business rescue – clearly there is a need for a period of self-examination,” says Mohau Mphomela, MBA North Executive Director. “It’s essential we overcome our challenges not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the country: construction remains one of the biggest potential creators of jobs. According to Statistics SA’s recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey, the sector still accounted for 24 000 jobs and contributed to the modest growth in the number of employed people.”

One of the key issues identified at the meeting is the established practice of making unauthorised amendments to Joint Building Contracts Committee (JBCC) and Master Builders South Africa contract documents. These standard documents are designed to simplify the administration of construction contracts, implement best practices and industry standards, and spread risk equitably across the construction value chain. They represent the consensus view of all industry stakeholders, and build on the accumulated experience and wisdom of these bodies, which are co-signatories of the contracts.

Mr Mphomela says that the practice of amending JBCC and other Built environment contracts to, for example, insert conditions such as “pay-when-paid” puts all players in the value chain at risk. Such practices contribute greatly to the industry’s malaise.

“JBCC and Master Builders contracts are designed to create a fair and standardised business environment, and to ensure that all parties are protected. Amending them is not only bad business practice in the long run, it is illegal,” he notes. “We are seeing the results around us. Unauthorised amendments to these documents, especially payment clauses, should be immediately flagged and reported to the Master Builder Regional Associations, ASAQS and SAPOA.”

Adopting the “pay-when-paid” principle often means, for example, that smaller contractors get paid late or not at all. Most cannot deal with unpredictable cash flows and are forced to shed staff or even go out of business.

Tender procedures were also identified as cause for concern. Although public tenders are by law required to be transparent, this is not enforced. The meeting called for all public tenders to be open to ensure transparency. Conversely, there is no regulation regarding the transparency of private tenders, and therefore no requirement for reporting on why contracts are awarded to particular contractors. In an open market system, contractors are advised to be careful of entering into contracts that expose their companies to low or no margins.

“The various professional and industry organisations all have codes of good practice that spell out the standards expected of their members. If the industry recommits to following these codes and acting ethically, many of these challenges will be reduced,” Mr Mphomela concludes.

THE FAT LADY HAS YET TO SING

It’s been a waiting game, these past few months, and the opera ain’t over yet. Most of the waiting has been for results that would largely be out of our control, both as individuals and as industries that rely on positive conditions in our economic environment so we can do our best work.

First we waited for the national and provincial elections, anticipated with great apprehension against a background of nine years of poor governance and collapsing infrastructure. Our hope was that when the country voted, it would choose to back regeneration. And in a way, many people that voted the ruling party back into power, did decide to support what they believed would be a changed, recharged, repentant environment under new leadership.

John Matthews, President, Master Builders South Africa

Whether that decision, albeit tentative, considering the lower percentages both in voting numbers and margins, will be rewarded with prompt, real, valuable change, remains to be seen. So we wait some more.

As responsible South Africans with the interests of our country paramount in our minds, most of us would be satisfied with an assurance of integrity and competence in the day-to-day business of the country. Most of us would be happy if South Africa was again seen by the foreign community as a place where investment was safe, where land could be bought without fear of loss, and immigrants could find a new haven, where their skills would be valued.

But most of all we crave a time when our citizens at all economic levels receive a fair deal in line with their efforts and entitlement. A time when hard work and acquired skills will result in real rewards and due respect.

This might sound idyllic - but South Africa is one of the countries of the world where such time-honoured ambitions are achievable. We have come through huge changes already, proving that willingness exists. That this odyssey reached a stumbling block was not surprising. In all societies, there will be factions whose goals are at odds with the grand plan for collective harmony. The real strength of a country’s backbone lies in its ability to recognise disruptive forces and mitigate their negative effect.

In looking for motivation in what seemed very dark times in the most recent past, I listened out for a voice of reason, with a positive message for our dilemma. I didn’t find it among the plethora of political analysts and forecasters, but in fact in the heart of media – itself now under siege from many quarters that would for particular reasons want to cause harm to journalists.

On May 14, Branko Brkic, founder, publisher and editor of The Daily Maverick, one of South Africa’s most reliable news and opinion platforms, wrote that the internal political divisions may soon slip into our daily lives and into the streets. He said South Africa was now a brutally divided country and its ruling party even more so and there would be no stability until this struggle had a measurable, clear outcome.

“If we are to stand a chance of making it to the other side, we must redefine the very idea of responsible citizenry and our duties to prevent another lost decade, or even a lost generation,” he wrote.

His words struck a chord. He was saying that the fate of South Africa lies in the hands of its citizenry and not in political figures. The unity of the country lies in alliances forged with mutual understanding between thoughtful individuals – in homes and business, on the streets and in the communities, not in fiery political rhetoric and rallies that stir up people’s negative responses.

I think he’s right. But still we wait.

John

UNITY AND FREEDOM

UNITY AND FREEDOM

When one considers the age of the various Master Builder South Africa (MBSA) member associations in South Africa (the oldest being Master Builders Association – Western Cape which clocked up 128 this year) we can be justifiably proud of an institution that has survived major economic and political fluctuations and remained the solid core of one of our country’s most vital industries.

John Matthews, President, Master Builders South Africa

MBSA’s nine members and three affiliates are autonomous, but all are united in their loyalty to the national body that flies the flag for the entire country’s construction community.

This year, our colleagues in the north will place yet another major milestone in the annals of our industry when they celebrate the 115th anniversary of what over the years, has become a conglomerate of four regions, now known as Master Builders Association North (MBA North).

MBA North resulted from a merger in 1996 of the Pretoria Master Builders Association (founded in 1903) and the Johannesburg Master Builders (formally constituted in 1904). It was called the Gauteng Master Builders Association (GMBA) until 2012, when it was given its current name incorporating four regions – Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

The unification of MBA North could be seen as a broad analogy for an ideal civil society, where like-minded groups are drawn together because of their commonality of purpose, and then consolidate their alliance for mutual benefit. It is a model collaboration – a constructive interaction for shared advantage, and a system that could broadly be applied across South Africa, to create the greater security and social union that we all need.

But, while all South Africans have doubts and apprehensions, we are no more unsure of the future than millions of our global compatriots. On a massive scale, whole nations are in complete ruin and others rock on the edge of disaster, held hostage by political battles for supremacy. The common thread in all this chaos is disunity. Even peace summits and ceasefires are characterised by threats and demands that have little to do with harmony but rather more with domination.

On May 8, we South Africans will again be faced with the decision about who should lead our country. For many the decision is easy – some traditionalists will stick with what they have come to think of as the only option, while others will have no trouble voting against what they may consider a failed leadership. Those whose concern is with unity may be more challenged for options.

But as a nation that advocates freedom, we are fortunate to still have a choice. The choice to cherish, protect and uphold, at all cost.

John

Master Builders calls for urgent government intervention to save the Construction industry

Master Builders calls for urgent government intervention to save the Construction industry

Master Builders South Africa is calling for urgent government intervention to prevent further destruction of the construction industry in the country. The call follows Group Five’s filing for bankruptcy protection last week, the fifth major construction company to do so in less than a year. Roy Mnisi, Executive Director of Master Builders expressed deep concern on the matter. “This is the fifth large firm to succumb in less than a year. In 2018 alone, NMC Construction went into voluntary liquidation while Basil Read, Esor Construction and Liviero Group applied for business rescue. We still have many other small-medium sized firms facing financial difficulties and yet, there has not been any government-industry engagement to develop a plan to halt the trend.”

Roy Mnisi, Executive Director: Master Builders South Africa

According to Mnisi, the industry has continually engaged government on the adverse impact of late/non-payment of contractors for work completed but the matter remains unresolved. “The decline has reached a very concerning level, so much that it is no longer a sectoral problem but a national crisis. We appeal to the government to open up to the industry and urgently find concomitant solutions to save it from a total collapse”.

He however, acknowledged that there were other factors instrumental to the demise of the industry. These include a sluggish economy, reduction in ‘actual’ infrastructure spending by the government, as well as illegal and often violent work-stoppages at construction sites by various illegal forums.

The adverse impact of these company closures were severe, he noted. “The short-term effect is that direct employees of these collapsed companies lose their jobs. When you consider that the construction industry employs more than 11% of the workforce in South Africa, the negative impact on the economy as a whole is dire. There is also a knock-on effect across the industry because subcontractors, suppliers and service providers are equally affected.”

“In the long-term, we will lose our capacity to develop infrastructure and will have to depend on foreign companies in the future. That is why we are appealing to the government for engagement” Mnisi concluded.

Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) is a Federation of registered employer Associations representing contractors and employers in the construction industry, and is regulated in terms of Section 107 of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995. The Federation’s nine Master Builders Associations, and three Affiliate Associations represent more than 4000 contractors and employers in the industry.

BUILDING STRONG CHILDREN

BUILDING STRONG CHILDREN

If you’re looking for predictions about where South Africa is going in 2019, you’re spoilt for choice. Mainstream and social media, as well as informal opinion platforms are full of experts happy to offload their views – many of them negative. It’s a doomsday theorist’s delight, and it can be very destructive.

John Matthews, President – Master Builders South Africa

Many of the problems revolve around Government’s apparent reluctance to deal with the fallout from the country’s nearly decade-long economic calamity – and the inadequate retribution, if any, for offenders.

Frustration is not unwarranted, but there are glimmers of light that many of us either don’t trust, or fail to see. To move on from the major roadblock we have experienced is going to need a very positive attitude and some belief that what is being done right now, is as good as it can be for the time.

There is a strongly-held opinion that after the May elections some really effective changes will be made when Cyril Ramaphosa, and those in his Cabinet who support him, feel more secure in their position. There’s a hint of those changes in some of the President’s moves to repair historic damage during 2018. According to Media24, Citadel economist Maarten Ackerman believes that government will be enabled to concentrate on the business of governing when it “receives a solid mandate from voters”.

And on a positive note, the trade publication SA Commercial Prop News reports that SA’s REIT sector is expected to produce double-digit total returns for investors this year. Confidence that listed property will make a sharp recovery in 2019 is bolstered by the sector’s offshore exposure, “as well what looks like the start of a recovery of consumer confidence in SA.” So if we’re feeling bullish, we are not alone.

With education having been MBSA’s abiding theme in 2018, we must continue to focus on the successful training and teaching of South Africa’s young people, many of whom are still falling through the cracks, in spite of the national applause for the apparently high percentage of passes in the recent Matric results.

The statistics are hiding the fault-lines in our education system and we as an industry need to help set the real minimum standards for effective basic education, training and qualifications, even if only to ensure competent students wanting to enter our own industry. We cannot ignore the huge numbers of children who drop out of the education system and don’t make it through to the final grade. That is the statistic that should be of greatest concern to educators, government and big business if we really believe in redressing inequality.

And while on the subject, let statistics not be the only benchmark for success and achievement. We need to be sure that the basic education offering in South Africa is superb, the teaching both professional and nurturing and the schools well-equipped. That should be our yardstick for excellence, while at the same time recalling the philosophy of social reformer, abolitionist, statesman and a former slave, Frederick Douglass, who said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”.

Good luck to us all this year

John

ACCOUNTABILITY

ACCOUNTABILITY

It’s little wonder that South Africans are inclined to duck below the parapet as daily new disclosures of this corruption or that deception fly around the media doing untold harm to our country’s reputation. Seemingly without there being any real punishment for the perpetrators.

John Matthews, President, Master Builders South Africa

But suddenly, somewhere in this endless inventory of misery we hear of someone having to pay the big price for practicing to deceive. The irony is, of course that former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene had been one of the good guys. But, after shocking the nation with a disclosure of meetings with the Guptas, he lost his job and apparently his political career.

For most South Africans, this was good news because for once someone was going to pay the price, and bad news, because in reality, a man who had previously turned down a R600 million bribe, should perhaps have been shown some leniency when he strayed. That’s a matter for discussion, but the Nene case awakened us to the almost non-existent concept of accountability on our political landscape.

We should be heartened by President Ramaphosa’s actions related to Nene, as it was clearly painful for him to lose one of his stalwarts. But if we are to believe in a South Africa capable of better governance, then we should be demanding a lot more of the same from our country’s leader.

And that is the further lesson for us all in our own daily lives and work. We are not dependent on political leadership to set our moral compass – in fact experience right now tells us that’s a remote possibility. As independent thinkers, and practitioners in an industry that has suffered badly from the fallout of misdeeds on a grand scale outside of our area of influence, we need to be even more morally accountable.

I would like us to end this tumultuous year on a note of regeneration and hope based on reasonable prospects of improved trading conditions in South Africa, backed by our own hard work to keep up the pressure for honesty and accountability. I wish President Ramaphosa the greatest success in the implementation of the investment strategy and the conversion of financial pledges into reality.

We are still only seeing a glimmer of the light we need to put South Africa back under the golden glow we enjoyed briefly after 1994. That glow may well have been based on illusion – but let’s now consolidate the good and embrace the necessary measures to ensure equality of opportunity for our entire nation. That’s the way forward.

Now, at the threshold of the holidays, thank you, all my colleagues, fellow-members and executive of MBSA for putting your confidence in me during 2018. I will do all in my power for the rest of my tenure as your President and onward, to further our cause and serve the association. I hope the coming Season proves to be what we all hope for – a time of peace, and family connections. Next year is probably going to be similar to 2018, but there’s no harm in making a few attainable resolutions that stand half a chance of lasting.

My very best wishes to you all.

John

 

South African Builder wishes all its readers a peaceful, safe and relaxing holiday season

CONTEMPLATING THE CLOUDY CRYSTAL BALL

CONTEMPLATING THE CLOUDY CRYSTAL BALL

My natural optimism may not have been immediately evident as we started our blockbuster 113th Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) Congress in Port Elizabeth, but it’s my belief that there is a distinct difference between gloomy pessimism, and a good hard airing of the facts, however unpalatable, with the object of finding solutions.

John Matthews, President, Master Builders South Africa

It was in the latter mode that we found ourselves as we gathered at the Boardwalk Convention Centre to examine an industry that faces some of its hardest times ever, and ways to do something about it.

Several of the problems have their roots in history, like the lack of skilled labour and supervision, and others have resulted from additional costs to the industry for compliance, health and safety measures in the face of shrinking margins. And more immediately, there is the regular news of businesses in trouble as a result of non-payment.

We cannot ignore the R6.6 billion currently owed by clients, both private and public”

The announcement by President Ramaphosa of an allocation of funds for government projects is, on the one hand, encouraging, but means nothing if there is a lack of will to execute. And for government to be among the biggest debtors to the industry makes his pronouncement somewhat of a hollow promise.

What did emerge from all of this, is that the building industry is not surprisingly, too dependent on government for its work. Which is probably a by-product of there being a distinct lack of business confidence among players in the private sector right now. As a result of political chicanery.

This is a fact of life for the time being, and, without any big changes (fast), to a time when infrastructure spending eventually resumes in earnest, the builders who survive will be leaner, and skills will have to be sourced elsewhere than from our own workforce.

The really big changes that will bring about renewed health in the building industry may not be short-term, but they are nevertheless essential – the primary one being to start generating a passion for construction as a career of first choice. And then training and developing those who choose the industry, from a very young age – as early as primary school level.

And when it comes to training and its application we have to realise that the existing training opportunities have to be properly organized and integrated to reflect a truly cohesive approach.

I also advocate a healthy streak of cynicism that includes our view of the escalating role of the Chinese in our economy. They will not be here to develop local skills and may instead, insist on importing skilled labour at lower cost, thus creating more debt.

And if we as an industry, as a country, have any hope of moving forward, we have to pay more than lip-service to the eradication of fraud and corruption. We’re in this state we’re in because of it.

Ever-optimistic, I look forward to a day, during my tenure as President of the MBSA, if I were to be so fortunate, when I am able to write this Comment to report a month at the very least, when South Africans could look back on real economic progress and forward to a brighter future. But as we look back on our 113th MBSA Congress, the South African Building Industry remains in undeniably turbulent times where uncertainty is about the only conclusion we can reach right now.

However, we don’t – as hardy South African survivors of the slings and arrows of scandal and skulduggery – let a little thing like adversity get us down. We look for where the upside might, possibly, emerge on the wide horizons of the country we all love so fiercely.

Perhaps it’s in the visit of the British Prime Minister, Mrs May who is prepared to dance, albeit badly, to our tune – offering the hand of renewed friendship and possibly financial gain. Or, we could take heart in the eventual explanation by our President of what the government really means by expropriation without compensation.

We could also hope that China’s proposed escalation of direct investment in South Africa might do more good than harm. We are already the second largest recipient of Chinese FDI in sub-Saharan Africa and the relationship has the virtue of longevity with our biggest trading partner.

With a reasonable assurance that increased investment will nowadays make its way into the SA economy and boost our collective business, we could feel a glimmer of hope.

Notwithstanding the odd possibility of another hidden agenda.

John

INTERESTING TIMES

INTERESTING TIMES

August started out with Zimbabweans demonstrating in the streets of Harare because they reckoned the results of their general election had been rigged. There were threats of making the country ungovernable. South Africa kicked off Women’s Month with mass marches intended to shut down the economy – even if just for a day. Women have had enough of gender-based violence and Zimbabweans have had enough of political chicanery. But the protests weren’t having much success.

John Matthews, President – Master Builders South Africa

Then there’s the business breakfast covered in this month’s SA Builder, which tried to make sense of what was going on in the South African economy. With limited results, because the breakfast took place and the analyst made his pronouncements before Cyril Ramaphosa announced his late-night confirmation that the SA Constitution would be amended to allow land expropriation without compensation. This even before all the hearings were complete! The rand went pear-shaped again.

The prospects for settlement in Zimbabwe look bleak, and we could easily, here down south, view what’s happening there as a prototype for things to come. But we’re different, we pull the rabbit out of the hat at the last minute and breathe a sigh of relief – don’t we.

So we’ve established that making predictions has become a tricky business, because in the time it takes to bring this magazine to its readers, just too many things could change. Instead, we will concentrate on where we can make a difference in the short term.

It’s Women’s month. An interesting phenomenon, because we actually believe every month belongs to women. But, if it’s a time to take stock of a woman’s role in all quarters of our humanity, then perhaps we should look at where women may be drawing the short straw in terms of jobs, security, income and influence.

If one checks the archives, it’s been a long time since women’s ostensibly minor role status in the construction industry, for instance, has been examined in any depth in the media, which could mean that it’s just one of those inconvenient truths that’s swept under the rug. Or, perhaps everyone thinks things are ok, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Women have absolutely continued to take their place in the professional strata of the industry in increasing numbers, with engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and other executive leaders being drawn from the ranks of women who have become qualified for those jobs, no question. But who can honestly say that women are actively encouraged to enter the building industry? Are women appointed to jobs in construction largely with gender equity in mind, or is there a strong feeling that their presence improves the quality of the industry?

It’s probably a very individual thing, and attitudes will differ. The women we know in the building industry do a very good job, they are viewed as equal players by their male counterparts and the women in turn, judge their colleagues by their capability rather than their gender. So, the playing field could be viewed as being level from our perspective.

But it’s not like that everywhere, and a few years ago women interviewed by a national news platform still felt that there was an inequity, grounded in the prevailing disparity in numbers between men and women employed in the building industry.

Among those who had successfully integrated into the industry, one woman said that she nevertheless felt she was being second-guessed by her male colleagues although she was equally qualified. At the time the story was published, women were urged to state their view and stand their ground. Some said they did, and were successful.

But significantly, some of the women interviewed brought up the issue of whether the predominantly masculine tone of the industry meant that women had to abandon their femininity to succeed.

This issue has been endlessly debated without much resolution, and as long as the players in an industry feel that their case has to be argued from a gender point of view, the lines will remain drawn.

We believe that aptitude, qualifications, skill, and dedication are the only criteria for a successful career in the building industry and there’s simply no place for professional gender inequity – here, or anywhere else.

John