As an indicator of how statistics can create either joy or despair and be wrong either way, take the first three months of 2019 when, the record shows, South Africa’s economy shrank by 3.2% – the largest drop since the notorious 2008 market crash. But as a reliable gauge of whether our country’s economy is in a terminal state, that statistic is questionable.

John Matthews, President, Master Builders South Africa

Given the levels of uncertainty throughout 2018 about the succession of our political leaders, the first quarter of 2019 in South Africa was never going to be an economic recovery blockbuster. And there was the small matter, in the fourth month of the year, of a General Election, the outcome of which was unpredictable on several levels. We were a nation in a state of high anxiety.

We took comfort in an orderly election with few surprises and a generally unchallenged outcome. The difference in mood, at the end, came from the heightened expectation of improved trade, a stronger currency and all the good things that go with responsible governance.

And to be honest, there is cause for hope that the shrinking economy has reached its low point and that a strong hand on the wheel could steer us into better times. But internecine battles within the ruling party mean that there’s still some sorting out of reporting lines to do. And that’s the tipping point on which South Africa balances, and where the real test of moral strength lies.

What it means for us, in a country that has had to wait too long for a stable political platform, is realising that, as individuals and collectives representing the foundation of our healthy economy in vital industries, we have to set an example by taking responsibility for ensuring the maintenance of standards. This means that both in our work performance and business dealings, we have to be seen as leaders and standard-bearers for excellence and integrity.

When it comes to contractual matters, we must adhere strictly to agreed conditions and demand that those conditions are met by our clients, staff and sub-contractors. Particularly in the payment for work done, we must hold debtors accountable on due dates even if it means pursuing them more vigorously than we find comfortable, to ensure that our creditors are able to be paid timeously. The consequences of non-payment are dire, especially to the smaller contractors who live from hand to mouth to survive in these difficult circumstances.

Just how vital this is comes home to us in the continued evidence that non-payment on contracts has sent too many of our colleagues in the building and allied industries to the wall.

If those around us shirk their obligations to good business practice, it is our responsibility, as honest tradesmen and professionals to take over, and re-set the course by impeccable example.

It is tough when the foundations that one relies on are rocking, and recovery is slow, but it just means that our efforts have to be redoubled in areas over which we maintain some control, rather than allow disorder to become the new normal.


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