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.


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