CityPress - - Business - PETER LUHANGA business@city­

There is a cul­ture of in­sti­tu­tional sus­pi­cion in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try as black con­trac­tors’ abil­ity to un­der­take con­struc­tion projects is be­ing ques­tioned.

This is ac­cord­ing to Mas­ter Builders SA pres­i­dent Bonke Sime­lane.

At the as­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nual congress in Cape Town this week, he said: “It is al­ways [a case of], ‘Who are they? What can they do?’ ... There is a cul­ture of in­sti­tu­tional sus­pi­cion re­gard­ing the re­luc­tance to take on emerg­ing black con­trac­tors.

“The es­tab­lished [big con­struc­tion firms] need to take the emerg­ing black con­trac­tors into their fold and ded­i­cate re­sources and time to a de­vel­op­men­tal ap­proach over a pe­riod of time.”

The congress ex­plored ways in which rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and to the sec­tor’s codes could be ad­dressed and im­ple­mented to pave the way for pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged black con­trac­tors to par­tic­i­pate in the in­dus­try and reap fi­nan­cial gains.

Rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion, knowl­edge trans­fer and skills devel­op­ment dom­i­nated the two-day panel dis­cus­sions, which formed a key part of the congress.

Chair­ing a panel dis­cus­sion on the key points af­fect­ing the con­struc­tion in­dus­try was John Maytham, the af­ter­noon drive pre­sen­ter on ra­dio sta­tion 567 CapeTalk.

Maytham pointed out that, typ­i­cally, when some­one called con­trac­tors to do al­ter­ations on a prop­erty, a white fore­man and/or the owner of the con­struc­tion firm ar­rived at the prop­erty to start the work, spent “10 min­utes” there and would leave two or three black or coloured peo­ple to carry out the al­ter­ations. Why, asked Maytham, were black con­trac­tors not set­ting up their own con­struc­tion firms?

Sime­lane agreed with Maytham, say­ing this was the gen­eral prac­tice, but that he did not have em­pir­i­cal data to de­ter­mine where this trend was deeply en­trenched.

“We at Mas­ter Builders SA need to do proper re­search across the coun­try to see where this sit­u­a­tion [of white­owned con­struc­tion firms and fore­men tak­ing black con­trac­tors to con­struc­tion sites and leav­ing them to carry out the work] is hap­pen­ing,” said Sime­lane.

“This, in ad­di­tion to the sec­tor codes, is a good ex­am­ple of the his­tor­i­cal legacy that we are try­ing to undo. How do we main­stream those black con­trac­tors? How do we be­gin to in­cu­bate a business to set them on a growth path? ... There is a spec­trum of these black con­trac­tors who lack ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Gre­gory Mo­fo­keng, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Black Business Coun­cil in the Built En­vi­ron­ment, said ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the vol­un­tary re­build­ing pro­gramme must sup­port black con­struc­tion labour­ers. This pro­gramme refers to an agree­ment signed last year by govern­ment and seven con­struc­tion in­dus­try play­ers to pro­mote trans­for­ma­tion in the sec­tor.

“For in­stance, when one looks at Coca-Cola Bev­er­ages SA, which is now in black hands, we do not want to see changes of share­hold­ing in name only. We want a sit­u­a­tion where ma­jor sub­con­trac­tors are black be­cause the com­pa­nies are ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the vol­un­tary re­build­ing pro­gramme.

“That way, trans­for­ma­tion can be more wide­spread and not just re­main in the hands of share­hold­ers, who ben­e­fit from div­i­dends and get board fees while for­get­ting that trans­for­ma­tion must reach down to where the peo­ple are,” said Mo­fo­keng.

Thabo Ma­som­buka, the CEO of the Con­struc­tion Sec­tor Char­ter Coun­cil, said eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and trans­for­ma­tion in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try was not about a small black con­struc­tion firm buy­ing into an es­tab­lished, white-owned firm and get­ting a share­hold­ing.

“Em­pow­er­ment and trans­for­ma­tion does not mean the re­place­ment of white peo­ple with black peo­ple. There is noth­ing like that – it means the in­clu­sion of blacks and whites so that we have what is called in­te­grated eco­nomic growth,” he said.

Also speak­ing to del­e­gates at the congress was Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Ebrahim Pa­tel, who listed var­i­ous prob­lems fac­ing the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, in­clud­ing cor­rup­tion among state en­ti­ties, re­duced spend­ing on in­fra­struc­ture projects and cost over­runs.

Nev­er­the­less, he said, in spite of the re­duced spend­ing on in­fra­struc­ture, the state was still spend­ing at a “very high level”.

“We are cur­rently spend­ing about R270 bil­lion a year on in­fra­struc­ture. The con­struc­tion in­dus­try is a key part of the South African econ­omy. It is a ma­jor em­ployer of labour­ers, pro­vid­ing work for 1.4 mil­lion South Africans – that is nine out of every 100 South Africans di­rectly em­ployed in this sec­tor.

“In spite of the re­cent drop in em­ploy­ment rates, job growth [in this sec­tor] has been ro­bust in the past five years – ris­ing by about 200 000 new em­ploy­ees,” he said.

We are spend­ing about R270 bil­lion a year on in­fra­struc­ture... The in­dus­try is a ma­jor em­ployer of labour­ers, pro­vid­ing work for 1.4 mil­lion South Africans

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