By Bongani Dladla Acting Chief Executive Officer of the cidb

The construction sector can lead South Africa’s recovery as the country emerges into a post-Covid 19 economy, but only if emerging contractors are empowered.

This was the consensus among participants at a recent seminar on the state of the industry hosted by the Construction Industry Development Board – cidb. The seminar, attended by more than 700 participants, underscored the role played by the cidb in facilitating the exchange of ideas and opinions which will lead to the transformation of the construction industry.

Image credit: NeONBRAND | Unsplash

Image credit: NeONBRAND | Unsplash

In addition to its primary mandate to promote the contribution of the construction industry to South Africa’s economy and society the cidb also provides a platform where participants in the sector can share research on trends within the sector and relate best practices.

There were justifiable concerns about the sharp decrease in construction activity following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. This was especially felt within the public sector where the cidb plays a critical role to ensure efficient and effective infrastructure delivery.

However, there is also significant room for optimism. Investment in infrastructure is a key component of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The plan calls for “aggressive infrastructure investment” with a strong emphasis on localisation, job creation and streamlining of the regulatory framework.

Some of the green shoots are already visible. At the recent Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium – SIDSSA 2021 – details were announced of a pipeline of 55 project with a project value of R595bn. This can create an estimated 583 500 direct and indirect jobs.

Participants at the cidb seminar expressed strong views that emerging contractors should benefit fully from the pending upswing in building activity and opportunities should be created in which they can improve their grading and become increasingly eligible for major projects.

Concurrently, the public sector must significantly improve its capacity to manage infrastructure projects under its control and address long-standing concerns within the industry about delays in the awarding of contracts, delays in the implementation of projects and late payments to contractors.

There are expectations that private sector skills will, increasingly, be drawn in to address issues pertaining to capacity. Again, the cidb, with its experience gained in almost two decades, can make valuable contributions to the dialogues and consultations within the industry.

Similarly, there are stronger voices speaking out about endemic corruption and the activities of the so-called ‘construction mafia’ which are delaying vital projects, destroying assets, and threatening the lives of contractors and their workers.

One of the participants at the seminar, Mr Gregory Mofokeng, the CEO of the Black Business Council in the Built Environment, emphasised the role construction can play in the reindustrialisation of the economy.

This can be done through the implementation of localisation programmes where local building materials are used, local expertise is utilised, and local jobs created.

At the same time the local industry is not isolated from global trends. Dr Obuks Ejohwomu from the University of Manchester reminded participants about the high contribution of construction to global emissions and air pollution.

The UN Climate Conference – COP 26 – held in Glasgow this month will, no doubt, revise targets for pollution and set new standards to which the construction industry should respond.

The introduction of technology-driven solutions brought on by the 4th industrial Revolution will also bring about profound changes to the sector. Construction 4.0 – the integration of 4IR advances into the industry – will revolutionise processes across the entire spectrum of activities. Some of these innovations are already being deployed with great success in the South African industry.

Already, many emerging local contractors are embracing new technologies and strengthening their positions within the construction value chain.

It is important that the local construction sector should be empowered to benefit from the expected upswing in the post-Covid economy. A keen observer of the local sector, Prof Roger Flanagan of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom predicted that the global construction industry will be at the leading edge of the recovery and that South Africa needs to be part of it.

He emphasised the fact that it is located in the fastest growing region in Africa and is globally known for its ability to produce great construction companies and contractors who are admired for their competence.

The challenges will be to broaden the sector, support emerging contractors – especially black-owned and female-owned businesses – and attract a new generation of entrepreneurs to the sector.

The seminar, which will become an annual event, again showed that the cidb is well-placed to play a catalytic role to lead industry stakeholders in construction development. We will be a vital element in the re-emergence of a transformed construction industry which provides the physical infrastructure that makes up the backbone of our country’s economic activity.

Plumbing Africa put two questions to the cidb:

  1. Many sites are upset by the ‘Construction mafia’ usually unqualified troublemakers. What is cidb’s view on this and how are they handling this either through government or the business councils?

    The cidb recognises the dire shortage of opportunities for work in most sectors of the economy, particularly in construction where supply clearly exceeds demand according to the number of contractors on the Register of Contractors, compared to the rate of infrastructure spend. The cidb together with the National Treasury and the DBSA provide on-going support to infrastructure departments on efficient delivery of infrastructure to improve infrastructure spend, release construction projects, and therefore increase work opportunities for contractors. The highjacking of construction projects by criminal elements exploiting the genuine concerns and desperation of contractors is unjustifiable and abhorrent, and law enforcement agencies must act to stop these criminal acts. This kind of criminality is not only pervasive in construction but is also seen in transport and other sectors.

  2. Emerging contractors are critical in all aspects of construction and building. What is the process of ensuring whatever task being performed is done by a qualified individual as per the Skills Act?

     The cidb Register of Contractors categorises contractors based on their capability to carry out construction projects. It is a macro-procurement risk management tool to support both clients and contractors when engaging in projects. It is incumbent upon the client to conduct due diligence to ensure that a contractor is appointed at the right level of project for their technical and financial capability. The cidb Standards for Uniformity in Engineering and Construction Works Contracts prescribes appropriate methods for clients for ensuring that contractors competencies and skills are appropriately matched to the requirements of a construction project. The cidb further conducts on-going training on appropriate application of the Register of Contractors when procuring for construction.