Following robust discussions held recently online during the two-day Western Cape Property Development’s “Vision for Growth” annual conference (20 to 21 May), a number of key points have emerged that will be critical to the future of the property development and construction industries as it recovers not only from a number of difficult years, but from the Covid-19 pandemic.
SAID Deon van Zyl, chairperson of the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF): “We must find a way around the stalemates and standoffs that currently exist between these two sectors and find best-practice examples of public-private partnerships to learn from and move forward as quickly as possible.
“Otherwise, we will find not only our industry but the roll out of our country’s infrastructure past the point of return.”
Reflecting back on the conference, Van Zyl pinpointed four factors that would be key to both economic recovery and the establishment of a united vision.
Get the “town” to talk
Sharing from his own experience following a period spent in Seattle in the USA, Professor Nick Binedell of the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, and a keynote speaker at the conference, had spoken about the importance of “town talk”. This referred to the crucial engagement between citizens, city officials and in particular politicians in “round table” discussions during which all levels of engagement could begin to understand the challenges of creating a vision from all angles.
“The success of something like a ‘town talk’ lies in the fact that politicians do not join the discussion to talk; they join to listen, noted Van Zyl. “Something we have yet to get right in South Africa.”
Bringing it into an African context, Van Zyl observed that this is what Rwanda set out to do in 2000 when it established its own – to date, very successful – Vision 2020,the purpose of which defined and relatively simple deliverables .
A second theme that came through strongly during the two-day event was the culture of what Van Zyl termed as “siloism” – or the tendency for most government departments across all tiers to work in isolation and the urgent need for this is stop, having been identified as among the greatest barriers to approval of developments – even within the public sector itself.
However, there were instances where the walls had been broken down, not least of which was demonstrated during the conference by Lekha Allopi, Project Executive – Development Planning, eThekwini Municipality.
Give government officials a voice
Complementary to the idea of a “town talk”, Van Zyl also felt it was import to create environments where executive government officials were also given an opportunity to speak their mind.
“We seem to have created a culture, certainly in the Western Cape, where only politicians – be that at Provincial or Local Authority level – are allowed to express an opinion. I think it’s time to allow the technocrats to tell you their bit, and thereby become accountable to the people who pay their salaries.”
His one criticism of the two-day event, noted Van Zyl, revolved around this very point, with delegates from the public sector making up only 17% of all attendees and politicians 1%. “At least a third of the audience should, in fact, be politicians – here to listen.”
Continue to unite and bring labour to the table
The WCPDF, for example had been a founding member of the Construction Alliance South Africa (CASA), which united 33 industry bodies into a single voice under the leadership of John Mathews, immediate past President of Master Builders South Africa and currently the CEO of Western Cape-based Garden Cities.
“Building relationships and friendships in industry are now priorities to get industry’s voice heard,” stressed Van Zyl. “We can no longer only depend on government-created platforms to be the voice of industry.”
“Creating a vision for our industry means creating jobs for some of the poorest members of our communities,” noted Van Zyl. “And I am reminded of the rallying cry of many groupings over the decades: ‘Nothing about us, without us’.
“No policy should be decided without the full representation from all members of an industry, and that includes the property development and construction industry.”