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Development industry in crisis

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Countrywide commitment is needed to boost growth

The property development industry is the bellwether industry that reflects the state of the economy – and it is in crisis.

And without commitment countrywide from officials and politicians, economic growth will never happen, says Deon van Zyl, chairman of the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF).

As an industry body representing the interests of the development, consulting and construction sectors involved in fixed capital projects, ranging from public infrastructure to private developments, the WCPDF welcomed the recent State of the Province Address (Sopa), saying that it largely mirrored the Sona address of President Cyril Ramaphosa on the desperate need for economic growth and job creation.

The property development industry began to haemorrhage a few years ago due to the state of the economy, but is now in crisis mode.

“It is being decimated, on the one side, by the collapse of the construction industry and the resultant exodus of qualified contractors and consultants to foreign shores. On the other, among those unable to seek work elsewhere, particularly among its semi-skilled workforce, it is resulting in abject poverty and increasing numbers of ‘men at the side of the road’, who congregate daily in the desperate hope of a wage for the day.”

Van Zyl says private sector investment is being hamstrung by lack of political certainty and ever-increasing regulation and red tape.

“The construction industry employs labour and the consulting industry employs scarce skills. Developers, whether public or private sector, are entrepreneurial. All are critical to the economy and to the wellbeing of our nation. All depend on growth as fuel for their respective specialist skills.”

Last week, the newly appointed Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, officially set a growth target of 2.5% on the table, the goal being to deliver on the need for job creation.

Van Zyl says he has bought in the concept of an economic war room and the property and construction industries are among the first to be included.

“And, to this end, he has set his personal focus on unblocking growth inhibitors, much the same language as used by President Ramaphosa in his most recent Sona address.

“President Ramaphosa and Premier Winde are clearly singing from the same hymn sheet, even though they stand in different political realms. They have both confirmed their desire to lift the country to its full potential and create a future for generations to come by addressing safety, education and economic growth.”

He says Winde has, without reneging on the Western Cape’s history of clean governance, thrown down the gauntlet to the standard delivery excuse of audit compliance. He adds that party political opportunism and excuses “have held the country to ransom for far too long”.

“The Western Cape can be the practical illustration of leaders with different party-political affiliations using the same language, sharing the same goals and working together to achieve true value for citizens.

“While we celebrate national and provincial leaders for delivering strong messages, service delivery remains largely a municipal function.

“We are yet, however, to hear this type of strong language come from the mouths of mayors and municipal functionaries.”

The WCPDF’s call, therefore, to each mayor in the Western Cape, and in the rest of South Africa, is: declare growth and reduction in red tape to be your personal commitment to the people of this country. Dare to challenge the nimbys who oppose change and, by implication, growth.

Van Zyl says both Ramaphosa and Winde have voiced their concern on the tenacity of apartheid planning and the lack of social integration, but points out that this will only be addressed “if we use public resources to break down historic boundaries, by investing in infrastructure, linking communities and by redeveloping public-owned land.

“It is time to stop talking and to start doing.”

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