With the South African construction industry remaining under pressure and in a state of accelerated decline, the need to contain costs continues and correct specification of construction materials remains critical.
Construction materials company AfriSam construction materials executive Avi Bhoora tells Engineering News that there are two levels of cost containment.
The first focuses on business consolidation and market survival initiatives, while the second involves the affordability of construction materials, owing to evolving specifications.
Bhoora laments the increasing use of low-quality materials in construction projects, which leads to either early failure or increased maintenance, or both.
“The industry is under pressure in terms of maintenance and not being able to afford proper corrective inputs. Some industry members end up doing something as a temporary repair,” he elaborates, citing the country’s deteriorating road infrastructure as an example.
In having a “responsible player attitude”, which speaks to AfriSam’s solid record and quality assurance guarantee, Bhoora tells Engineering News that the company’s construction materials are ISO9001:2015-certified. Also, the company’s aggregates and ready-mix products are accredited by the Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of South Africa and the South African Ready-Mix Association.
“Such a commitment to quality provides clients and consumers with the confidence that the products have longevity, and could prevent early failures, with lower maintenance costs in the long term.”
Despite the industry’s challenges, Bhoora remains hopeful that the construction industry is at the end of the downward cycle.
With positive outcomes expected following the national elections earlier this month, he believes that South Africa can expect to see confidence levels improving once some of the country’s issues have been addressed.
Some of the issues include, but are not limited to, a lack of economic growth, as well as low economic and confidence levels, which lead to lower investment and capital spend, as well as a lack of infrastructure development and maintenance.
While government is cognisant of the issues that plague the construction industry, Bhoora says to address national issues, such as unemployment and low economic growth, government and industry will first need to resolve political concerns to provide political certainty while addressing policy uncertainty.
The sector is heavily reliant on political and policy certainty, which ultimately impacts on infrastructure investment in the long term, he adds.
Additionally, Bhoora says the industry is a good “barometer” of how the economy is faring.
When faced with adversity such as that which exists in the current environment, Bhoora states that the industry needs to consolidate, improve efficiency, reduce waste and stay relevant to the changing environment.
He believes that addressing the issues that the sector faces will create a snowball effect, leading to increased infrastructure projects and, as a result, increased employment, housing and consumer goods through an economic multiplier effect.
Bhoora laments that skills development and technical knowledge remain a concern, especially for small and medium-sized companies, adding that the country’s embattled economy has driven a multitude of skilled and trained people to apply their trades in other countries.
“The real struggle, however, touches on the loss of experience that this causes in the industry. Knowledge on its own is not sufficient – we need intellect, which [can be] gained through experience to go with that.”
He highlights that, to address this, AfriSam is committed to the in-house development of people and skills, and can assist small and medium-sized construction companies with regard to tendering and quoting processes, and advise on the correct products to use in specific applications.
While the country’s transformation agenda plays a role, AfriSam is focusing on complementary businesses in terms of assisting the overall industry, Bhoora adds.
AfriSam has dedicated resources that work with small and medium-sized companies to improve their skills and their potential for doing business. AfriSam then harnesses this potential while working with these companies to build future partnerships.
“We have embraced a lot of smaller clients and our big focus in the past two years has been on trying to grow our cash-sales market,” he says.
This approach has enabled the company to increase its supply network to about 40 ready-mix companies nationally, 16 aggregate quarries, two cement manufacturing plants and 12 distribution centres nationally.
Looking ahead, Bhoora avers that AfriSam will continue to focus on innovation and lateral thinking while embracing different communities and target markets to achieve the desired outcomes.