South African industry cheers reactivation of building sites

After intense lobbying, the South African construction industry has welcomed the reactivation of building sites around the country, with an umbrella group saying it will "salvage what is left of the sector" and prevent many companies from going out of business.

Work on projects resumed yesterday, 1 June following last week’s decision of President Cyril Ramaphosa to ease the strict lockdown he imposed on 27 March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Builders must follow rules to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infection on site.

"We are optimistic that allowing the construction sector to resume full operations will salvage what is left of the sector," said John Matthews, who chairs a coalition of industry and professional bodies.

He added: "Continued restraints on construction activity was leading us towards a situation where there was little hope of a recovery for a lot of companies in the industry."

Matthews said construction employers must self-regulate to ensure covid site safety.

"It is not up to the government to try and monitor every office and construction site, but each and every employer has a responsibility to ensure that the health and safety of employees is guaranteed," he said.

The umbrella group is called the Construction Covid-19 Rapid Response Task Team. Comprising some 30 professional institutes and industry associations from across the construction supply chain, it was convened to chart a recovery path for the sector to help revive the country’s economy.

Among the groups was the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). Before the decision to retarts construction, Petra Deveraux, the CIOB’s regional manager for sub-Saharan Africa, said: "The CIOB recognises the importance of re-opening construction in South Africa, and the benefits this could have to the economy in the region, while maintaining a safe environment to begin working again. A fast and strict lockdown has allowed South Africa to gradually begin re-opening, and we hope that the construction industry can pave the way to bringing some normality back to the region."

Image: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during a BRICS summit in Brazil, November 2019 (Palácio do Planalto/CC BY 2.0)

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