Work for All?

This piece first appeared in The Herald on 5 November 2010.

Tim Chats to Engineer, Hashiem Agerdien, as the private sector hoists the first truss at the state funded, NMBM Stadium

AT first Cabinet’s new growth plan seems unlikely: five million jobs in 10 years. Finance Minister Pravan Gordhan makes it clear the bulk of these jobs will be delivered by business. Is this even possible?
If we are to achieve the jobs target laid down by our president, we would see unemployment dropping from its current levels at 25% to a level closer to 15% by 2020. This equates to a 10% improvement.
So, simplistically, it seems, that if I have a business that employs 20 people, to achieve my share of the target today I would have to employ another two people (a 10% improvement). Suddenly, it seems a little more possible.
But, if it is we in business who have to deliver on these targets, are we up to it? Do we have what it takes? I would say we do, but there will have to be some serious changes made.
Firstly, we in business will have to stop being mediocre. We need to realise we must be world class – from the sign at our entrance, to the kettle in our tea- room, to the management systems we put in place.
We cannot continue to do as we have done because “we have always done it that way”. We must improve continuously. Read. Travel. Find out what best practice is and change our organisations for the better.
Secondly, we must stop our obsession with easy money, dodgy tenders and incentive schemes. There are more than enough real business opportunities with real demand for us to pursue.
Spending all our time brown-nosing people, claiming they can “get you a tender” or “fix you a deal”, is a big mistake. Let us spend our time building our businesses.
If there is a tender advert in the Sunday Times, let us put in our bid like everyone else. Let our achievements and capacity speak for themselves.
Thirdly, we must stop whinging. Sure, we’ve got poor leadership and we’ve got corruption. Get over it!
Don’t let that stand in our way of being excellent. Don’t complain. Do something! As a business you can do a lot more than an ordinary voter:
You can fund a campaign or a political party.
You can leverage your profile in business to run for public office.
You can use your profile to put your perspective across to leaders at a meaningful level.
Don’t complain, don’t whinge. Take action!
The business sector has a lot of work to do, but there is critical support we need. Government has provided the leadership to set the jobs target, but business needs a little more from them than that.
Firstly, can the business sector get a little more credit for the role we have played and continue to play in transforming this country? We are a key part of this country’s success.
Can you cut us some slack? There are rotten apples in the business, just like in government, but please, the word “businessman” is not synonymous with “bourgeoisie capitalist pig”!
Government does not need to choose between being friends with business or with labour, but just know that, by definition, labour cannot create jobs. As soon as labour creates a job, it is no longer labour, but business.
Secondly, government, don’t scratch your head trying to think what new programmes you should dream up to create jobs. Rather, let’s focus on doing what you have already promised to do.
There are some big job-stealing problems that you need to get right like education, crime and public transport, but there are small things that government officials and elected representatives can and must do immediately. It may help if they are pointed out:
Make decisions;
Make sure the water runs when we turn the tap;
Make sure the light goes on when we flick the switch;
Answer your phone;
Return your calls;
Reply to your e-mail;
Fire those that are incompetent;
Promote those that excel;
Process applications;
Issue permits;
Pay us when you buy something from us (on time); and
Spend your budgets.
Get these things right so business can go ahead and create jobs. You are slowing us down.
Like US president John F Kennedy, famously setting a target in the ’60s to put a man on the moon “before this decade is out”, our president’s act of setting a target has an already added value by getting you and I thinking about how to get it done. But now, we must act.

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Can Domino and Dumisa teach us Chinese?

This piece first appeared in The Herald on 29 October 2010

During a recent trip to Hong Kong, I met with the management of Ocean Park, where Port Elizabeth’s, Bayworld dolphins: Domino and Dumisa are being cared for. My objective with the visit was to gain some practical planning tips that we could use in finalising the design in preparation for when Bayworld goes into its much awaited and anticipated construction stage. I came away from my time in Hong Kong very impressed with the facilities and infrastructure at Ocean Park.
Domino is participating in live shows in a 500 seat, roofed grandstand and Dumisa has the onerous task of making dolphin babies. I was privileged to be taken “behind the scenes” into a climate controlled facility with a series of 9 or 10 inter-leading pools which make up their renowned captive breeding programme. I was impressed with the care taken to every detail. The special poolside finishes, with water jets ensuring smoothness on the dolphin’s skin, the hydraulic, adjustable level floor in the examination pool, the strategically located chemical footbaths to avoid contamination being tramped in on handlers and scientists shoes. All very impressive.

But, as I sat at the cavernous Hong Kong International, waiting for my flight home, I began to reflect on my few days in Hong Kong and my week in mainland China before that. I began to wonder what it is that the Chinese have, that we don’t have, that has enabled them to provide such great care for South Africa’s dolphins. What has enabled them to build such a miraculous economy with all the infrastructure, bells and whistles that go with it? As I boarded the plane for the 13 hour flight back to Johannesburg, I cast my mind back to the week I had spent in Chengdu before arriving in Hong Kong. Chengdu is a 2500 year old city of 11 million people. Bigger and older than London, but not even on the list of China’s top 10 biggest cities! Development is happening everywhere. It seems cities are being systematically re-built, to an ever elevated specification and higher standard.
As I ate my airline portion of “chicken or beef”, I felt saddened that we were not able, in Port Elizabeth, to provide the care and facilities that, our dolphins, Domino and Dumisa are accessing in Hong Kong. Over the years, Port Elizabeth’s Bayworld did an almost miraculous job with very little. But in the end, the system we have built, the society we have created, could not the provide the support required to sustain a healthy captive Dolphin population in Port Elizabeth. We had failed.

But why had we failed? I was not certain.
I had travelled to Hong Kong in an attempt to acquire “know how” from the designers and managers of Ocean Park. I came back with a supply of very useful information and valuable tips, but I also came back with the knowledge that our problem at Bayworld, our problem in Nelson Mandela Bay, our problem in South Africa, is in fact not a shortage of “know how”, but rather a lack of vision of a shortage of will .
It is a selective lack and shortage. It is evident that we, as a country, are not incapable of developing a clear vision and a strong will. The 2010 Fifa World Cup, managed to collect South Africans around a specific “vision”. We all witnessed a sufficient supply of “will” to see us building the world’s best stadia and top class infrastructure. Given sufficient urgency, we are capable. It just seems that China has sufficient urgency over a far broader range of social objectives and can sustain it over a far greater length of time. China had the will to emerge from poverty and famine in the 1960’s. China (more mainland China than Hong Kong) had the vision of a better life for its people. In order to achieve this vision, they have developed some characteristics from which South Africa could perhaps take lessons:
o China has a strong and decisive state at all levels
o China has set out to ensure that all it citizens are able to be productive in some way.
o China set out to control its population at levels where it can ensure prosperity.
Importantly, much of what had to be done to pull China out of poverty would have been very unpopular to implement. Nobody wants to have a bossy government, nobody wants to work hard and nobody wants to stop making babies. But everybody benefits from a prosperous country free of famine.
So, perhaps after all that, I say to Bayworld, the Nelson Mandela Metro, Provincial Government and National Government: We, as a city, do have enough “know how” to turn Bayworld (and the entire city) into a world class destination. With enough urgency the budget will be found. What we are lacking at the correct level, is a clear vision and sufficient will to see it happen. Our country deserves this. Our citizens should demand it.

Who built a Crooked House?


Architects are living through fantastic times in this city and South Africa generally. Not only is there an abundance of work, but a heightened awareness of the value that Architects are able to add to the built environment. There is such a lot of “cool” stuff to do, that I am worried that we try to do too much and loose out on the enjoyment of doing one thing well. I believe though that it is better to take action than to worry!

…So I have taken action.

I love beautiful buildings. Big buildings, small buildings. I love being inside them. The light, the sound, the way people use them. The way they sit in the city or landscape. I love the way these buildings are put together.

There is magic in that; and I am starting to reconnect with this magic.. What surprises me is that I have felt that reconnection not in the billion rand, high visibility, world beating projects running through our office, but rather in something a little more modest….

You see,.. my semi- retired father and I are building a wooden cottage in the Outeniqua indigenous forest. It is a very modest cottage built for family needs; rectangular in plan, with a double pitch corrugated iron roof. When I say we are building the house I don’t mean it as a metaphor for designing and drawing plans for, or a metaphor for sitting around watching the contractor’s progress. No; I mean we are physically, digging, measuring, cutting and fitting (and sometimes knocking down)

It has been great on two significant levels. Let me list them:

Firstly:

When physically building you are compelled to focus on one task. You are compelled to be present. Not to think about the next meeting or the previous phone call. How often do we get a chance to be focussed on the present? Especially those of us in management positions can lead a very fragmented and frantic existence. Many of us have powerful and creative minds but have created a reality for ourselves where we spread our input (and out impact) so thin as not to add the value that we could.

Secondly:

Building in the forest has helped me see the potential of my own hands and energy. I can actually build a house. WOW!
The real truth is that Murray and Roberts could probably build it a little neater. (OK,… a lot neater.) But it is not a competition. We are building the house because that is what we need to do to meet our needs and aspirations right now. We are not building the house to try to compete with Murray and Roberts! But what I am talking about here is something more widespread! A phenomenon that spreads across our lives and effectively limits what we believe we are able to do. We are intimidated by the corporate and media dominated world through which we move every day. We slowly begin to believe that we are not good enough to take action.

We cannot sing as well as Mariah Carey, so we will never dare to sing at a family dinner or in the pub.

We cannot tell stories as well as Stephen King, so why even bother trying.

Mom cannot make clothes as neatly as Edgars, so we’ll rather stay at home than be seen dressed in her homemade tracksuits.

We cannot build as well as Murray and Roberts, so lets not let people laugh at our crooked house!

The net result is that we become intimidated into inaction allowing big corporate and media giants to do for us what we used to do for ourselves, and it only takes a little time before we have lost our skills and our dignity forever.

I have in the forest found the joy and freedom of taking back that which I thought I had been robbed of. Cutting planks, laying boards, nailing trusses.

There is magic in that!