MBA North looks to the next 120 years of supporting the industry

Mohau Mphomela, MBA North’s executive director.
Mohau Mphomela, MBA North’s executive director.

On 1 February 2024, the Master Builders Association (MBA) North held its 120th annual general meeting, marking years of service to the construction industry in Gauteng, North-West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Mohau Mphomela, MBA North’s executive director, said that 2023 was one of the most challenging years the association had ever experienced, with many of its long-standing members continuing to go into business rescue or actually closing their doors.

However, the association looks forward to its bicentenary with a sense of optimism symbolised by the inauguration of a new President, Liana van der Walt, and Vice-President, Gavin Morrow.

MBA North dates back to 1894 when the Johannesburg Master Builders Association was founded. In 1996, it joined up with the equally venerable Pretoria Master Builders Association, founded in 1903, to form the Gauteng Master Builders Association. The organisation expanded to cover North-West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo as well as Gauteng in 2012, which is when its current name, MBA North, was coined. It is an employers’ organisation, serving the interests of its members in the building and allied trade industries, and over the years its members have been responsible for many of the landmarks that represent the region.

Many of MBA North’s members have been on its books for decades, and many are smaller, family-owned businesses – an excellent indication of the potential this industry has for intergenerational empowerment.

Mphomela says that these stalwarts have played a role in helping MBA North establish itself as a trusted advisor to its members, and to the success it had realised in training and skills development, the preparation of standard contracts and manuals and, in particular, the great strides made in health and safety in the construction industry.

Morrow says, “The challenges continue, but there are some indications that the outlook could be turning more favourable. Word from colleagues in the industry is that there is a noticeable uptick in the number of tenders out there, which is obviously good news for principal contractors and subcontractors alike. However, we are also hearing that tenders are slow to be awarded.”

Morrow believes that demand from the emerging middle class has the potential to drive demand for new construction projects, with a strong focus on residential estates. Other growth drivers include the logistics sector, which is busy taking up the slack caused by the implosion of Transnet and needs to expand its network of warehouses and depots.

Morrow adds that continuing high demand for student housing is also driving the market. “The private sector has seen the opportunity, with investments also coming from the big pension funds,” he says. “In addition, there’s a lot of cash in the economy and the potential lowering of interest rates this year could also play a positive role in stimulating new business.”

He notes that the construction mafia continues to pose an enormous challenge for contractors, with scant protection from the police or assistance from clients. “Clients have put themselves at arm’s length from what is quite a messy situation in order to reduce their project risk, so contractors really are on their own as their project risk increases. Contractors are learning how to deal with these potentially explosive situations, and building genuine community engagement is key,” he says. “Dealing with construction mafias adds cost that’s difficult to pass onto clients even though margins are still very thin. At the moment, there seems to be no political will to resolve this crisis despite the regular promises from various political leaders including our president.”

MBA North has taken up the construction-mafia challenge, standing alongside members in the frontline when required. Morrow pays tribute to the active participation of the executive director, Mohau Mphomela, who often puts himself in harm’s way to help members.

Looking into the future, Morrow sees a growing need for the MBA North to expand its traditional supportive role. A significant focus remains health and safety; through its annual safety competition and regular training webinars, the organisation is helping even small contractors to improve performance in this area.

“We continue to cement our good relationship with the Department of Employment and Labour, and we can play a positive role as a trusted third party particularly when there is an onsite accident,” Morrow comments.

Morrow says he is particularly keen to see MBA North taking the lead in getting industry players engaging with each other about issues of pressing mutual concern. “The industry has become atomized – we need a united voice on many fronts,” he says.

Some of these issues are transport and logistics challenges, including slow transit through ports, the aforementioned construction mafia, the need for integrated training initiatives to counter a persistent skills deficit, and the perennial issue of the proper usage of JBCC contracts to protect all parties.

“The future is uncertain but we must do what we can to shape it. We look forward to helping MBA North play an even more important and constructive role in uniting the whole construction value chain and making its concerns heard,” he concludes.


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