South African construction leaders want sites reopened amid lockdown

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South Africa construction leaders want sites reopened amid lockdown

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South African construction stakeholders now want the sector to reopen amid the extended coronavirus lockdown in the country.

Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) chief executive Webster Mfebe says that a plea has been submitted to the Public Private Growth Initiative with the aim of reopening construction sites.

In a statement, Mr Mfebe says the request, which was submitted on April 8, 2020 has been made on behalf of the entire construction sector.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has extended a lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus by two weeks to the end of April.

Safcec estimates that the lockdown will, among other things, lead to an estimated 68 000 to 108 000 job losses in the formal construction industry over the next 18 months.

Mr Mfebe made the plea to Public-Private Growth Initiative (PPGI), a sector-based collaboration between government and business, the day before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the extension to the initial lockdown in South Africa.

Related: South African mines go silent as coronavirus lockdown begins

“We eagerly await government’s response to our impassioned plea to reopen the construction industry and the favourable response to the guidelines that we have submitted to ensure compliance with COVID-19 imperatives,” said Mr Mfebe.

“We project the size of South African construction industry in terms of the rand value of fixed investment to decline by 8.7% this year, from an initial forecast decline of only 1.5%,” he added.

Mfebe said the Covid-19 pandemic, and all the short- and medium-term implications on the economy, is expected to cut about R19.6 billion out of the construction industry in 2020, and move the industry onto a lower growth path.

During the extended lockdown, the entire construction industry is being shut with the exception of companies offering maintenance and repairs for essential services such as power, water and sanitation infrastructure.

David Metelerkamp, senior economist at construction market intelligence firm Industry Insight, says the South African construction industry is very labour intensive and the extended lockdown is going to result in huge job losses.

“Hopefully these people are going to be bailed out by these UIF [Unemployment Insurance Fund] rebates or whatever government is trying to put together, but I’m a bit sceptical about the efficacy of these sort of things and how quickly they can get to workers,” he said.

But for Mr Mfebe the biggest concern is the devastating effect of the unplanned pandemic of great proportions that has befallen the world and south Africa in particular and is already hitting an industry that is already on an accelerated decline.

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