By Michelle Colman
Housing is one of South Africa’s most critical shortages and, despite some progress, there remains a substantial backlog. An ambitious plan for the delivery of low-cost housing is contained within the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), a socioeconomic recovery plan instituted by government in 1994. But many RDP housing schemes have been criticised for poor quality, and there is a need for able Project Managers to ensure building standards are met.
RDP housing development is a significant aspect of The Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP), an urban regeneration project aimed at changing the face of the densely-populated township in northeast Johannesburg. With the new government we are aware of plans to change the RDP system. In the meanwhile, Sam Ramashala , Assistant Manager - ARP Housing, describes his position.
Sam made his way to his current position by an unorthodox route. He was a security guard with the Midrand Town Council when his potential for greater things was noticed, and he was trained as a Health Advisor. In 1999 he was employed as a co-ordinator on the Masakane campaign, instituted to motivate communities to pay for basic services. When the campaign wrapped up, Sam, now bolstered with a formal Project Management qualification, went to work for the City of Johannesburg, and then the ARP.
A local government agency advises that Project Managers are paid between R12 000 and R30 000 a month, dependent on seniority. Sam contributes to conceptualising of new developments, giving input on design (free standing or semi-detached units, for example). He formulates business plans and budgets, and identifies risks that affect construction, such as the existence of underground water or dolomitic rock. He liaises with those conducting environmental impact assessments. Once implementation begins, Sam gets involved in compiling tender specifications, adjudicating bids and appointing contractors in line with black economic empowerment (BEE) principles. It is his responsibility to avoid cost and time overruns. He also reports regularly to local and provincial authorities, and provides community feedback at meetings of the
Alexandra Development Forum. “One must be sensitive to the fact that RDP accommodates the poorest of the poor,” he remarks. With housing being the emotive subject it is, Sam finds himself resolving conflicts more often than he’d like. “Compromise is key,” he says. “Competing ideas must not be avoided, but managed.”
Sam dare not let more than two days go by without being on site. He spends 80% of his time outdoors. An average day includes risk control, progress evaluation, monitoring product quality and identifying bottlenecks. It is on site that the least rewarding aspects of his job occur, with the non-performance of contractors. Sam also finds the financial constraints of RDP discouraging at times. Furthermore, the field of RDP is politically-charged – “it’s not for the faint-hearted,” he insists. Job rewards include developing analytical skills and independent thinking, becoming conversant with government policing processes and supply chain management. Sam believes theoretical background is important for Project Managers. He completed a part-time, six-month Project Management Diploma at a local business school. He also has a BA in Politics and Development Studies, which may not have bearing on the practicalities of his post, but has given him an awareness of social issues. The job also requires financial and computer literacy. Sam recommends the United Nations Development Programme website as a good information resource (www.undp.org).
What personality type is suited to RDP work? “Definitely a go-getter, one not waiting for the mountain to come to him,” is Sam’s response. Perseverance, strategic thinking, flexibility and results-driven are some of the other qualities he lists. Sam acknowledges the general scarcity of employment, but suggests new entrants investigate opportunities in the public and private sector, as well as with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and self-help projects. “If necessary, volunteer your services to gather experience,” he advises. The ARP is due for completion in 2011 and Sam has his eye on the future. His ‘dream’ is broader development work in the communities of Limpopo, from where he hails.
Published By: Liezl Maclean