It was mining and construction firm Basil Read’s concern for, and focus on, people that most struck a Flow team that recently visited three of the company’s Gauteng construction sites.
Just about everyone in South Africa has been touched by new Flow client Basil Read, which, for more than 65 years has been involved in constructing roads and other civil engineering projects, in opencast mining and related services, and in mixed-use integrated housing developments.
“What struck me was the commitment Basil Read has towards its projects and understanding the bigger role it plays – that it is doing this for people, for the upliftment of people,” says Flow designer Thuso Khoeli.
“The Basil Read culture struck me the most,” says public relations account manager Qiniso Makopo. “The manner in which they work, how they treat one another and how they treated us, all gave me a sense that they are people who truly care. They care about each other, their work and, most importantly, their end users. They are holistic in their approach to building legacies.”
Basil Read took Flow to the Julius Sebolai School in Braam Fischerville, Soweto; the Kazerne Transit Project on the edge of the old Johannesburg city centre; and Cosmo City, on the northern edge of Johannesburg.
The Soweto school was our first stop. The day, which had started cool, had heated up and Flowstars were heard muttering about the added layers we had to wear – hard hats and visibility jackets – and wondering what it was like to work in that gear, in the sun, all day.
The school is large, and nearly complete. Gathered in prefabricated classrooms on the slight rise behind the new building were the more than 1 000 pupils, all eager to occupy their new classrooms and grounds. It is hoped they can do so in the second term of 2018.
From the wide, chequerboard-tiled drinking fountains to the round-edged brickwork and the outdoor classroom, Flowstars were impressed with the thought that had gone into the design of the school buildings, and how this was implemented.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the empowerment that is happening behind the veil of construction,” says Flow content head Edwina van der Berg. She gives the school, where 65% of the construction workers are women, as her first example.
Her second example is the Kazerne transport hub. Here project manager Gerry Hanna and his team are, daily, involved in training newly established subcontractor companies, all of which come from the immediate area. This is a government requirement, aimed at promoting and increasing the skills of black business.
It was at the Kazerne site, bound as it is on all sides by an already developed city, that the importance of safety was most clearly impressed on our group. With upwards of 100 subcontractors and 300 Basil Read staff on site, there is a lot going on, and a lot that can go wrong.
What struck public relations account director Chuma Siswana are the tight margins the construction industry has to work to. “You make a lot of assumptions. I thought construction made a lot of money, but I learned that the take-home is not that much,” she says.
This was after Hanna explained that during leaner times, such as now, construction firms offer to work at small profit margins, such as 3% or even at cost, “in order to keep the company ticking over and the skills in the company”.
Public relations director Apaphia Lefatle was impressed by the large figures and quantities the construction world deals with, from budgets to all the piles of rebar lying on a site ready to be used, and the quantities of cement and other materials that go into building something, from homes and schools to housing and industrial developments.
Caroline Smith, head of public relations, puts it most succinctly: “There’s an awful lot to think about when you’re building something, no matter what it is.”
Apaphia says that she was also taken aback at how open the various Basil Read staff were to Flowstars’ often probing questions. “Some of the questions were quite scary, but they handled them.”
The Flow team’s final stop was Cosmo City, a joint venture between the City of Johannesburg, the Gauteng government and Basil Read. Together they turned 1 105ha of bush that lies 25km north of the Johannesburg city centre into a new neighbourhood.
Cosmo City is, in many ways, a first stab at a new way of developing South African cities, and Basil Read is implementing some of the things it learned through Cosmo City into its design and building of a similar development, Savanna City, near Walkerville. Both are integrated mixed-use developments, with state-subsidised housing alongside financed, credit-linked housing and fully bonded housing, as well as schools, churches and parks, and recreational, commercial, retail, industrial and environmental sites.
“It’s always useful to get insight into a client’s business and speak to the people who work for them,” says Flow public relations account director Lee-Ann Collingridge.
It is, and we did.