Past presidents look back

SAIBPP was founded in 1996 to facilitate the entry of new black players into the property industry as workers in various companies or as property owners. Over the years, the organisation came to be recognised as a true voice of transformation. It has not been an easy journey. On these pages, past presidents of SAIBPP look back on the early days of the organisation, remembering the burning issues they had to deal with and the obstacles they had to overcome.

Our transformation goal has always been long-term

I was the first SAIBPP president. I served two long terms as president because at the time elections were not held annually. The main objective of SAIBPP was and still is, the advancement of black people in the property industry. During those times in white established firms we had no friends, so to speak. We had no one to share our experiences with. Whenever vacancies opened in the property companies, we often heard that there were no blacks to take those positions. It was like a mantra. That was when the idea of starting an organisation that would find suitable black professionals to fill those positions and look after their advancement took root. So, a few of us came together – I think we’re less than 10 – and we started looking for other like-minded professionals in other companies. At that time I worked for Old Mutual Properties. We searched for these professionals in companies such as Sanlam Properties, Southern Life Properties, Liberty Properties, and so on.

The main objective was to get people one could talk to, to share one’s experiences with so we could add something meaningful to debates when we were with our white colleagues. We also figured that such an organisation would enrich the careers of property practitioners. In those days there was anxiety about window dressing. A lot of black people in the sector were unsure if they got their jobs on merit or because of their skin colour. Also, some black people were not too keen to align themselves with an entity that would identify them as black. Some people and companies mistakenly viewed us as a union and were, therefore, not keen to be associated with us. Others came to a few of our meetings and left saying we had no direction. We always countered by saying: “If you think there’s no direction, you must come to assist us to have direction. There is no use in walking away.” Despite a shaky start, we managed to grow SAIBPP. The most difficult aspect was sourcing funding to run the organisation. Our members were mainly employees of property companies.

Organisations such as SAIBPP need corporate funding to do meaningful constituent work. When we knocked on the doors of some companies, they would ask: “What’s in it for me?” That was often hard to answer. We’d be honest and say to them: “We are here for transformation, we are here for the long haul. We are building a skill base that would assist the country to move forward. It is, therefore, hard to promise one company definite benefits but the positive results would be felt by all.” We invited them to come with us on a journey to transform the country. While vociferous in our transformation campaign, we were wary to rock the boat. It was a tricky situation. At the end of the day, we were employees of these companies we were seeking help from. We could go only so far in our transformation campaign. We had to be diplomatic to make sure we didn’t violate our condition of employment or alienate our employers. When we started as SAIBPP, we worked with existing property organisations to show that there was value for our organisation. But we strongly believed that we ought to be on our own. We were not going to force companies to employ people. We were also not going to force people to join us. They had to see what we were doing and decide for themselves if they wanted to align with our goals.

While I was president our membership base was less than 200. When we started, we limited ourselves to commercial property. Only a few years later did we extend membership to include government and parastatals. Our transformation goal has always been long-term. It has never been about quick wins. Transformation is not something you do overnight if you want to do it properly. Unless if you want to tick boxes. We don’t believe in that. We believe in getting the right skills into the industry. We believe in getting people who will operate effectively and grow with their companies. We really want to see black people advance in this industry. I’m happy with what has been achieved since our formation. Granted, we haven’t done exceptionally well. But we are still around. We are still preaching transformation. We have always struggled with finances. We are currently active within the Department of Public Works sphere.

We made major strides in the drafting of the Property Charter. Taking stock Despite having a few listed black funds, I’m saddened that not much transformation has happened in the past 20 years. The industry is not moving fast enough to embrace change and bring in more black players. The industry is just not keen. Even the few blacklistings that happened were done on the back of government deals. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have such listed entities. These listings are just a speck on the stock market. It’s not a record I’d be proud of after so many years. We still have a long way to go – both in terms of ownership and services (property management and valuations). Opportunities for the establishment of black property services companies are not forthcoming because owners are not keen to give contracts to black entities. We see existing firms growing bigger and bigger.

This is where SAIBPP comes in. The organisation needs to continue being vocal in calling for a change in the property industry. Young leaders are needed to take SAIBPP to the next level. We did our bit as founding members. I think we came from a different mindset – that of apartheid. For me to be a manager at Old Mutual was an achievement. Fresh views from younger leaders are needed, people who still have a lot to lose if certain things don’t happen. This could fast track transformation. While I’m no longer president of SAIBPP, I’m involved in the organisation’s finance committee. Along with fellow colleagues, I’m in the process of helping SAIBPP and the country to professionalise the industry. Our industry is easy to enter because there is no accreditation. We have a protocol agreement with the Institute of Real Estate Management in the US to have the proper training for local practitioners. Also, we wish to talk to Sita to see how we could bring that training to the country and align it with Sita procedures. All in all, SAIBPP is doing what it can to help the property industry transform.

Saul’s journey in the property sector

Saul Gumede, CPM® is Group CEO of Dijalo Property Group, a company he co-founded with his long-term colleague Hosia Malekane, CPM® in 1998. He has served articles at Deloitte & Touche before moving to Old Mutual Properties, where he held various positions, including Head of Investment and head of Property Management for the Johannesburg Office. He established Dipula Property Fund in 2005 with Redefine Properties, merged it with Mergence before listing it on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2011.

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