South Africa : Architecture vs Corruption

  • How criminals are misusing the South African legal system to defeat the ends of justice by manipulating architects, their clients and civil society into submissive putative roles.
  • Rampant crime, corruption and nepotism have brought the South African Building Industry to its knees. The Built Environment Professions are deeply affected and its members are justifiably concerned.
  • Built Environment Legislation is causing the urban fabric to decay and collapse through  a series of patently dysfunctional systems and laws which not only encourage corruption but actually support it.
The Architects Against Corruption movement will be presenting a series of lectures in which Johannesburg architects will present evidence to this effect.

In theory the Custodian of the Built Environment should be the Architectural Profession, as there can be no other qualified to be so. In the same way that the Medical Profession should be the Custodian of Health, the Legal Profession the Custodian of Law and so on. That is the natural order of things, millennia old and based on the fundamentals of ethical conduct,  social responsibility and implicit honesty.

In practice the Custodianship of the Built Environment was usurped from Architects and is now in the hands of those least qualified to honour it.

This is not a theory; conspiracy or otherwise. It is not an allegation. It is factual and current. It is simply the point to where history has brought us as a Profession. It is our legacy.

The Architectural Profession in South Africa is represented by the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) and regulated by the South African Council for the Architectural Professions (SACAP).

It is no secret that the South African Institute of Architects is going through some difficult times and that its membership has become regionally fragmented and much reduced.  Many architects will say that with each passing year it becomes less representative, less effective and more irrelevant until one day it is little more than a logo brand administered from a call centre in India.

SAIA finds itself in this position through no fault of its own, its members or its elected leaders. It was forcibly put into this position when the apartheid and ANC governments alike usurped its self regulating powers and bestowed them to on a government watchdog organisation controlled by the Minister of Public Works – effectively nationalising the Profession. Apartheid kept the Institute  alive by making its membership mandatory; the ANC took its lifeblood away when it made its membership voluntary.

Effectively what these regimes did was to say that Professional Architects could not be trusted to conduct themselves ethically but that they, the Politicians, could and for that reason they would regulate the conduct of Architects.

This law has its roots in apartheid's separate development  policy – it was designed to ensure the exclusion of Africans from the Built Environment Professions, amongst other self serving aims. (The Engineers capitulated in 1968 with little resistance but the Architects fought against it until 1971.)  Nationalisation of the Profession  has been conveniently kept by the ANC government because it gives it absolute power over the Building Industry; power which it frequently exploits for the personal gain of its elite and its global partners and masters.

In South Africa the Custodian of the Built Environment is the Minister of Public Works. In the last fifteen years we have had a plethora of these political appointees who are all very nice people with absolutely no clue about the Built Environment and who keep getting themselves fired or reshuffled for less than honest reasons. 

In the forty odd years since the South African Architectural Profession lost its independence and ability to self regulate, everything about the South African Building Industry has changed.

Fifty years ago, when the apartheid government started a mass development campaign in what is today the Province of Mpumalanga, South African building contractors did not have capacity to meet the needs of development. To solve this problem the South African government asked for help from its closest neighbour; most of the schools, hospitals and tall office buildings erected in the sixties in Mpumalanga were designed by Pretoria Architects and built by Portuguese contractors from Mozambique. Today this region has hundreds of architects and building contractors with a huge over capacity to meet South Africa's development needs. In contrast, Mozambique has near zero capacity.

Everything has changed. The country has changed completely. The Building Industry has changed completely. The people, the mindsets, the social structures, the climate, the planet and the economies have all changed completely in the last fifty years.

The South African Architectural Profession has not changed; it remains firmly usurped and powerless to adapt to the circumstances of our brave new world.

Somehow the South African Council for the Architectural Professions and the South African Institute of Architects have managed to survive the waves of political changes without collapsing completely and they continue to respectively regulate and represent the Profession more or les effectively.

These two organisations are essentially instruments of the State, in as much as they regulate and represent the will of the ruling regime over and above the needs of the Profession, its members and the society which they serve. They serve the State and the Nationalised Profession.

The pillars of the Profession are the Schools of Architecture. South African has many excellent Schools and equally excellent academics and facilities. However, they are all State subsidised and they too express the will of the ruling regime, whether they like it or not. Their educational systems are tailored to suit the nationalised Profession.

The core of the Profession are its practising members spread over the various provinces. These members  are organised into voluntary Regional Institutes under the SAIA banner but are effectively autonomous for all practical intents and purposes. These are organisations run by, and for, architects practising at a local level. (Sadly, there appears to be very little interaction between them.) These institutions, although “part” of SAIA, are geared towards assisting Architects interface with the State and service the Nationalised Profession. In this way they serve the needs of the local Architect as well as uphold and promote the will of the State at local level.

The laws and systems which govern the Building Industry, and the Architectural Profession, are designed and deployed by a political regime for political reasons. The very specialists that should be in charge of these responsibilities are held in bondage by a corrupt political regime and are powerless to act.

The Architectural Profession has not simply been nationalised, it has been usurped. Its powers and functions are now misused by the political class to suit their own means whilst ignoring the needs of the citizens and their lawful agents.

This scourge can only be defeated through the efforts of local and regional institutes and organisations. It is imperative that South African Architects strengthen their position in society and organisational ability. It is crucial that the South African Architectural Profession acknowledge that it is being decimated by corrupt elements in the legal and political systems which govern the Built Environment. This warrants our immediate attention.. To do this we need to build strong and powerful regional Institutes with proactive members and meaningful funding. If we don't do this now the thousands of architects currently in training in our Schools will inherit a void profession. They will inherit nothing - like Mozambique, like Angola, like Zimbabwe ...

Johannesburg architect Pedro Buccellato has built up a body of evidence which he would like to present to his colleagues in the Architectural Profession for the purpose of seeking their comment and opinion relating to the subjugation of our collective professional power, the abstention from social responsibility and the diminishing earning ability of architects. Click here for details.