Summit to speed up change in the property sector

Writing in the June issue of De Rebus, the monthly journal of the SA legal profession, Johann Appies, national chairman of the Black Conveyancers’ Association and senior partner of the attorneys, Appies Incorporated, says that the Black Conveyancers’ Association is calling for a summit meeting to facilitate far more rapid transformation in the property industry.

The summit will take place on 11th September 2008 at the Birchwood Hotel in Benoni and the BCA expects anything up to 500 people to attend. These, says Appies, will be drawn from all the disciplines serving the property sector and the related financial services sector, including government, parastatals and other interested parties.

The eight point agenda to be discussed will highlight the lack of real change in the property and related financial services sectors over the last 13 years as well as the lack of real commitment to transformation on the part of some of the role players in these sectors.

The summit will draw up a list of “appropriate, radical” steps that it believes should now be taken to speed up the transformation process in the property industry.

These steps will include the publication of a “White List” naming those who have resisted or ignored transformation. The White List will, however, be complemented by a “Black List” which names those who have shown their commitment to transformation - and they will be commended at a later award ceremony.

“South Africans,” says Appies, “have a right to know who is clinging to old outdated attitudes and who has moved with the times. There are many people who prefer to deal only with the latter.

“Sadly and frustratingly the same attitudes and underlying characteristics that resulted in colonialisation and apartheid still seem to permeate the response of many previously privileged people to the initiatives by government and progressive organisations to redress the inequalities in our society.

“However, there are,” says Appies, “a great many organisations and individuals which have worked hard for change and for equal opportunities for blacks and we do want to recognise this openly and gratefully, while simultaneously urging those who are not participating to start doing so.”

The summit will also push to ensure that the government takes up and acts on its proposals. BCA members and others will facilitate the formation of interest groups such as a Black Estate Agents’ Association and a Black Mortgage Bond Originators’ Association which will join the BCA and work for further transformation in the property industry.

Appies says that the experience of the BCA has been that until you have an advocacy group of that kind no meaningful change is brought about. The limited successes to date of the BCA have resulted in black conveyancers now being able to “claim a little space for ourselves” and similar transformation, he believes, will take place if other interest groups are established.

What has thus far passed for black economic empowerment, says Appies, has since 1994 in reality been only “the accommodation of an elite”.

Appies says that 94% of the property industry is still white owned, white controlled and white managed - and the vast majority of the sector’s services are provided by white servicers. Only 11% of South Africa’s 50,000 registered estate agents are black and, although land reform is a much discussed topic, only 4% of the agricultural land in South Africa has been transferred to black ownership. Of the total land area in South Africa today, says Appies, 85% is still in white hands.

“If one accepts the United Nations’ definition of racism, which defines it (in paraphrased form) as “a system in which one racial group dominates others so as to be able to distribute inequitably the goods and services of its society”, South Africa must still stand condemned of racism, despite 13 years of democracy,” says Appies.

He added that he would agree with the World Bank which recently stated that the very slow pace of property reform has created a dangerous level of discontent that is “a time bomb waiting to explode”.

“If approached correctly and supported by all the role players, this summit will provide us with a unique and historic opportunity to accelerate the eradication of the inequalities generated by our shared history. It requires that we acknowledge the racist, colonial and apartheid past from which we have emerged and eradicate the persistence of patterns of privilege and poverty which are its legacy at present”.

Those wishing to book for participation in the summit or to find out more about it should contact the organiser Mosele Maloleka of PJS Communications on telephone number 078 345 6152 or email moseleq@pjscommunications.co.za.