Relevance of the SACQS / ASAQS in a changing economy

The following is stated in an article which appeared in Engineering News (8 – 14 September 2000; Vol 20, No 34):

“The construction and building industries in South Africa have not been good places to be over the last two decades.

Since 1980 (a good year, it must be said, for both sectors), total investment in the two industries has declined by a shattering 33%. In addition, the turnover of the civil-engineering industry has fallen from more than R11-billion in 1980 to around R6-billion last year (in 1996 rand terms); residential building has declined by 25% over the same period; and jobs have been shed at an alarming rate.

This, it can be argued, is mightily ironic, given that South Africa’s first democratically-elected government, installed in 1994, was expected to provide significant impetus to the industry on the back of its Reconstruction and Development Programme policy. If anything, the opposite has been true: declining construction spend, little new development, and few signs of a coherent programme.”

(The complete text of this article is available at

The web version of the article regrettably does not show the graphs which accompany the printed version: the one relative area graph titled “Construction investment by client”, illustrates to what extent government expenditure is declining, in an overall declining expenditure on the building industry.

Corporate expenditure is also not very large nowadays compared to the expenditure levels in the mid-70’s and the brief flares in the 90’s. It is ironic that the last flare occurred in the early 90’s prior to the the “1994 miracle” of “peaceful transition”.

The next graph titled “Civil engineering turnover”, shows a disturbingly sharp decrease since late 1997.

The same edition of Engineering News announces in large letters:

  • Petrochem firm’s R27bn growth ‘six-pack’
  • and adds through the acompanying issue of Mining Weekly:

  • How diamond giant will spend its cash pile
  • Three-fold boost for new platinum plant
  • Platinum No 2 breaks free of growthless era
  • It is well-known that Amplats (now AngloPlat) and Implats are executing capex programmes running into billions of rand annually.

    Add together projects of Sasol, De Beers, AngloPlat, Implats, Anglogold and various other mining and industrial concerns (it was at this stage the AAC announced the R3,2 billion Scorpion project), and it takes very little to realise the vast opportunities for management services, including cost management.

    The building industry and infrastructural civil engineering industry would never be insignificant. Decreasing fiscal expenditure and drastically reduced corporate investment in real estate, however necessitates that a thorough reconsideration of where the focus of quantity surveyors should be.

    It is increasingly evident that the haphazard attempts of the quantity surveying fraternity to counter declining standards, while limited to the very narrow focus on the declining parts of construction industry in South Africa, would do very little to maintain full order books.

    The universities wish to be seen as innovative and on the forefront, but the only achievement at this stage, is that training standards for quantity surveyors decline even within the limited market for which they are trained, while there is hardly any sign of a serious attempt to train cost managers for the markets which has a future: the heavy engineering industry. Not to even start mentioning genuine information management training, whilst information management should be the quantity surveyor’s life blood.

    Edutech also contributes preciously little other than the instigation of the flawed CPD system, to assist the broadening of markets. Or does anybody still hold the opinion that low cost housing would rescue the ailing building industry? (refer

    Drastic and swift action is required if the SACQS/ ASAQS wish to maintain any significance beyond being a small sub-committee of government to assist screening of quantity surveyors for government projects.

    The quantity surveying background enables some real professionals to exercise several very relevant skills and capabilities in the heavy engineering industry. It could be of economic significance if this industry can be entered on large scale, but the heavy engineering industry is highly demanding and requirements high.

    Besides insight in engineering processes, in-depth understanding is required of system definition, procurement processes, commissioning, shutdowns, variation and version management, international contracting and a host of technical cost-benefit playoffs and methodologies. Practical knowledge of all the disciplines, down the instrumentation and control detail, is also required.

    There are sound reasons why project managers and engineers are still sceptical about quantity surveyors entering the engineering project field: as a result of wide gaps in training, very few quantity surveyors are genuinely capable to make a difference to such projects, and then, after the engineer feels mugged for information, the perception of the quantity surveyor as brick counter turning steel mass calculator is the logical outcome. The engineer’s technical assistant could have achieved the same result without RQS MAQS to his name.

    Those quantity surveyors who take the trouble to grow in engineering projects has very little if any benefit from being registered, and could very well be better off spending the membership fees and administrative time at internal programmes to continuously provide more relevance to the engineering industry. Unless the SACQS/ ASAQS demonstrates relevance in this regard.

    And if an office block for the new mining plant is part of the project, we see no reason to turn down that contract only because it contains elements of the building industry: it is simply another of the various contracts that form part of the project, and would be managed to the same demanding standards of the engineering industry as part of delivering an encompassing service. With or without RQS MAQS.

    Leonard van der Dussen

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