van-riebeckColonialism is an irrefutable fact of South Africa’s history, we can’t change that. The word colonialism as referred to here is the paternalistic political philosophy, whereby a self-appointed, superior nation decides to treat another as its child or inferior. Many aspects of our life today in South Africa for better or worse are as a result of colonialism.  Colonialism built the infrastructure that South Africa’s economy relies on and has done for 130 years and it is the backbone of why it is so much more developed than its continental cousins.

The recent Brexit vote in the UK  and last week’s amazing rise of Donald Trump to the Oval Office in the USA are the latest in a chain of events that sees a globalisation agenda beginning to stall. Millions of voters in two of the great democracies of the world have vented their concern at being unrepresented by their politicians and being left behind by the fast pace of change. The schism that exists between young and old, black and white, working and middle class is clear for all to see. However, colonialism and globalisation are not the same concept. In a misguided and politically motivated effort to exorcise our colonial past, we are at risk of throwing out the globalisation baby with the colonial bathwater. We risk stunting our development as a nation in the global village if we allow this ideology to prevail.

The public’s disaffection with politicians and the political process highlighted by Brexit and Trumpism are also alive and well in South Africa. The rise of the EFF, public disobedience with issues such as e-tolls and #feesmustfall as well as the widespread lampooning of the President are a daily diet for the stand-up comedians. In a bid to deflect attention from their own internal problems, the South African Government are also now turning to more populist and radical agenda’s that illustrate a more internal, restrictive and isolationist view of the world. In this process we have seen the hijacking of the phrase ‘colonialism’ as another move towards a more protectionist agenda.

Recognition for FM in South Africa

Last week on Tuesday I was privileged to take part in the first BIFM International Special Interest Group (@BIFMISIG) event involving the two FM organisations of which I am a member, the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) and the South African Facilities Management Association (SAFMA).

The event was a video conference generously sponsored by Polycom which saw over 40 people attend in London with more dialling in from various locations around UK and Europe. The session was admirally facilitated by Steven Gladwin the ISIG Chair. From South Africa, we had SAFMA representatives Kim Veltman as well as board Members Nathanial Reddy, Rowland Gurnell and Paul McCrystal who joining us from Dubai.

The subject of the gathering was “Managing Diversity; learning from FM in South Africa. The session was an opportunity for us to share our learnings from the Facilities Management industry in South Africa with our counterparts and colleagues in the UK. There was a wide-ranging discourse with a number of very knowledgeable individuals in the London audience, some of whom had previously lived and worked in South Africa. We had a lively, informed and expectant audience who were keen to understand our South African FM message.

As one might expect we covered a number of wide-ranging topics ranging across the entire FM spectrum, from the nuts and bolts operating issues of managing temperature in the workspace to a much broader debate on the political context in South Africa around our black economic empowerment framework and the role of Government in legislating rectification of the inequalities of the past under the Apartheid regime.

I do not want to use today’s post as a means of repeating what was discussed but rather to use this as an illustration of the growing recognition of the Facilities Management industry in South Africa. We had one of the biggest representative bodies in the Facilities Management world with over 17,000 members wanting to understand what we do here on the bottom end of Africa. There is genuine interest in what we are doing in the FM industry in South Africa and on the African continent as a whole, where economic growth rates are encouraging inward investment from Europe and American companies.

So what really struck me was the recognition and desire from a global leader in FM to learn from us in SA on a subject that we are supposed to be lagging behind our European neighbours.

Opportunity for Change

All of the political and social  upheaval tells us one thing, that change is in the air and that it is the people on the ground that will make a difference. With this in mind, I want to move the focus to the publication of the draft South African Standard for a Strategic Facilities Management System. SANS 1752:2016 represents a fabulous opportunity for us to contribute to the global debate and to have a say in the future of our industry. The standard is open for public comment until 12th December 2016.

However, I fear that we risk spoiling this opportunity. In one of its more bizarre applications, the word, ‘colonization’ (sic) appears in  SANS 1752:2016. I suspect that the word is being used incorrectly and that what is being referred to is ‘colonialisation’  The use of this word whether intentional or otherwise in the context of an international standard is unwarranted, ill-advised, inflammatory and dangerous.

SANS 1752:2016 is our contribution to ISO 41000 the new International Management System Standard for Facilities Management which is due to be published in 2018. The word is used in clause 4.2 (a) in an attempt to position the South African FM industry for the future, by attempting to explain its past. This casual use of what has come to be an offensive word is curious as the standard earlier refers to Facilities Management as only having come to South African shores in the late 1990’s. This is nearly a decade after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and post our first democratic elections in 1994. So in the FM context, I am unclear as to how colonialism is supposed to have affected our industry?

The draft SANS 1752:2106 document recognises our late arrival on the international Facilities Management stage as well as our need to catch up with our former colonial rulers. I recognise and am in total agreement that we need to contextualise the standards to make them appropriate in the African setting. The importing of standards without amendment and recognition of local conditions would be unworkable, but if we allow colonialism to substitute for globalism we risk setting back our developmental capability. Furthermore, we risk institutionalising entitlement which some would argue has become a side effect of our nobly intended BBBEE legislation.

To use such historically and politically nuanced language which ignores our international forerunners derails our ability able to stand on the shoulders of those FM pioneers. We risk our ability to fast track our improvement by avoiding the potholes in the road that those before us have had to negotiate.

To use such historically and politically nuanced language which ignores our international forerunners derails our ability able to stand on the shoulders of those FM pioneers. We risk our ability to fast track our improvement by avoiding the potholes in the road that those before us have had to negotiate.

In addition to the issues around language which I hope can be corrected, the standard itself represents a missed opportunity. There is no doubt that FM needs to apply a globally recognised process by which we can measure ourselves. In my opinion that bar has been set too low. With all of the change that is going on in the world and the changing nature of our fledgling industry it may be difficult to set the bar at the right level but it is my belief that standards should not be created to document what is common practice, they need to recognise best practice and set the bar at an aspirational level.

We have come a long way in a short time as an industry and the BIFM meeting referred to earlier, publically recognised that we have a very lively FM sector. It applauds us for actively aspiring for transformation and recognising the advancement of women in our industry. Despite the political agenda, Facilities Management is growing apace within the private sector at least.

BIFM is one of the world’s biggest FM professional bodies and their recognition of SAFMA and our growing professional development particularly with the new facilities management qualifications is an opportunity to showcase what we can do in this country. We need to ensure that SANS 1752:2016 standards recognise not only what we are achieving currently but what we want to move towards. We need to learn from our past, leverage our learnings and these interactions with our leaders if we are to remain relevant and raise our profile on the world stage.

SANS 1752:2016 Standards are open for Public Comment until the 12th of December. There is a SAFMA breakfast and panel discussion on the 22nd November at FNB Conference Centre in Sandton Johannesburg and I would recommend all with an interest in our industry to attend the panel discussion and make their own representations.  A copy of the standard can be downloaded here .

Question: How do we ensure that we stay at the forefront of the FM industry?  please leave a comment below.