A crane is a sign of development

A crane is a sign of development

At what point does one assist to push a car that has a breakdown at a busy intersection?
Okay, let me put it this way. Let’s say a 4+1 taxi gets stuck at a busy intersection at Lakeside. The driver gets out of the vehicle and asks for a push. Pedestrians walking by will normally ignore him until he does one thing. Until he starts to “push”.

The reason for that is because the human mind is conditioned to respond to motion. When a driver of a vehicle makes an initiative to start pushing, all of a sudden, there is a huge crowd of men pushing the vehicle. Sometimes, you find a person holding a car mirror in an act of solidarity, I’m not sure if that qualifies as a push or not.

The same can be said for a person that is in search of a job. When do employers respond to a person searching for a job? It’s usually when a person is already holding some form of a job, whether formal or on a voluntary basis.

A person that is seeking a job from home often struggles to access a position in an establishment. That is because, people respond to motion. I guess the Sesotho saying that goes; moketa ho thusoa o itekang (help is offered to those making an effort), makes sense now more than ever.

Allow me to demonstrate with something that some of you may be familiar with. Let’s say a beautiful young lady is ready to get married. The lady has a multiple choice of five potential guys that have submitted applications to her.

The list of potential guys is made of a security guard, a taxi driver, a policeman, an unemployed law graduate and a tender-preneur in construction that drives a white double cab van with an orange strobe light.
The answer is quite obvious as to where the young lady will deflect to. Yes, of course, the lady will go for the guy in construction. Well, the taxi driver might stand a bit of a chance to succeed because of the potential of one day being a taxi owner. But the guy in tenders will have an edge over the guy that collects twenty-rand bribes (tjotjo tsa li-twenty ranta) all over Kingsway from 4+1 drivers.

The young lady will of course overlook the educated law graduate because all the poor guy can offer are promises. The law graduate won’t even be able to buy a family meal from KFC. The least he can do is to share a Street-wise Two and such things bore ladies. A complete turn-off.

The main reason for that is because women are opportunists. Okay, sorry ladies, let me be diplomatic with that statement. Women respond to motion. Women know how to forecast and plan ahead. Ba faea pitsa e belang (they tend to an already boilng pot). It is a God-given skill.

You see, a guy in construction has a better chance of winning a tender that will enable the new family to build a new house. Most often, a house will be built from materials stolen from a construction site somewhere. But all in all, a house will be built and the lady will also stand a chance to drive a BMW 1-series ea import.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this is how investors think. Money acts like time. It waits for no man. It responds to motion. Investors will always look for an opportunity that is in motion and what is the easiest way to assess an opportunity that is in motion?

The simplest way to assess whether a country or city is serious about development is to observe the number of tower cranes erected at any given time. Because a crane is a sign of development.

Allow me to demonstrate with a short but interesting story. My mentor, Ntate Theo Ntlatlapa, has stories to last a lifetime. Once he starts talking, you need to budget at least two hours to go through all the interesting stories. One of the most interesting stories is about how Pioneer Mall came to fruition.

In the property development sector that I work in, time is money in the literal sense. The environment is so volatile, so unpredictable and so stressful. The environment is a game of speculation. All stakeholders speculate on chances to make the biggest share of profit at the shortest possible time. But what does that speculation mean?

When phase one of Pioneer Mall was constructed, speculation was rife. There was fierce contest between two shopping mall developments, namely, Pioneer Mall and Maseru Mall. At the time, in the late 2000’s, there could be space for only one shopping mall to go up. The market was ready for one but not for two malls to run concurrently.

So, it became a fierce battle between anchor tenants and investors. The problem about shopping malls is that there’s a very limited pool of anchor tenants. The choice is usually between Shoprite/Checkers, The Spar Group and Pick’n Pay. Well, in South Africa, the choice can be extended to Woolworths Food, Food Lovers Market and Game Stores, to some extent.

If a developer fails to sign any of those anchors, unfortunately, there’s no project. In fact, any investor that wants to pour money into a development project will first demand a letter of intent (Loi) from any of those anchors.
This does not only apply to investors but smaller tenants as well such as PEP, Mr. Price and the Foschini Group. So, as you can imagine, there’s fierce competition from all quarters of the SADC region to attract the best anchors. A good tenant-mix means a busy development and higher return on investment.

So, the story is that Pioneer started off with the Spar group but as I said the environment was so volatile. There was competition from the Maseru Mall group. They were also poaching tenants from the Pioneer Mall group (I’ll tell you why). Investors and tenants were also getting uneasy. The tension was sky high.

So one day, Ntate Theo told Ntate Andre from LSP Construction that; “hee monna Andre, starta TLB re qale”. Which means start the TLB construction machine and start working.

The trick was to start moving in order to confuse the competitors and to win investors. Apparently, the TLB was doing a whole lot of nothing. The TLB operator would move earth from one corner and dump it to the next corner. Then later on the day, remove the earth and dump it to the next corner.
The trick worked. Investors gained confidence that, hey, the project has finally kicked-off. The next thing that went up was a construction board. The next thing was the perimeter construction fence. It was a complete construction site.

The trick led to the Maseru Mall team to back off a bit and the development was delayed by about a year and half. Way after Phase one of Pioneer mall was completed.

Now the interesting part was that the Maseru Mall team managed to secure tenants, Shoprite and Game. But that placed pressure on the Pioneer Mall team because phase one of the mall was way smaller and Maseru Mall was coming with a much bigger development and wider range of tenants. It was now a game of scale.

This placed pressure on the Pioneer Mall team to secure funding for construction of phase two of the mall. This part was relatively easier because the mall was in motion. The team was now able to convince tenants such as the Edcon group and FNB to come on board because they could see the success of phase one of the development. Phase one was already in motion.

The Pioneer Mall team erected a tower crane and the project was in motion and that gave the team an edge over Maseru Mall. At the time when Maseru Mall was completed, Phase II of Pioneer Mall was almost done and it was now a competition to attract shoppers and to retain tenants.

What I’m trying to demonstrate here is a basic psychological warfare that takes place in the property development game. But a tower crane plays a pivotal role to convince investors that things are indeed moving. This was confirmed by one of my quantity surveyors, named Nicolas, based in Menlyn Pretoria.

Nicolas was part of a team that packaged the Menlyn Maine development in Pretoria. The development took about six years to put together mainly because of speculation.
The timing had to be right between getting the correct tenant mix, investors and a favourable economic climate. The team finally managed to secure investment and tenancy from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) in Pretoria.

The interesting part is that phase two of the development comprised of a 22 storey tower made of luxury apartments. The tower has just been completed with an exception of phase three of the larger development. This has been the most difficult part because funding became tight as the economy took a strain.

Nicolas told me that, “no, we are not giving up”. The team has erected a crane on site as a sign that the development is still in motion. So, every morning, a crane operator goes up the steps of the tower cranes, koanya, koanya, koanya and climbs into the cabs, starts the motor and repositions the jib. The jib is the horizontal part that looks like a canon.

After the operator repositions the jib, he switches off the motors, locks the cab and goes down. He will follow the routine until an investor has signed. That is part of the psychological warfare. Investors will always chase deals that are hot. Deals that are in motion.
In conclusion, there is going to be a scramble for investors’ money when the Covid-19 disaster settles. Nations will be crisscrossing the world in search of money to rebuild their economies. If Lesotho is not proactive enough to erect one or two cranes, investors will just walk past and invest in Botswana and Eswatini (Swaziland).

There are at least five sites that I know of, that can immediately be converted into construction sites.
My advice to Dr Majoro is that, talk to the construction firms and property developers. Erect cranes and create an illusion. Lerole le qobe! ( Stir up the dust).

Cities such as Dubai and a large part of Sandton were built out of creating an illusion to investors by erecting cranes all over.
A crane is not only a sign of development but also a sign of hope!

‘Mako Bohloa

Previous Majoro’s grand vision
Next Majoro must stand firm

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