Network9 has secured a controlling interest in PropertyWeb.co.za and plans to take the property market information highway to the next level focusing on Property Risk Management and Compliance.
As the former publisher of Sheqafrica.com, Africa’s largest resource for EHS Risk and Compliance, and co-owner of Africa Media, Rudy Maritz and his team plans to create a similar platform and build on the experience and track record of Sheqafrica.com since 2007.
Maritz have not completely broken ties with Sheqafrica.com, and stays on as non-executive director of Sheqafrica Corporate Services(Pty)Ltd (SACS) during the transition period following the company’s recent acquisition of this SA Edition of the well-known online SHEQ magazine.
Sheqafrica.co.za invited Network9 Director, Rudy Maritz for a “hard questions session” to share his views on the future of SHEQ in Africa.
Why PropertyWeb? Is it not outside the scope of SHEQ? In response Maritz said “the legislation governing the property sector is far more than most people realise and we plan to create a special portal not only for Property Practitioners, but also for buyers, sellers, tenants and trustees of Sectional Title schemes and HOA’s where they can find information on their compliance requirements. You could say it falls outside the Scope of SHEQ, but then it does not fall outside the purpose of SHEQ; Risk management and compliance.”
Network9 is also launching Construction Risk Africa, a similar publication for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction professionals, at the beginning of August this year as we previously reported on. How is that going to fit into the SHEQ Profile? “We are using a known model, a successful model, to create industry focused magazines as sources of free information. No industry is immune to ignorance of the law and we are changing to an industry focus, rather than a SHEQ focus. The center-stage would be Sheqafrica.com, but from there, each magazine will flow out and target a specific industry. We started with the Property sector, and then will move to the Construction Risk Professionals. Our challenge however is to get quality authors within the South African professional space. The law is complex and one cannot just write about it from the heart. It requires prior experience and a lot of research into case law to come up with content that explains what the risks are and what is required to mitigate these risks; not just legal risk, but also governance risks and yes, contrary to popular perception, the EHS risks are there too.” Maritz said.
Is Sheqafrica.com at the end of its life? “No, far from it.” Maritz said, “The magazine is one of the most difficult to maintain. I remember back in 2015, when Ben Fouche told me he plans on shutting it down, I said, I won’t let it happen. At that stage we were only advertising with Sheqafrica.com and we saw the benefits. It was when he put it out on tender that we had to secure the deal, probably much to the disadvantage of his other companies, who also benefited from the high Google ranking of Sheqafrica.com. But then we saw a few stupid business decisions with De Novo Media and learnt a few expensive lessons. At one stage we actually put the domain up for sale. It takes a special type of person to keep it going as SHEQ is a broad field and not many subject matter experts are able to contribute quality content without reward. Since 2016 we tried every avenue to make it self-sustainable, but it cannot survive in a “free for all” information age. It requires subsidizing to a very large extent.” Maritz said as he reminisce the days gone by.
“Africa Media owns 50% of Sheqafrica.com, and if we had to generate revenue for more focused publications, we needed to sell off some of our equity. When I received the offer from a group of professionals to take over my 25% share, I didn’t think they were serious. They made it and I will stay on to assist them as long as they need it.”
Why did you decide to stay on as non-executive director of the new SACS? “I sold what is on paper. I cannot sell what is in my head. And that is why I am staying on. If I recall, it was you who insisted I stay? I am staying to transfer my experience to the new owners of Sheqafrica.co.za. And besides, there is a new ‘Q’ evolving and this is an exciting future. I want to remain part of that Q as the old one has outlived its news-worthiness. Who reports on ISO9001 achievements? Who cares if a company loses their certification? Why is that in the public’s interest? We are moving into an era where ‘quality of life’ are becoming a corporate responsibility in Africa. In fact, modern slavery, child labour, over-worked employees and poor management attitudes are becoming an occupational risk in modern business. Let’s add to this, the myriad of corrupt and unethical practices that carves away at the quality of entire societies. The new Q is becoming more prevalent in the global business world. And we need to be part of it.” Maritz said enthusiastically.
On the future of SHEQ in South Africa, Maritz had a few ideas to share with us. “A great start was the appointment of Minister Nxesi, formerly from the DPW, who moved over to the DOL. Perhaps we will start seeing movement on the OHSBill now.”
“But OHS aside, there is a whole new industry evolving and that is the role of the AISS as I call them. The Artificial Intelligence Safety Specialists. It may not happen in my life-time but AI is real and is taking over the way we produce and do things. There is huge potential from a compliance perspective and the law is written as we develop the AI, albeit retrospectively. But not only will AI become a safety liability, advances in the medical field could find health care facilities in peril too as more and more AI are introduced into diagnostic equipment etc. There is no Robot law yet. The vicarious liability for “AI negligence” is yet to be written into our jurisprudence. For now, we cannot blame R2D2 or C-3PO”
“Another exciting field is the Property Practitioners. With the proposed broadened scope of the role of the “Estate Agent” the Property Practitioner is a different profession with more than just a letting and selling role. Already many companies have started “home inspection services” and will find themselves slap-bang in the middle of this new law.”
“Coming back to the new “Q”, the concept of a Social Compliance Officer is taking shape as well, with a few institutions already offering certification programs. One particular aspect of the Social Compliance Audit is the quality of work-life; how you treat your employees. As most of us spend a third of our day at work, the work-life hazards can no longer be separated from the home-life, as much as the home-life hazards are brought into the workplace without our knowledge.”
“The road may be long, but the route has already been charted.” Maritz concluded.
We asked Maritz what we can expect from PropertyWeb.co.za. “Well, I can tell you that a large part of the magazine will focus on investments in the market, but the primary objective is to share information on compliance with the Property Practitioners Act once it gets enacted as well as the Section Title Schemes Management Act, The PIE Act, the POPIA, the PAJA and the Rental Housing Act. These are the obvious statutes affecting the property sector. The Consumer Protection Act is another bone of contention and the forth-coming amendments to the National Credit Act will be a key focus point. In addition we will focus on the rights of ownership and occupancy and shed some light on the Community Schemes Ombud Service and how this entity assist in settling disputes.” Maritz confirmed.
We know from their newsletters that Acts.co.za exposes the large banks on questionable repossessions. Would PropertyWeb advise consumers on this as well? “Our focus would be on informative advise to practitioners, buyers, sellers, investors and tenants in the residential and commercial markets. The banking and property finance sector is not our priority. The only part of the pre-ownership phase we will touch on is the NEMA requirements for development of property and the issues of rezoning, local town planning and spatial development frameworks.” Maritz confirmed.
What about construction? This seems to be a huge burden from a SHEQ perspective. Will this also be covered by PropertyWeb? “No, I said what I wanted to say about Construction SHEQ back in 2014. It’s water under the bridge now. But we will cover Construction Risk in the CRA magazine from a Contractual and Procurement point of view. Let’s say it would be the first 4 stages of the project that will take up our time and resources. And if CHS falls in there, sure, we would include it.But it does not matter what we write or who writes it. The CHS people will still do what they feel is right even if it could cost them their employer’s business.” Maritz said.
Rumour has it that Network9 is setting its sights on Sheqafrica.com. If you already own it, why the rumours? “They are not rumours. Africa Media owns more than 30 online magazines, and we are simply restructuring our portfolio. Firstly, our data centre is getting over-loaded despite the 32 Exabyte of space (32 million TB) we have. Secondly, our magazines are scattered among a few publishing companies within Africa Media. We are simply sorting out the bookshelf and putting our books in logical order. Network9 will be the shelf for all the business books if I can use that as illustration. The other magazines like What The Gravel! and the online shops will run under different companies.” Maritz explained.
What is the view of the other shareholders of Sheqafrica.com and who owns the flagship magazine? “The two current shareholders are Network9 and Sheqafrica Corporate Services. But it is a bit more complicated. The domain names were all registered by the Cygma Group, so technically, they own it. We are in the process of transferring the various domains to Network9 and SACS respectively. We had to wait for the final registration of SACS, which happened this week. We can now proceed.” Maritz clarified.
What percentage of Sheqafrica.com will be owned by black people? Transformation in the Industry is vital for our economy. How is Sheqafrica.com playing its part? “First of all, I think one needs to look at transformation beyond the colour and race barriers. There is more to it than just black and white if I may use a pun. SHEQ has transformed over the years from a proud specialist profession to a free for all. It is only recently, that the profession is moving back to the future with the introduction of a formal career path from SHE rep to Chartered status. And education is the first step in transformation.”
“Secondly, the demographics of the profession per individual is already swinging nicely towards the previously disadvantaged, save perhaps in terms of gender. There are a larger number of new entrants from the black community than from other race groups. However, at the higher levels, the scales tip the other way. And that is where we need to get to.”
“Thirdly, the transformation is not just needed in SA, but also throughout the entire continent. And SACS, as the first partner of the SA magazine launched as part of our transformation strategy, would be responsible to move SA forward, while Sheqafrica.com, as an international magazine will focus on expanding into the rest of Africa. In short, we will all be playing a pivotal role in educating both government and private sectors in Africa as to the role of the SHEQ fraternity. As for Network9, we will follow the same strategy.” Maritz shared his vision.
Sheqafrica garnered a lot of support during the CR2014 debate, but also made a few foes along the way. Do you still feel you will get the support from the SHEQ Fraternity with this new direction and how would you manage your critics? “Okay, that is a hard question. I never saw myself as having a fan club, but I know my views on the SACPCMP got a larger than expected support base. To some extent I feel like I let these people down. And yes, I still maintain the view that SACPCMP registration of employed persons is a bad idea. As for Pr.CHSA registration, I have never objected to it, as it is the route every professional has to go. What happens now, is rather irrelevant to me personally. I moved on. And yes, I made my fair share of “foes” as you all them. But every sport has its injuries. As to continued support for the ‘new direction’, it is not my idea in the first place. I am just following the lawmakers and the international community to see where life is taking us. The ILO, the WHO, the IMO, the World Bank are all moving toward a people centered approach to business. As for critics, just turn on the comments, and you will quickly see them surface again. But I like them. They keep me moving ahead of them. One cannot advance among those who agree with everything you say. You advance in the face of adversity.” Maritz motivated.
SACS recently applied for Saiosh Corporate membership. What is your opinion on that, given your spat with Neels Nortjé at the 2018 A-OSH expo? “You know about that? Maritz asked surprised. “I wish I had a video running. It would have gone viral in seconds.” he laughed. “Well, despite our differences of opinion, professional or otherwise, I think Saiosh is doing a great service for the H&S practitioners. In the absence of any other benchmark they are the only professional body dedicated to the education of the OHS practitioner. I watched the video on your site here, and must say a 13 000 membership base in less than 10 years is an achievement on their part. But, then again, who else can you join with two weeks of training? Nevertheless, it is a starting point, and what I like about Saiosh is the career path they suggest practitioners should follow. It is just a pity that this valuable information is hidden behind a membership gateway. It should be published like the 2013 article on Sheqafrica.co.za, which after all the years are still among the top 10 Google results. Having said that, it is only a pity that practitioners do not progress beyond the two week courses. They end up getting a job and move along or climb the corporate ladder to reach a ceiling, and then, do like I did back in 2000. Start a consulting company. And very few make it past year three.” Maritz continued. “As for your application as Corporate member, I think it is the way to go. Any company with a vested interest in OHS should join them.”
One more question. What happened to the Cygma Group? You were the Group CEO at one stage. “Cygma is still around. Cygma SHEQ (Pty)Ltd is now under the direction of Pieter Lotz in Pretoria and the only SA registered company. The other group companies are Greatermans Online Wholesale Stores based in Ontario, Gravity Safety Products in the USA with its SA counterpart and Cygma Property Management in Ireland with a branch in Cape Town. Some of the business units of Cygma SHEQ are also being transferred to SACS and Network9 as part of the SACS merger.” Maritz said briefly.
In closure, with your 32 years experience, what else can you share with our readers in terms of the future in the SHEQ arena? “Now that is a very hard question. Can I tell you how long a piece of string is instead? It all depends on what a person want to achieve in life. The law is written. There is no quick fix to get around it. And there is no cheaper alternative in the long run, but to comply with it. As a business owner, one should understand the laws that apply to your business. You don’t need to know it, but an understanding of what Acts, Regulations and By-laws apply to your operation is critical. And for practitioners, it is not much different. Understand the law if you want to advise on it. Be better educated than the DOL inspector who may come and visit your employer. And lastly, think outside of the box. There are not a lot of jobs around in the popular industries like construction and mining. Decide if you want to spend your life making up files for a pittance. Seek your passion, and by that I don’t mean a passion for SHEQ. There is no such thing. You must have passion for something within SHEQ; a specialist field, and become a leader in that field. Focus on an industry. There are many untouched industries. Develop a compliance program for them. Show-case your skills; differentiate yourself from the 12 999 others out there. Always be professional, honest and stay within your limits of competence. If you don’t know, say so and then go and find the answers. And always remember that the person in front of you might just be twice as smart as you think they are.” Maritz advised.
While this may be vague concepts for some, there are people who are already up to date with these developments and we hope to get some specialist opinions on the aspects mentioned above.
Rudy Maritz is an executive partner at Le Roux Maritz & Associates, director of Network9 and non-executive director of Sheqafrica Corporate Services(Pty)Ltd and Board Member of the Cygma Group. He shared his views in an open conversation with Sheqafrica.co.za’s editor and these views are his alone and not necessarily shared or endorsed by Sheqafrica.co.za or its publishers or shareholders.