SAIA Responds to SACAP's "Old Guard" Article in Mail & Guardian

SAIA President, Kevin Bingham, with past President, Sindile Ngonyama. PHOTO: Jethro Snyders Photography

This text has been widely circulated on social media and was originally published by the
South African Institute of Architects on Facebook.

SAIA President's Response to SACAP article Published in the Mail and Guardian

Dear SAIA Members

Below is my response to an article written by SACAP and published in the Mail and Guardian. Click here for this article.


Dear Sir/Madam

I respond to your article entitled "'Old guard' architects resisting change", dated 9 June 2017. It is noted that this article is a "right of reply" to an earlier article in the Mail & Guardian (M&G) entitled "Architects take on bully council".

Architecture is a proud profession, and being one of the oldest still in existence, it continues to seek to provide excellence in accommodation and spatial design, while being appropriate to the occupational needs and well-being of the users. Coupled with achieving these standards are the requirements of nationally accredited courses in architecture, offered by a number of academic institutions. The South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) represents over 2000 Professional Architects, while our regional offices, most of them also being registered with SACAP as Voluntary Associations (VA), represent the Professional Architect members in their regions, and in some instances, members of other SACAP registration categories.

The two sides of the debate put forward in your aforementioned news articles are promoted by a group of architectural professionals going by the name of Architects 4 Change (A4C), and by the president of the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP), Dr. Yashaen Luckan. The M&G has chosen to remove the earlier publication due to pressure from SACAP, with reasons given.

What I deem important in my response, is not the tit for tat selective arguing prevalent in the earlier narratives, but rather to note with alarm that we have a profession that is in crisis. SACAP, a government entity, is the regulatory body for our profession - its role is critically important. It is their duty to protect the public. It is also entrusted with ensuring appropriate minimum standards of compliance, both in the profession and through architectural educational accreditation.

Unfortunately the reality of the current situation is that our Council is seemingly unable, in my view, to fulfill its obligations at the level that is required. There are reasons for this inability and I will list two as I know them:

  • Of the 11 members of the elected Council, only 5 remain. One of the remaining 5, the Treasurer, has reportedly not been effective since late 2015, I understand due to a legal dispute with the very same Council. Other Councillors have either resigned or have been removed. In fairness to the Council, they have attempted to have new Councillors appointed by the Minister;

  • The Architectural Professions Act of 2000 (the Act) contains a number of clauses critical to the functioning of our profession and to the protection of the public. One of these clauses is the Identification of Work (IDoW). The intention of this section of the Act is to ensure that persons performing architectural work are adequately qualified to perform such work, and are SACAP registered to perform this work. SACAP has for some time been engaging with the Competitions Commission in regard a revised IDoW. Our Institute was informed that the previous Council had almost reached agreement with the Commission, but that the current Council had withdrawn the documentation to forge ahead on a new, and as yet unsuccessful path. Your article states that SACAP, in the absence of the IDoW, "holds registered persons accountable for rule 2.1 of SACAP's code of professional conduct, which states that a SACAP registrant may only perform such work as they are professionally qualified and competent to undertake, according to their registration category." Unfortunately the general public is inadequately apprised of the differences of educational training that are required for the 4 categories of registration. It is possible for a SACAP registered person to have 1 or 2 years formal academic training, as opposed to a Professional Architect who has a Masters degree, achieved after 5 years of study. Many ill-informed Clients only rely on the Council registration as their guide. SACAP will inform you that the overwhelming bulk of complaints received from the public pertain to the lesser qualified registrants.

The real irony of your latter news article relates to claims of "resistance to transformation by the 'old guard'. After an earlier meeting with representatives of SACAP in regard our concerns, in March 2017, we were invited to meet with representatives of A4C in Johannesburg in May. Three of the four gentlemen that we met, acknowledged as drivers of this advocacy group, were black African! Coupled to this, by no means were they old! I found them to be passionate about their chosen profession and very concerned about its future. They laid their complaints squarely at the door of SACAP. Their resistance to transformation can be nothing further from the point.

Transformation as I observed it, is extremely close to A4C's hearts. So too is it with SAIA. Our Institute works tirelessly at transformational upliftment . SAIA has a Transformation Committee and a full time employee working solely at this important goal. We offer bursaries to university students, assist with mentorship at the universities, assist with school talks and programmes, including outlying areas, and have introduced the 'Open Architecture' programme, a distance (online) blended learning offering, for Technologists and Draughtspersons wishing to gain entry to the Masters Programmes, and is run in association with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. It seems sad that SACAP have chosen this as a response when there is so much work being done in regard transformation in the 'field'. Of course there remains much still to achieve.

It is important to note that the Act calls for SACAP to produce "guideline professional fees" on an annual basis. Again reasons have been given for this omission. The comment in the right to reply levelled at Professional Architects stating that they "felt their fees would be threatened" is to my mind unfortunate. While other Built Environment professions have kept pace with inflationary fee increments, the haphazard compliance with the Act has disadvantaged Architecture. A leap in the fee guidelines after a lengthy omission, adds to the confusion of the public. It is my belief that, rather than Architects feeling "that their fees would be threatened", it has more to do with Architects expressing their concern that the public believe that they will be able to get the top service for a much lesser fee. The possible pitfalls are not spelled out clearly.

To add to the confusion for the public, Interior Designers are now being registered as Interior Architects under the same Council.

SACAP has recently resurrected the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) programme, previously offered around the turn of the century, and in my view, very successful in upliftment. I am unaware of any Professional Architects who are unwilling to see registered persons rise to their category of registration, if they possess the requisite levels of competence. Competence is in line with SACAP's duty of public protection. With both the SACAP president and myself having incubated our architectural careers in the Technikon corridors, both he and I are fully supportive of RPL. Its manner of implementation will determine its success, and I will personally be keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.

What is required is very swift action! SAIA also met with a committee of the Minister of Public Works in mid-May, in an attempt to resolve the critical issues at hand. I foresee that the salvos between the aggrieved A4C and SACAP will continue while we await the Minister's decisions. All the while the public remains unacceptably uninformed and poorly protected.

Kevin Bingham
President, South African Institute of Architects

Photograph courtesy SAIA