TRANSFORMING THE AFRICAN LANDSCAPE

Promoting continental property development

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Five years ago Nkuli Bogopa was a doe-eyed property practitioner who happened to be at the right place at the right time.Having been a general member of the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners (SAIBPP), she attended an annual general meeting where she was unexpectedly appointed to the SAIBPP board.

What’s more, it was the first time she had attended a SAIBPP AGM. At the time she worked for Absa/Barclays as a facility manager. Before that she had practised as an architect—even today she is still registered as a professional architect with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession. “The feeling at the time was that SAIBPP needed more young people active in the organisation. So, I just found myself in that position,” she says.  As a SAIBPP board member Bogopa served in various committees, helping the organisation fulfil its transformation mandate within the real estate sector. She is known for her passion of reaching out to students to preach the gospel of careers within the sector. Eventually, Bogopa was appointed deputy president of the organisation under Thomas Matlala’s presidency. She served for two years. The pair, together with their committed board members and other colleagues, worked hard to stabilise the organisation’s finances—a perennial worry–as well as grow membership of the organisation, both private property practitioners and corporates.

Meanwhile, in her full-time career, Bogopa joined Rio Tinto in 2011 as Group Property Manager. On 5 November 2015, during SAIBPP’s annual AGM, Bogopa’s rise within SAIBPP took a huge step forward when she was appointed president of the organisation. It was the culmination of a long journey of serving. The AGM took place at the tail end of an inspirational two-day convention that highlighted the many opportunities awaiting South African property players willing to venture beyond our country’s borders. Various experts spoke convincingly on the theme in presentations replete with statistics to back arguments.According to the SAIBPP constitution the deputy president automatically ascends to the presidency when the incumbent’s term ends after two years. While she may have known what fate had in store for her, Bogopa was “so nervous” when the fateful moment arrived. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready,” she says. “I knew I had big shoes to fill but what encouraged me was knowing that I’m surrounded by people who are very supportive and I’ve worked with them for some time now.”

This was the fourth time in the organisation’s 19-year history that a female president was appointed. The other past female presidents were Oarona Khama, Nyameka Madikizela and Kgaogelo Mamabolo. All of them blazed the trail in their own way as demanded by the demands of the time. Bogopa is aware of the rich heritage of the organisation and is ready to leave her mark as president. “As I mentioned in my speech on the night of the gala dinner (after the AGM), above all things, I feel truly honoured to be in this position. I hope to serve our constituency well. I hope to do my best with this job and make some changes within the organisation that are much needed, taking from the good work already done by my predecessor,” Bogopa says.

While certainly having big shoes to fill, and while there is a need for continuity of some programmes, Bogopa is clear about championing her own vision. She has identified six critical areas to focus on during her tenure. The first one is sustainable development. “The future of our continent lies in real estate,” she says. “The built environment and infrastructure and agricultural development—that is the future. So building and capacitating our youth to be absorbed into our universities to get relevant education that will cover technical, tactical, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills will certainly solve the challenge of the youth unemployment we are faced with as a continent.” She says skills development will also help sharpen the skills of older professionals who are already in the sector. Her second area of focus will be solving the problem of student accommodation by encouraging more property practitioners to enter this segment of the market.“When these students come to tertiary adequate accommodation is needed for them. For me this market is a low-hanging fruit. It’s a captive market already and investors can’t go wrong,” she says. Her third area of focus as president will be making sure that SAIBPP is a powerful force of change beyond South Africa’s borders.

“My biggest passion is having a Pan-African agenda that covers the Diaspora and making sure that we have more Africans investing in real estate on the continent and not just foreign investors. The best way we can achieve this is by setting up chapters in different regions of Africa, identify like-minded organisations and start having serious and close interactions with them going forward,” she says. A fourth area of focus is turning SAIBPP to be a repository of key information about property markets across Africa that would benefit investors. “We need to do research on property markets across Africa and be the hub as SAIBPP for such studies because we are a more mature real estate market throughout the continent. So, we are best placed to put together such documents and research material that can help other countries to unlock the value [of property] in their different markets,” she says. Bogopa believes African property practitioners are well placed to help the African Union meet its 2063 vision of eradicating poverty and creating a prosperous and peaceful continent. This vision envisages a continent boasting world-class integrated infrastructure that will promote intra-African trade, sustainable development and economic growth.

“We are a sector that should be at the forefront of unlocking the development of the continent. The advancement of other countries through infrastructure development is key to the development of the continent as a whole,” she says. “On a personal level, unlocking the value of property will also help African entrepreneurs acquire collateral to do business. That is the mystery of capital. That is how wealth is created.” The fifth area of focus during Bogopa’s presidency will be ensuring that agriculture is included in any advancement of real estate on the continent. She sees this “vast” sector as being critical “to absorb more people and create jobs”. She feels that if the true value of this sector could be unlocked, Africa, with its vast tracks of arable land, could actually feed the world. For her, this can happen once Africans start owning their own land and avoid being tenants in their own countries. Lastly, Bogopa wishes to focus on gender transformation in the sector and actively encouraging that.

“We have now made some strides in terms of racial transformation. Even so we are seeing less and less of female participation by encouraging younger girls to enter the built environment.” While her agenda is ambitious, Bogopa is aware that not all of her goals will be achievable within the tenure of her presidency. But she’s willing to have a go of it. Besides, she has a capable deputy in Lynette Ntuli who may further the agenda when she takes over as president when Bogopa steps down. “I’m optimistic of achieving the goals I’ve set out as president,” she says. “I’ve consciously steered clear of goals that will depend solely on government participation. We have enough state-owned entities that are aligned with us we could raise funds from for skills development. We just need to actively follow up.” For now, Bogopa brims with confidence and is ready for the road ahead.

To give greater meaning to her elevation within SAIBPP, Bogopa wishes to make the impact of her presidency felt all over the continent. “This appointment is certainly the pinnacle of my career despite what I have achieved at Rio Tinto, a respected multinational. But it will only be realised as a pinnacle if I can touch other regions of Africa. I want to help create change on the continent. I’d like to see this appointment as serving all Africans, not just South Africans.” Also, she is still giddy with excitement about the phenomenal success of the recent annual convention in Durban.

“The convention went as planned. We were quite happy with the quality of the speakers we had, with the information they brought to us,” she says. “Delegates walked away impressed with useful information they got at the convention.” She credits the clear vision of the committee that put together the programme for the success of the convention. We did as much research as possible in terms of what’s happening on the continent and where opportunities lie for our members.

“And we brought experts such as Prof Samuel Azasu and Dr Kola Akinsomi from Wits University, Patrick Katabua, a banker who is also President of the Africa Real Estate Society, as well Dr Kusiluku a land commissioner from Tanzania. All of them gave us useful information about what is going on in different real estate markets on the continent. We also had wonderful speakers from South Africa. It was a truly enriching experience.” The spin-off of involving property thinkers from elsewhere on the African is that SAIBPP can work with the organisations they represent and gain further insights about the continental real estate field. “For example, we are now in talks to make sure that when Patrick Katabua’s African Real Estate Society has events, they invite our members and we can start doing a cross-pollination of professionals from both organisations.”

SAIBPP has also identified a few other organisations such as CORENET and the African Property Investment as possible partners. A recent SAIBPP survey conducted before the Durban convention showed that members crave such networking opportunities, Bogopa says. “What came out clearly from the survey was that members are looking for networking opportunities in order to learn about business opportunities. They also wish to have learning opportunities. These are the areas I’d like to focus on. It’s a way for SAIBPP to remain engaged,” according to Bogopa.

She also foresees a SAIBPP that fosters “deeper engagement with our government stakeholders, state-owned entities as well as establishing new relations outside of South Africa”. Leadership resonates deeply with Bogopa. She is a Tutu Fellow, a programme that recognises dynamic young African leaders. Under her leadership, South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners hopes to do more outreach programmes with schools. For Bogopa the time for action is now. “Dr Sululo once said: ‘It’s no longer time for the world to talk about Africa. It’s now time for the world to talk with Africa.’ I’d like to add to that and say it’s actually time for Africans to do their own talking. Above all, we need to walk our own talk,” she sayS. 

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