South Africans helping to rebuild Christchurch

South Africans are making a unique contribution on the global construction stage.

In New Zealand, they’re bringing their skills to help rebuild Canterbury, a region brought to its knees following the devastating earthquake sequence four years ago that killed 185 people and destroyed many thousands of homes.

Rebuilding Greater Christchurch is one of the biggest economic undertakings in New Zealand’s history.

New Zealand’s Building and Housing Minister, Dr Nick Smith, describes the scale of the residential rebuild in Christchurch as “unprecedented”. Up to 70% of the city’s buildings needed to be demolished and nearly 11,000 homes were uninhabitable or destroyed. As many as 155,000 homes needed to be repaired or rebuilt.

With the help of a migrant workforce, Canterbury is slowing moving forward. So far about 200 buildings have gone up, or are in the process of construction.  The city’s earthquake damaged roads, fresh water, wastewater and storm water networks are 65% complete. Good progress has also been made to repair and rebuild the 155,000 homes.

Pretoria based Immigration New Zealand spokesperson, Dan Smidt, said that South Africans are sought after in the R350 billion rebuild because South African tradespeople and professionals –  such as quantity surveyors – bring a broad mix of skills and experience to a country that shares similar skill levels, and where South Africans are a good cultural fit.

“Interestingly, not all the South Africans who moved to Christchurch immigrated. Some moved to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime construction project, and they have been joined by scores of other nationalities from around the world,” Mr Smidt said.

South African quantity surveyor Chris Reyneke, who moved from Durban with his wife, said that his Kiwi counterparts do not always share his experience with construction contracts, and this is where he can offer additional value.

“Before the Christchurch earthquake NEC3 contracts (New Engineering Contract) were not used in New Zealand, although more common in South Africa. It may not sound like much, but in quantity surveying, this experience is a substantial and sought-after edge – even within the multinational community we have here.

“It is unquestionably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help a city destroyed by an earthquake rise from the ashes. There are cutting edge construction methods happening on almost every corner – from ‘jet grouting’ to ‘deep soil mixing’ and the so-called ‘base-isolating’ of buildings so that the building doesn’t shake during a quake (just the foundations).

“They are doing things differently here, including taking a new approach to some old problems,” Mr Reyneke said.

But it’s not just South African tradesmen and professionals who are contributing to the rebuild.

South African economist Simon Thompson works for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). As a strategic finance manager, Simon is involved in a number of the city’s anchor projects, including the new Stadium, Convention Centre and the Metro Sports Facility.

“My job is to ensure the New Zealand Government gets the best bang for its buck and that projects are being managed properly and responsibly from a financial perspective. To do that a lot of planning goes in upfront. Actual construction is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the design and commercial strategy that has gone before.

“It’s a bit like Lego. The Lego blocks have to be planned and designed and instructions provided to make sure it all works when it comes time to build,” says Simon, who studied a Bachelor of Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“It’s pretty cool to be involved in rebuilding a city. We’re doing something that is going to last generations and we’ll be able to look at landmarks and tell our children ‘I did that’.”

If you’re interested in applying your trade or professional skills to the Christchurch rebuild, visit the New Zealand Immigration website. It includes information about living and working in New Zealand, such as climate and lifestyle, and information on visa requirements and job prospects for your profession.


Author: PR Officer

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