IPMA International Project Management Association
14 December 2015 / 8:38

Projects and project management in South Africa

The third IPMA Research Conference, held end of November at Stellenbosch, gave us the possibilities to exchange experiences and gain many insights regarding projects and project management in South Africa.


The Republic of South Africa, is the southernmost country in Africa, stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Neighbouring countries are Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe to the North, Mozambique and Swaziland to the East and surrounding the Kingdom of Lesotho. The multi-ethnic society of South Africa is encompassing a wide range of cultures, languages, and religions. The majority of the South African population (>50 Millions) are of sub-Saharan African ancestry, the remaining population consists of European (white), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (colored) people. All ethnic groups are represented in the country’s constitutional democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and is often referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”. Important for the country´s development was the release of Nelson Mandela from prison (after 27 years of imprisonment) and the first multi-racial elections in 1994 with Nelson Mandela becoming the first black President of South Africa.

With about $500 billion GDP South Africa is the second-largest economy in Africa. Main sectors are the natural resources (e.g. gold, platinum, diamonds, coal), agriculture and food processing, manufacturing (e.g. for automotive industry), different types of services as well as tourism. The economy is still in change process, for example the ANC Government discusses the redistribution of about 25 million hectares of land to black farmers, which had a rather negative effect in Zimbabwe. Another challenge in South-Africa is the high unemployment rate of more than 25% which causes economic and social problems such as an inappropriate education, poor health outcomes and crime. These numbers show only the tip of the iceberg, some reports show a significantly higher unemployment rate and a long-term unemployment, which creates an atmosphere of hopelessness. This increases as South Africa suffers from huge numbers of illegal immigrants, performing jobs far below the minimum wages. Starting from 2003 the Government implemented a program called “Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)”, which is giving certain previously disadvantaged groups (Blacks, Coloureds, Indians, and Chinese who arrived before 1994) economic privileges previously not available to them. The program has been criticized a lot, for example that it results in businesses having to consider the race and social background of any potential applicant instead of making decisions purely based on qualifications and experience. Later, the South African Government responded to the criticism and launched another program, the “Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBEE)” with little effect so far. In addition, the so-called “Ubuntu” concept of the Western-Cape region is also important to understand. Ubuntuism as political philosophy has aspects of socialism, propagating the redistribution of wealth amongst all people. It is similar to redistributive policies in liberalism and may considered to have adverse effects on the economy . The above mentioned Research Conference gave us the possibility to better understand the specifics of the culture and the effects on projects and project management.

DSC00313Projects of interest are performed in the field of energy, such as the  Eskom Renewables Support Project for South Africa to facilitate accelerated development of large scale renewable energy capacity in support of the long-term carbon mitigation strategy of South Africa. Another pipeline of projects and programs is generated through the “Government’s Programme of Action”, which reflects the strategic plan for the 2014-2019 electoral term, the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF). It is structured around 14 priority outcomes which cover the focus areas identified in the National Development Plan: education, health, safety and security, economic growth and employment, skills development, infrastructure, rural development, human settlements, local government, environment, international relations, public sector, social protection, nation-building and social cohesion.  More projects are performed in the area of infrastructure.

The Association for Project Management (APMSA) represents IPMA in South Africa.  The vision of APMSA is to “be a forum for project managers and those that have an interest in project management techniques, and organisations who subscribe to the idea of “manage-by-projects”. The Mission of APMSA is to “promote professional project management and move people forward. Professional project management means a deep understanding of project and general management tools, techniques and what is considered as “best practices”. It requires a fundamental understanding of business and wealth creation processes. It requires a suite of Values and Guiding principles that will permit the project manager to do what is right rather than just expedient decision-making. Respect for the values and cultures, health and safety, and the environment of the interested parties is paramount.” APMSA is conducting several project management events in South Africa, is connected to universities and provides qualification and certification to those interested in advancing their project management competences. APMSA is engaged in the development of national and international standards through the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and is engaged in several neighbouring countries through the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). APMSA offers certification according to the IPMA 4-Level-Certification System and is also active in promoting competences for the planning, controlling, assuring and all other related project support functions. IPMA and APMSA are planning another conference in South-Africa end of next year.


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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.