New standards executive to drive SABS progress

On the back of the South African Bureau of Standards’ (SABS) Standards and Competition Law Indaba, Plumbing Africa spoke with Zingisa Motloba, newly appointed executive: Standards Division, on the way forward for the SABS. 


The Standards and Competition Law Indaba was trigged by the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the SABS and the Competition Commission, underpinned by the case studies discussed at the indaba, among others.

Zingisa Motloba, executive: Standards Division at the SABS.Zingisa Motloba web
Image credit: SABS

The SABS had been called to answer on a number of discrepancies and risks that had been identified by the Competition Commission. In the process, it was acknowledged that a need exists to better understand the weaknesses in its processes to strengthen governance, which led to the MOU. This MOU is essentially premised on capacity building and information sharing.

“The Commission cannot resign itself of its independence, so they cannot tell us how to fix our problems. But they can engage with us to the extent that they are able, and we are willing, to share our inefficiencies, and so the indaba was really to kickstart the co-operation envisaged in the MOU, to announce that it had been signed, but also to start giving teeth to it. Not just to put it in a drawer as a document that we acknowledge for the auditor general and then state we are addressing governance — which is very much a culture in some of our state-owned entities,” said Motloba.

Also contained in the MOU is an intent to set up a joint working group between the SABS and the Commission. The attendees of the indaba were Technical Committee (TC) members, standards writers, and editors, because as a collective, they are the owners of the governance process. Also in attendance were members of the legal fraternity, critical in giving guidance to strengthen the efforts. The invitation was also extended to regional standards bodies as this is a challenge that is not unique to South Africa. The SABS was privileged to be supported in this initiative by the leadership of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), in the form of the president and president elect, as well as the secretary general.


The processes for the development of mandatory and voluntary standards are the same and so, any update or revision to these standards would not be treated independently. There is an acknowledgement that some of the processes at the SABS are lacking, both in diversity of represented stakeholders and consistency and in efficiency of participation on the TCs and how the committees support individuals — whether it is the secretariat or the standards writers taking ownership of the governance space. These challenges apply to mandatory and voluntary standards and need to be addressed through improved co-operation between industry, government, academia, and the SABS.

“Where we find ourselves now means that there is not much we can do about the standards that are already published and implemented until they either come up for review or there is a need to review them. So, if it’s not at the trigger date, there must be a reason in the market or it must be raised by a regulator like the Competition Commission to bring it back to the committee for review. We would hate to withdraw standards on the basis that the ‘processes are generally flawed’, because that leaves the industry with a gap within which they operate,” Motloba noted.

The intention is to get the processes for all standards committees to be improved, to identify on a systematic basis where the SABS is likely to have problems, and to make evaluations on a holistic approach.


Not all standards have areas of concern. Improvement of the SABS’ accessibility and engagement with the market is being initiated. The SABS’ stakeholder engagement is not at the required level, but the SABS needs to also be able to provide a governance framework without dictatorship from the markets. The statutory mandate to develop standards resides with the SABS, notwithstanding the critical participation of industry and other stakeholders.

Committee support has been neglected and action is required, but a divisional overhaul cannot be implemented until capacity is adequate and a systematic approach to fixing the things that can be fixed is adopted, notwithstanding restrictions such as budget constraints.

Motloba added, “An environment that is credible, robust, and efficient must be re-established. Turnaround time is important, quality is important, understanding of roles and governance is important, and the SABS’ role in the standards development process is important, so training and strengthening of capacity in these areas is a focus point.”

TC members primarily are industry experts for a reason. They work with the standards and want to know when things have failed — and the SABS relies on their input. One of the problems identified is poor participation by TC members in voting processes and reviewing of documents. Part of this is because of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. The South African National Standards (SANS) need to be the tools for driving economic growth with a long-term vision; reviewing standards through its own research, and making decisions based on educated evaluation of data from the markets — including what new standards should be established.


Motloba continued, “Having spoken to the people who are actually doing the work about the culture change, about service delivery, and about observing turnaround times, in this regard it is important to lead by example — and that starts from senior management. If the answer to a query or request is no, let the client know and close the loop — it is the minimum action required, rather than keeping the clients waiting and becoming frustrated. Maintaining a level of professionalism through all communications is also highly important. Many of the improvements we can make are not linked to our budget but rather the attitude in which things are done. The culture of non-performance cannot be accepted. It must be corrected with guidance and structure. The SABS does not need massive changes in policy and procedures; everyone just needs to do their job as the current processes are intended. We need to walk the talk and not get caught up in self-importance of a role — there is work to be done on all levels.”


All the SABS processes get monitored, but there has not been much by way of corrective action being implemented. This space has had many changes in the leadership and this has also contributed to some of the erosion of efficiencies. Chasing numbers rather than focusing on quality service delivery has been another challenge; the reward should not be how many balls can be juggled. Everything that is done needs to mean something to meet the objectives.

TCs that function and meet their objectives need to be recognised for doing a good job. This will also encourage TC members to be more engaged in their commitments to output. This is something Motloba has seen being done at ISO and other international bodies. Everyone involved has vested interests and by following best practices, they achieve the objectives quickly and efficiently — this should be the normal course of action. This will hopefully bring greater alignment between the SABS and its broader stakeholder base.


Employees are starved for interaction with industry outside of their workplace. To see, touch, and feel the space where their work is applied will not only give meaning to the work they do, but help to again foster relationships between the SABS and its stakeholders. “We need to be at the front of the line to identify solutions and innovate for growth and not hide away behind closed doors. We do not have the luxury to abdicate, as we have statutory commitments and obligations. No matter how small our areas are, they are all important to achieve our overall national growth aspirations. So, it is critical for the SABS, industry, academia, consumer bodies, and research institutions to all work together,” Motloba noted.

The more opportunities staff get to interact with markets, the more they see the value of their contributions and the work that they do, and so the intention is to engage with markets and get the staff out there in hands-on training programmes at companies, events, and exhibitions. Engagement is so important and therefore the SABS needs to take all the opportunities that it is offered and implore industry to come to the party in this regard.


“Meetings have been set with all of the committee chairpersons during February, and what will come out of these interactions is for us to begin to get onto the same page about why we participate in the standards development process and what we wish to see in order to strengthen the governance and ultimately, the credibility of our work. Where some of our policies or processes require improvement or amendment, this must also be considered. Looking at what is necessary for our processes to become efficient, engagement with industry, and identifying improvements and opportunities are where the focus needs to be; driving engagement through participation and awareness,” Motloba concluded.

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