Matthews Magwaza, who has been associated with The Concrete Institute and its Midrand predecessors, the Cement & Concrete Institute (C&CI) and Portland Cement Institute (PCI) for a total of 18 years, says many previously disadvantaged South Africans are keen to pursue a concrete-related career. “But the problem is that most of these people acquired all their concrete knowledge by watching friends or other people during building work, so they end up being enthusiastic self-taught individuals, without the vital technical knowledge of how to use concrete correctly to create durable structures, or make quality bricks and blocks. This is why I enjoy my job so much, teaching these people how to enjoy their work and to earn a living from just the basics of concrete technology.”
Another training obstacle many of these budding concrete businesspersons face is language. “For many years, South African concrete training was mainly conducted in English or Afrikaans, and a large percentage of black people thirsty for concrete knowledge could not clearly understand lecturers. In cases where they were illiterate, this was even more of a problem. The School’s training is still done in English but I am fortunate to be able to elaborate and answer students’ queries in Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and the Sotho languages if required.”
Matthews has provided training not only in the School’s lecture rooms and laboratories in Midrand and other major SA cities, but also on building sites and in the veld and under trees all over South Africa and its neighbouring states. He has, in the process, seen men and women from all walks watch in amazement and delight as they mixed concrete properly for the first time in their lives.
“Some of my students have become successful business people, running concrete brick and block production yards, some are even erecting structural elements, and others have rapidly been promoted within their companies. Their backgrounds vary: most came from impoverished family backgrounds, but I have even taught a qualified medical female doctor how to use concrete. She quit her job and opted for a career in concrete. That’s concrete for you – it can change your life. It certainly did for me,” he adds.