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Rooting for regulation

Oct 02 2016 06:00
Eugene Goddard

Destiny laid the first of a series of cards on the table when Teleni Shabangu accepted a position as receptionist at an auction company, because she was responding to what she would come to realise was actually her calling.

Qualified with a BA degree from the University of the North and a teacher’s diploma, she had always fancied herself as an educator, and did for some time lecture at MSC Private College in Tzaneen.

However, when the college closed down, it set in motion a chain of events that took Shabangu from a clerical post at PostNet to a stint as a telesales marketer for SAB, before she finally ended up jobless in Johannesburg.

In 2001, when she was informed that her application for a position at Tirhani Asset Disposal (now Tirhani Group Holdings) was successful, Shabangu, not being one to flinch in the glare of something new, leapt at the chance to add another string to her bow.

“It was difficult, at first, but also very challenging, and I was intrigued by what I saw,” she says.

Interest and a positive mind-set translated into promotions in quick succession: basic auction administration, IT, new business development and marketing.

Before her first decade in the cut-throat industry was out, she had been appointed managing director at Sizwe Auctions, a position she held for just over a year before launching her own company in 2010 – an auspicious year for ambitious goals.

Today Shabangu heads Rihlazana Auctions and, true to its Shangaan name, meaning “green”, it has become a fast-growing brand, sprouting sales apace with much older auction firms.

“We can get even more business in,” says the company’s director, one of only a few black female auctioneers to be successful in South Africa.

She points out that it is tough enough making it as a black auctioneer in this business, never mind being a woman wielding a gavel.

“There have been a lot of black-owned auction companies starting out, but many of them don’t last long because it’s so difficult to bring work in.”

Shabangu says old-fashioned perceptions probably play the biggest role in preventing black auctioneers from getting their fair share of “bank work”, the lifeblood of the auction industry.

“You can be a woman serving on a bank panel, deciding who should get work when a company goes belly up, but when assets are repossessed and are required to be recycled back into the market by way of urgent auction, you’ll find that it’s bigger [mostly white-owned] companies that get the work.”

It makes one wonder how smaller companies are supposed to grow when they’re not given the opportunities, Shabangu argues.

Her brother, Alex Mthembi, who works for Rihlazana as an auctioneer, says there is nothing wrong with their capacity or ability.

“We’ve got a proven track record that speaks for itself. We can do whatever the bigger companies do.”

Shabangu adds that Rihlazana ticks all the boxes necessary to bring in business: storage capacity; a prominently placed head office in the heart of the capital, Pretoria; a branch in Polokwane; a tight-knit staff complement made up of highly competent people; and, besides herself and her brother, another auctioneer, JP Snyman, who’s a household name in the industry.

And yet bank work, unlike government and municipal contracts which she says are her “core work”, is not flowing in.

“Most of my clients come back because we often manage not only to match the reserve price [the predetermined price of a liquidated asset], but we double it.”

Like many other auctioneers struggling against perceived monopolising of the industry by big disposal brands, Shabangu is rooting for regulation to set things right.

As a member of the Services SETA, which already oversees property-related aspects such as valuations and adherence to estate agency regulations, Shabangu believes the scope of supervision should be expanded.

“If we had career guidance for young people, informing them of job opportunities in the auction industry, we should be able to bring more people into the business”, so that representation in local auctioneering would gradually begin to reflect the country’s demographic composition.

Shabangu also believes that industry ills such as bribery, a major cause for work exclusion depriving newcomers and non-corruptible auction companies from netting big contracts, would be rooted out if the industry were regulated.

“It means that auctioneers will have to play by the book, but many companies don’t like to play by the book. However, if they risked losing their licences [under a regulatory system], I’m sure they will change their minds.”

For the time being, the jury’s out on regulation but Shabangu, who steered the portfolio on transformation at the South African Institute of Auctioneers, believes change is coming. The institute provides a clear set of industry standards that promote the ethical practice of the auctioneering profession.

“We are confident that through instituting certain mechanisms, such as forcing auctioneers to get an NQF4 qualification[*], thereby shutting the industry to free-for-all chancers, we will promote professionalism and progressive equitability in our industry,” says Shabangu, who holds a certificate from the SA College of Auctioneering.

* Proposed regulation of tertiary education for auctioneers will be covered by Auctions & Tenders in a forthcoming edition of City Press

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