The stainless steel sector, similar to the rest of the local economy, was under pressure before the onset of Covid-19, says the Southern Africa Stainless Steel Development Association (Sassda).
“During the initial stages of the lockdown, we worked with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), and played a key part in getting the sector reopened at 50%, whereas other industries had to open at 30%,” explains Sassda acting executive director Michel Basson.
However, he adds that the compounded effect of a weak economy and the halt on activities because of the pandemic created a shrink in tonnage, converted locally, of more than 20%.
Nevertheless, this crisis also had some positive outcomes, says Basson.
For instance, the association’s members had to reconsider aspects, such as staff deployment, the use of facilities and cost structures. Fortunately, many were able to implement new ways of effective working, albeit forced.
“It also came with the bitter taste of staff retrenchments, but as we have seen in the past, those who survive will come out stronger. We are fortunate to be in a resilient industry.”
As such, some key focus areas for Sassda going forward will be to continue its close working relationship with the DTIC, as well as the Department of Small Business Development, since the majority of its members are classified as small or medium-sized enterprises.
“We will focus on bringing information of downstream markets to our value chain – especially those within the African Continental Free Trade Area.”
Further, Basson believes that the relevance of an association such as Sassda has never been more important, as now is the time when Sassda relays information on government assistance schemes to members, advocates for the stainless steel industry and ensures that members are technically as sharp as ever through its digital training, which is just one of the association’s digital platforms through which it offers online presentations and virtual plant visits.