Trade union Solidarity on Thursday emphasised the importance of South Africa’s steel industry, stating that it is a “key enabler of every part of the South African economy – including the automotive, mining, construction, energy and infrastructure sectors, all of which have been identified as major growth drivers”.
Speaking at the launch of its Save our Steel (SOS) campaign, in Centurion, Solidarity metal and steel industry general secretary Marius Croucamp noted that the top five steel consuming industries together contribute R600-billion to South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) and employ more than eight-million people.
Croucamp said a drastic slowdown in domestic economic growth, cost pressures in the manufacturing sector, existing stifling regulatory measures and excessively high steel imports put tremendous pressure on the South African steel industry.
“In recent years, we have experienced thousands of jobs losses in the domestic steel, manufacturing and engineering industries. Numerous local steel companies either downsized by retrenching thousands of workers or closed down completely, leaving scores of workers without employment,” he said.
Croucamp pointed out that the steel industry provides about 300 000 direct and indirect jobs and contributes 1.5% to South Africa’s GDP.
“Two-thirds of the households in Vanderbijlpark, in Gauteng and in Newcastle, in KwaZulu-Natal and one-quarter of those in Saldanha, in the Western Cape, are dependent on the local steel industry for their livelihood,” he said.
Croucamp stressed that, if steel manufacturing plants in those areas had to close, 66% of the labour force in Vanderbijlpark and Newcastle, and 25% of the labour force in Saldanha, would be unemployed.
He further pointed out that if South Africa’s steel industry were to dissolve, it would take more than ten years to re-establish its capability.
“However, as the economy grows, its steel intensity will increase. Many of the key growth drivers laid out in the National Development Plan (NDP) depend on steel and if this steel were exported, it would decrease South Africa’s trade deficit by around 1% of GDP,” he said.
“The steel industry plays a critical role in mineral beneficiation, given South Africa’s abundant iron-ore reserves. Steel quadruples the economic value of South Africa's iron-ore, adding R26-billion in value.”
Croucamp noted that the primary objectives of the SOS campaign were to save the South African steel industry by creating public awareness of the challenges the industry is facing, to lobby public support, to promote alignment between the primary and downstream industry and to achieve synergy between them.
He added that the SOS theme promotes the idea that “we are all proud South Africans, and for this reason, we should stand and work together to ensure that we don’t lose our steel industry.”