Against the backdrop of this year’s State of the Nation Address and the Budget speech, Southern Africa Stainless Steel Development Association (Sassda) acting executive director Michel Basson took an in-depth look at the ‘state of the stainless steel nation’ and how it is expected to fare in 2021.
Amid the difficulties and challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Basson states that before the influence of the pandemic the stainless steel sector, the economy, was ere under pressure. The pandemic added to this owing to the initial hard lockdown and as the spread of the virus impacted the health of its employees.
During the initial stages of the lockdown, Sassda worked with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) and played a key part in getting the stainless steel sector opened at 50%, whereas other industries had to open to a 30% level.
However, the compounded effect of a weak economy and the halt on activities by the pandemic created a shrinkage in tonnage converted locally, of more than 20%. “Downstream markets for fabricated products have been a problem for our manufacturers for some time and it has been aggravated by the pandemic. The local use of stainless steel for conversion, and therefore job creation, declined by more than 20% over the last year.”
He states that, in terms of current lockdown restrictions and cross-border trade, there are both advantages and disadvantage.
“My philosophy is that you need to see light in dark times to keep going. This crisis also had some positive outcomes. Our members had a re-look at staff deployment, use of facilities, cost structures and 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 very resilient industry.”
Moreover, he notes that the relevance of an association like Sassda is now more pronounced than ever. Now is the time when Sassda relays information on government assistance schemes to members, advocates for the industry and ensures that its members are technically as informed as ever, through for instance online training platforms.
“We started last year with weekly webinars that are not only technical but focussed on new markets (especially Africa) and how to prepare your company for potential exports.”
Sassda has been preparing for improved member contact for about two years through the online and digital realm. This included online presentations, virtual plant visits, online training and the like.
“Since the lockdown, we were able to quickly adapt within the space of a month and bring this goal forward rapidly and we are currently serving more members than ever before with quality information via the online channel of choice,” states Basson.
He concludes that key focus areas for Sassda will be to continue its close working relationship with the DTIC, as well as the Department of Small Business Development since a majority of members can be 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 Agreement.”