A continent that has a rich chemicals sector is also rich in opportunities. However, to fully take advantage of that opportunity, it is also essential that we get a good grip on our own manufacturing and distribution. These efforts require people that are willing to become pioneers in expanding Africa’s footprint. The competitive advantage of the basic chemicals industry derives from the abundance of raw materials due to the country’s strong minerals base. South Africa produces around 600 types of chemical. This is an industry that is constantly evolving and we have geared ourselves to evolve with it. Our People are our most valuable asset. By making sure that they have access to resources, we can unlock a thriving industry and a better society. This has been my passion and my self-imposed duty. 

By Lesiba Gwangwa

Africa’s chemicals industry is diverse spanning Industrial Chemicals, Fuels,  Plastic Fabrication and pharmaceuticals. It is a key component of the continent’s industrial  base. The industrial chemicals market in Africa is growing but, in my opinion, it’s not growing fast enough. With the inevitable and long-lasting impact of COVID-19 adding to the staggered growth, my hopes and dreams may be further delayed. Locally, many South African manufacturers have had to shut their doors and we cannot deny that what’s remaining of the industrial market is shaken. I am concerned that this may turn South Africa into more of an import-reliant country but for recovery, we need the opposite. We need to nurture our local market with additional production capacity and by supporting its potential clients with new service providers willing to take up the challenge. Especially, in the industrial chemical market and specifically for black entrepreneurs. 

I know it’s possible because I’m where I am today. The possibilities are endless because as a team of young black engineers, we once decided to get together and solidify our position in the industry as Chemicals Manufactures and distributors. We also dedicated ourselves to achievingthe social objectives of making sure that the impact is beneficial for the communities. Therefore, we contributed by adding additional employment opportunities in the economy. Our company, African Chemicals (Pty) Ltd, specialises in the manufacturing and distribution of chemicals to the continent’s industrial market. 

Since its establishment in 2015, we’ve had to adapt to the changing times and that often demands innovation. Though we’re focused on a suite of chemicalssuch as Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric Acid, Chlorine gas, Lime, Flocculants and  Coagulants, we have been  remodelling our product portfolio and cultivating new relationship within the market. I like to think that we are a product-flexible company. Where there is demand in Africa, we step in to close that gap by optimising client costs and opening up access channels. To adapt with the times and continue growing our business, we expanded our offering. 

It is our goal to be an African manufacturer that supplies African industrial consumers with quality chemical products and services in a manner that reduces their total spend and optimises their operating costs. I would like to get a firm hold on making products that boost Africa’s presence on the world stage. It is for this reason that my company recently decided to begin the production of a chemical which has global appeal and offers sustainable growth. 

African Chemicals is now one of very few caustic soda manufacturer and distributors on the continent. Caustic soda is a heavily condensed solution of sodium hydroxide. It is a chemical highly sought after because it is a diverse molecule that can be used in almost every industry in one way or another. It is useful in the manufacturing of cars and also in the very paper used to make teabags. 

According to Market Research Future, the caustic soda market size is expected to reach US$63.41 billion by 2027. When you look at the list of the world’s top producers, Africa does not even begin to scratch the surface. And yet, here we are fighting to get close enough to the surface. It is daunting to venture into uncharted territory but it is extremely exhilarating to imagine the possibilities on the other side. 

Our North African counterpart, Egypt, has aggressive plans to increasethe chemical sectors’ exports volume to African markets by 15%-22%. Egypt’s Chemical Industries Export Council said that the target demand for Egyptian chemical industry products coming from the African market is worth approximately US$750 million. I firmly stand behind this kind of ambition when it comes to Africa’s chemicals industry. I want the same for my own company and my own country in the near future. Whether we know it or not, engineers need to be at the forefront of innovation and emerging technologies. Preparedness becomes crucial and then action on that preparedness is inevitable. 

Africa needs to increase its market share in this sector and I can’t do it alone.  We need to come together to make our voices heard and our presence felt. It is inspiring to know that young companies are breaking ground even in the midst of a pandemic to join this pursuit. At last year’s South African Investment Conference, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that a black industrialist company manufacturing chemicals called Dalisu Holdings, would be commissioning their factory in December, 2020. There was also the news that another beneficiary of South Africa’s Black Industrialists Scheme began construction on a green charcoal facility in August of 2020. 

Back in 2018, Soweto’s very own, Ruli Diseko, secured a R50 million rand grant from South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry for the construction of a pure nickel sulphate plant in the North West. Ruli is the CEO of Thakadu Battery Materials which is a battery-grade nickel sulphate company. It is well on its way to achieving Ruli’sambitions of capturing a fifth of the world’s supply of nickel sulphate. This is exactly what is needed to bring South Africa and the continent to the forefront on the global stage. 

It was a necessary, but sad, decision to postpone the fifth African Chemicals Imbizo (that was meant to take place in Durban on May 18-20, 2020). It is during these very uncertain times that a meeting with the continent’s leading chemicals manufacturers would be most important. It is us, engineers and chemical manufacturers, who build our economy in more ways than one. We’ve been known to have a multiplier effect on job creation, significant impact on national industrialization and innovation. I love this industry and I love what it can do for us all. 

Therefore, it’s time to demand a bigger piece of the pie. We are very ambitious team and envision big things for the continent and for its young, black entrepreneurs wishing to break through. It is time to proudly represent my continent as we live up to the motto “Impossible is Potential”

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Lesiba Gwangwa is a renowned businessman and the CEO of a leading industrial chemical company, African Chemicals. He has over twenty years of experience in mining engineering, chemical manufacturing, civil and structural engineering and project management.