Even as South Africa’s construction sector struggles through difficult cycles of low profitability and declining capacity, it needs responsible and sustainable companies to maintain momentum.
After almost nine decades in business, AfriSam’s legacy has been to demonstrate the value of good corporate citizenship, according to the company’s sales and marketing executive Richard Tomes. AfriSam began its journey as Anglovaal Portland Cement Company in 1934, with a cement plant in Roodepoort.
“The time since then has seen many changes and we are proud to have grown stronger, with our customers confirming that we are still their preferred choice,” says Tomes. “Even with the depressed state of the construction sector, our focus on quality and sustainability means that we can continue to serve the market to world class standards.”
Tomes argues that the extensive investment in cement plants, readymix facilities and quarries over the years laid the groundwork for AfriSam’s considerable contribution to the country’s infrastructure. As Anglo Alpha, it had become a fully vertically-integrated construction materials business in the 1990s through the strategic incorporation of aggregate producer Hippo Quarries and readymix company Pioneer Concrete. When the country re-entered the international community post-democracy, the company was acquired by the multinational Holcim group, further augmenting its access to world-class expertise and best practice.
“The learnings gained when part of the Holcim group were valuable in positioning AfriSam where it is today,” he says. “Our access to global research and the sharing of technical expertise further enhanced the expertise of many staff still with the business.”
He emphasises the large capital commitments which AfriSam has historically made in the country’s productive capacity. Often located in remote areas due to their need for limestone deposits, cement plants must be built for optimal longevity to justify the investment, he explains. These facilities – such as AfriSam’s Ulco and Dudfield plants – operate not just as production facilities but as integrated settlements.
“We have been able to serve the nation’s requirement for vital cement supplies by maintaining entire village environments at these sites, including schools, houses, churches and other services,” says Tomes. “These facilities must be carefully managed and maintained for sustainability, and to make it attractive for our staff to live and work there.”
There is also an ongoing commitment to education and training, to ensure that all plant is professionally operated and systematically serviced while creating opportunities for future generations.
Looking further ahead, AfriSam has taken a leading role in the sector to reduce carbon emissions. Aiming at producing carbon neutral products, the company has already made significant progress in offering the market a range of lower carbon cements. It is also considering renewable energy sources at some its plants, to reduce coal usage.
“We will continue to make a positive contribution in helping South Africa meet its commitments to the relevant global treaties and conventions on climate change,” he says.