Resuscitating South Africa’s ailing Plumbing Manufacturing Industry

The proposed Water and Sanitation Industrialisation Master Plan aims to arrest years of erosion of South African capacity to design and manufacture competitively priced, quality plumbing products for both the local and international markets.

Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies’ (TIPS) extensive research into the current status of the water and sanitation value chain, as well as the South African plumbing industry form the basis of this Master Plan. This includes TIPS’ most recent findings into South Africa’s ability to design, manufacture and supply competitively priced, quality water and sanitation products. The report has identified many challenges that local manufacturers of water and sanitation products face and suggests solutions to resuscitate the industry. It complements the Department of Water and Sanitation’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan that was released in 2018. These policy documents are also intended to be used together with master plans that have already been developed for the reindustrialisation of the plastics, steel and chemicals value chains.

The findings of these reports and the proposed drafting of a Water and Sanitation Industrialisation Master Plan have been well received by the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA). “Like so many other South African industries, the plumbing supply chain has undergone significant de-industrialisation over the years. This has resulted in major losses in semi-skilled and skilled jobs, in addition to skills development and training opportunities, exacerbating already-high unemployment in the country. The dire situation also impedes our ability to innovate in a country that needs unique solutions to help better manage our severe water and sanitation crises. As our factories have gradually closed their doors and been replaced with warehouses full of goods that are manufactured in other countries, there has also been a rise in the use of sub-standard products. This places consumers, property and municipal assets at risk, while seriously exacerbating our water and sanitation challenges. We need a robust strategy to arrest the decimation and I believe that this masterplan articulates it very well. Of course, now we need to implement its suggestions. This requires significant effort from all stakeholders in both the private and public sectors,” Brendan Reynolds, Executive Director of IOPSA, says.

The biggest threats to local manufacturers of plumbing products are cheap imports as a result of practices such as dumping, under-invoicing, mis-declaration and the general undervaluing of imported goods. It is almost impossible for local manufacturers to compete against these products, and many have, therefore, had to close their doors. For example, only two South African borehole pump manufacturers are still operating under these difficult conditions. The other 10 have closed down because they simply could not compete on this very unlevel playing field. This sector is being devastated in the same way that was done to the country’s taps, as well as copper or brass compression fittings manufacturers. South Africa no longer manufactures any of these products. They are all imported.

A robust South African Revenue Services (SARS) will help to curtail these fraudulent practices. The masterplan, therefore, suggests urgently staffing SARS with the resources and skills that it needs to investigate these cases and verify under-invoicing, mis-declaration, general undervaluing of imported goods and dumping.

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Credit: IOPSA.