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A province exploding with potential

Apr 23 2017 06:30
Mashweu Matsiela

It might be the second-smallest province in SA, but Mpumalanga is punching way above its weight when it comes to contributing to the country’s economy and potential economic development.

The Industrial Development Corporation’s regional manager for the province, Mashweu Matsiela, explains.

Tourism is a gold mine

Atoboggan ride is one of the many tourism opportunities Mpumalanga has to offer, and one that the Industrial ­Development Corporation (IDC) has assisted with funding.

Overlooking the famous Long Tom Pass, the toboggan is a monorail that runs 1.7km downhill from the summit of the koppie to the Misty Mountain Lodge, which owns and ­operates the ride.

The monorail track took 22 months to build and has 348 sections that have been welded together. It features nine box carts made out of plastic, each carrying a single rider.

Its designer and owner, James Sheard, said he was dared by a friend in Europe who had seen a toboggan there and challenged him to recreate it at Misty Mountain.

“A friend of mine sent me a YouTube clip and said, ‘why don’t you build one of these?’”

Matsiela said investing in the toboggan made perfect sense in terms of the IDC’s tourism focus.

“We are keen on financing projects that are innovative in nature. It’s a new product in the local market and it appeals to both the young and old,” said Matsiela.

Mpumalanga might not have an ocean, but it has everything else – the Big Five in the Kruger Park, the breathtaking Blyde River Canyon, the Mac-Mac falls and the Long Tom Pass.

“This province makes you say, wow, wherever you go. You don’t just pass here, you come here to be at peace with yourself while also having fun.

"We have to tap into this potential; our tourism opportunities are about more than just big game.”

He reckons the province has not yet scratched the surface of the revenue streams that tourism can open up.

“I believe Mpumalanga can become a bigger contributor to South Africa’s economy if we tap into this market aggressively.”

Leading the way with stainless steel

One of the IDC’s most successful funding partnerships in Mpumalanga has been with Columbus Stainless, which alone is responsible for 3.5% of Mpumalanga’s GDP.

Columbus Steel was formed in 1991 when MS&A Stainless was acquired by the Columbus Joint Venture, a consortium consisting of Samancor, Vanadium and the IDC.

This made Columbus one of the biggest single-site stainless steel ­producers in the world.

Its expanded plant in Middleburg was officially opened by then president Nelson Mandela in 1996.

Spanish stainless steel producer Acerinox acquired a stake in Columbus Steel in 2003.

The plant has a raw material-handling facility, a steel ­welding section, a hot welding mill, a cold welding mill, a ­finishing plant as well as a dispatch section.

It provides 70% to 80% of all stainless steel flat products used in South Africa and exports finished stainless steel to 54 countries around
the world.

Stainless steel is used in motor vehicle parts, mechanical engineering, the construction industry, electrical machinery and metal products.

The Columbus Steel plant boasts the highest quality certification in the industry, (ISO 9001:2008), and complies with strict environmental ­controls.

The company fits in with the IDC’s strategy of ­investing in labour-intensive manufacturing operations that provide maximum employment opportunities and contribute to ­economic ­development.

Columbus Steel ­prioritises black-owned local suppliers and new enterprises.

It also recruits locally and regularly trains its staff to ­improve their skills and ­enhance their professional development.

“The staff we recruit are given theoretical training for about six months and then move on to practical training ­inside the ­factory.

"Some of the recruits become steel makers, which means they become operators that move up to various levels in our business,” said CEO Lucien Matthews.

Contributing to the community where it operates is important to Columbus Steel as they have invested R19 million in projects that include a computer centre for the Mhluzi ­Primary School situated in the nearby township, a library for ­Phumelela Secondary School and a tree-planting and green environment initiative.

Investing in the youth

Matsiela says just over 70% of Mpumalanga’s population is under the age of 35, which makes investing in them a priority for the IDC in the province.

“We are quite focussed on young people. In fact, we are ­investing in our future entrepreneurs through libraries and laboratories at schools.

"We are working from all ends so that we can improve their livelihoods and create employment ­opportunities.”

Having adopted Makhosana Manzini High in 2008 through the corporation’s Whole School Development Programme, the IDC built a specialised science lab at the school.

Besides the laboratory, the IDC also built the school’s ­administrative block and renovated ablution facilities as well as doing general repairs to the school’s buildings.

Education experts have also been sent to the school to ­assist it in drafting a strategic plan that helps ­identify weaknesses and ensure that the school functions at optimum ­levels.

“We are the youngest province in the country, there is a lot of energy here and we are open to new ideas.”

Matsiela said the IDC also helps with pre-investment funding – like paying for an approved consultant to help ­potential clients enhance their business plans – so that potential clients are not disheartened.

“The IDC does not have prescribed forms, we only provide guidelines to what sort of information we want in a business plan. We are open to ideas – if it makes business sense, we can help with the business plan.”

His office is also happy to sit and talk with potential clients about their ideas.

“We engage, rather than just turning people away. We have had clients who said they just needed to talk to someone about their plans, and others who leave here and go and think of new business ideas.”

The IDC in Mpumalanga

The corporation has injected billions into the province, and Matsiela proudly points out that the IDC has become the funder of choice.

“We are a results-driven team and we have established ­excellent relationships with our stakeholders in the province.

“There is still a lot of work to be done. We are in the ­process of setting up another fully fledged office in ­Emalahleni because there is so much potential there.

“We might be a compact province, but we are exploding with potential.”

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