Roderick Mpofu, Managing Director of Tata Chemicals South Africa, explains how the firm’s expansive chemicals portfolio is helping to facilitate economic prosperity across the country
Writer: Jonathan Dyble
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
The chemicals industry is continuing to grow in significance across Africa, now standing as a key component of the continent’s industrial base.
“In South Africa specifically, petroleum, chemical products, rubber and plastic products contribute immensely to national GDP, accounting for approximately 23 percent of total manufacturing sales,” says Roderick Mpofu, the Managing Director of Tata Chemicals South Africa (TCSA), a Company playing a crucial role in powering the growth of the industry regionally.
As a key division of the $100 billion Tata Group, Tata Chemicals is currently responsible for roughly 35 percent of the world’s low-cost and sustainable natural sodium carbonate (soda ash) capacity.
“Our total global soda ash capacity is more than five million tonnes per year, of which 60 percent is from natural deposits in Wyoming, US and Lake Magadi, Kenya,” Mpofu explains. “Through this, we have a strong foothold in the chemicals industry the world over that has an estimated value of more than $4.6 trillion.”
Situated in the Port of Durban precinct, Mpofu heads up TCSA’s operations, overseeing the discharge of bulk cargoes and the Company’s national development.
“I have been in the port since the dawn of the new millennium and was employed in 2006 to manage operations, later assuming the role of General Manager in 2012.”
Joining the firm during the relatively early stages of his career after spending six years maintaining pneumatic discharge off-loaders, Mpofu moved to TCSA after seeking new opportunities at companies using similar equipment.
Having gained substantial expertise before joining the Company, Mpofu played a crucial role in enhancing TCSA’s cost benefits, implementing a simple conveyor operated discharge system that critically allowed for increased discharge rates and lower maintenance costs.
Such technology has since become revolutionary for the Company due to its expansive operations at the Port of Durban.
With Tata Chemicals manufacturing soda ash and a diverse range of other chemicals all over the globe, from India to the UK to Kenya, shipments arrive at the port’s terminal for discharge storage where the product is then sold to local and neighbouring markets in Africa.
“We have a diversified portfolio of products that we have recently handled including fertilisers, gypsum, bauxite, sulphates and other alkali chemicals,” Mpofu explains. “We are situated on the wharf-side where our conveying appliance feeds a 30 kilotonne storage warehouse. Here, we bag bulk products into various bag sizes or load it in to tankers and tippers before dispatching to our clients.”
In total, the Company handled close to 200 kilotonnes of third-party products in Durban alone in the past year, fuelling the growth of South Africa’s chemicals market.
An eye to innovation
With such a substantial presence across South Africa already, TCSA is having to come up with new and innovative ways to ensure that its growth journey continues – an initiative that Mpofu highlights as a top priority.
“We intend to grow our footprint as a preferred terminal for the handling of all free-flowing bulk chemicals as well as maintaining our status as a leader in handling of bulk and break bulk,” he states. “Further, we also want to increase our offering to our clients in the form of supplementary and complimentary products to our in-house chemicals.”
In achieving this, the firm is exploring a number of new projects that are geared towards providing more efficient volume throughout and alleviating other pressures as the Company nears its current productive capacity at Durban.
“The port in its current state has no more room for the terminals to expand, so creative ways to move products in and out of the port which eliminate congestion are needed,” adds Mpofu. “This is something that we will be looking to address through 2018 and beyond.”
In pursuing further expansions, TCSA will implement its LIFE culture, focussed on considering living, industrial and farming essentials throughout all of its operations.
Leveraging the latest innovations and scientific developments, TCSA ensures that it continuously bolsters its product portfolio whilst bettering the lives of communities that it serves whilst remaining sustainable.
“We will continue to focus on harnessing the fruits of science for goals that go beyond business in everything we do,” Mpofu concludes, reflecting the Tata Chemicals motto of ‘serving society through science’.