Country Listing

South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

Chemicals Industry

South Africa has a well-developed chemicals industry that dates back to the use of explosives in the late nineteenth-century mining industry. Miners imported dynamite from France and Germany until 1896, when the De Beers company succeeded in establishing a dynamite factory at Modderfontein in partnership with a British chemical manufacturer. In addition to explosives, the African Explosives and Chemical Industries (AECI) plant produced a wide variety of industrial chemicals including insecticides, paints, varnishes, nitrogen compounds, sulfuric acid, and cyanide.

The government controls a significant segment of the chemical industry. Its largest investment is the SASOL operation, in which synthetic oil and gas are extracted from coal through a gasification process that also produces ammonia, pitch, alcohol, and paraffin. The government established the Phosphate Development Corporation (Foskor) in 1950 to produce phosphate concentrates for use in chemical fertilizers, and Foskor also produces zirconium and copper. Government involvement in the industry increased in 1967, when the IDC created a holding company to merge several small chemical companies in an effort to achieve greater economies of scale.

Many other chemicals are produced in South Africa, including plastics, resins, dyes, solvents, acids, alkalis, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, nitrates, and chemical materials for atomic reactors. Pharmaceutical products are also produced, primarily by subsidiaries of large international firms.

Consumer Goods

The single most productive subsector in manufacturing is the food-processing industry, which produces canned fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, dairy products, baked goods, sugar, and meat and fish products. Dairy products and baked goods are sold exclusively on the local market, but dried fruit, canned foods, sugar, meat, and fish products are exported. In the early 1990s, South Africa produced about 400,000 tons of canned fruits and vegetables each year.

Clothing manufacturing and textile weaving are important consumer industries. The clothing industry predated local textile manufacturing; even at the end of the nineteenth century, clothing manufacturers relied on imported textiles to produce a variety of apparel. By the 1990s, the clothing industry not only met the country's needs but also exported its goods, aided in part by the government's elimination of import duties on cloth. It maintained a 30 to 35 percent import duty on most apparel through the early 1990s. Then, because clothing manufacturers increasingly relied on imported cloth, the domestic textile industry suffered from the increased competition, and as all import tariffs were being lifted in 1995 and 1996, both clothing and textile manufacturers were laying off workers.

The bread industry was subsidized by the government for decades in order to avoid high prices for basic foodstuffs; the government eliminated the bread subsidy in 1991 in an effort to encourage competition. A few large institutions then dominated the bread industry; six of them, representing about 85 percent of the local market, reached a marketing agreement, allocating sales by producer quotas and by regional distributor. The government in the mid-1990s decided to allow the companies to continue market-sharing but was debating whether to discourage such agreements in the future.

Data as of May 1996