Resuscitating South Africa’s Struggling Plumbing Manufacturing Industry

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The proposed water and sanitation industrialization master plan aims to arrest years of erosion of South Africa’s ability to design and manufacture quality plumbing products at competitive prices for local and international markets .

Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) extensive research on the current state of the water and sanitation value chain, as well as the South African plumbing industry, forms the basis of this plan. director. This includes the most recent findings from TIPS on South Africa’s ability to design, manufacture and supply quality water and sanitation products at competitive prices. The report identified many challenges faced by local manufacturers of water and sanitation products and offered solutions to revive the industry. It complements the Water and Sanitation Department’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan published in 2018. These guidance documents are also intended to be used alongside master plans already developed for reindustrialisation. plastics, steel and chemicals value chains. .

The findings of these reports and the proposal to draft a water and sanitation industrialization master plan have been welcomed by the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA). “Like so many other South African industries, the plumbing supply chain has undergone significant deindustrialisation over the years. This has resulted in significant losses of semi-skilled and skilled jobs, in addition to opportunities for skills development and training, exacerbating the already high unemployment in the country. The dire situation also hampers our ability to innovate in a country that needs unique solutions to help better manage our serious water and sanitation crises. As our factories gradually closed and were replaced by warehouses full of goods made in other countries, there was also an increase in the use of inferior products. This puts consumers, property and municipal assets at risk, while seriously exacerbating our water and sanitation problems. We need a solid strategy to stop the decimation and I believe this blueprint articulates that very well. Of course, now we have to implement his suggestions. This requires tremendous effort from all stakeholders in the private and public sectors,” says Brendan Reynolds, Executive Director of IOPSA.

The biggest threats to local manufacturers of plumbing products are cheap imports due to practices such as dumping, under-invoicing, misrepresentation, and general under-pricing of imported goods. It is nearly impossible for local manufacturers to compete with these products, so many have had to close their doors. For example, only two South African borehole pump manufacturers are still operating under these harsh conditions. The other 10 closed because they simply couldn’t compete on this very uneven playing field. This sector is devastated in the same way as the country’s taps, as well as the manufacturers of copper or brass compression fittings. South Africa no longer manufactures any of these products. They are all imported.

A robust South African Revenue Service (SARS) will help reduce these fraudulent practices. The blueprint therefore suggests urgently equipping SARS with the resources and skills it needs to investigate these cases and verify under-invoicing, misrepresentation, general undervaluation of imported goods and dumping.

There is also a need to address the lack of oversight and monitoring of municipal procurement practices, as well as enforcement of the Large-Scale Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Codes of Practice. This takes into account that many companies circumvent local content requirements and supply municipalities with cheap imported designated and regular goods. Worse still, many of these imported products are of very poor quality. As a result, they regularly break down, causing downtime that hampers the delivery of municipal services, while repair and replacement costs place an additional financial burden on already strained municipal budgets. These practices also deprive local manufacturers of the support they need to innovate to develop technologies that will help improve service delivery in the municipal sector.

The master plan also encourages retailers and wholesalers to work closely with local manufacturers to identify imported products, especially sanitary ware, as well as tubes and pipes, which could eventually be replaced by locally made products. There has been an earlier call for closer collaboration between traders and manufacturers to promote locally produced water and sanitation products. However, this has not yet taken place.

Another earlier suggestion that went unnoticed was to closely monitor the import of steel products. It was proposed that import rebates should only be considered when security of local product supply could be ensured. Security of local supply has not been achieved and rebates on steel products are still in place, undermining local manufacturing.

The TIPS report also suggests an urgent revision of certain quality standards for water and sanitation products, as they may no longer be fit for purpose. Some fear that these standards are either too high or too low. It is therefore important to determine whether this is indeed the case; whether it hinders the local design and manufacture of water and sanitation products; and, if so, to what extent.

Reynolds agrees with TIPS findings that there are gaps and “regulatory inconsistency” between the National Water Act, the National Building Standards Act and the National Mandatory Specifications Regulator Act ( NRCS law) that need to be filled urgently. These loopholes allow substandard imported plumbing products to be used with impunity.

He explains: “The national water law affects the supply and quality of water. Therefore, it instructs municipalities to develop bylaws to regulate water within their jurisdictions. Yet no legislation or capacity exists to control water regulation in buildings. Therefore, building control officers do not inspect water facilities and their

the rights are limited to the disposal of waste water and sewage inside the buildings. Also, not all municipalities employ building control officers. Meanwhile, the National Building

The Standards Act, hosted by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Competition, does not stipulate specifications for the water supply of buildings, including for water installations. Yet it prescribes regulations for sewers. There are also significant regulatory inconsistencies between the National Building Standards Act and the NRCS Act which create further ambiguities. As TIPS notes, we need a single regulatory framework or at least consistency between the two laws.

In the absence of legal requirements for verification of plumbing compliance, the application of plumbing products and installations remains very low. The NRCS Act is not authorized to act against nonconforming products other than geysers. Due to a lack of regulation, some retailers have even admitted to stocking inferior imported products for survival. And this despite the risk that this practice poses to consumers who cannot check whether the products are of suitable quality.

The master plan also draws attention to the insufficient product testing and certification capacity in the country. This has led to delays in testing and certification that have prevented manufacturers from getting their products to market on time, hampering their ability to compete. Many companies have even closed their doors because they could not obtain the necessary certifications within a reasonable time. It is mandatory for products to comply with certain standards. Conformance to a single standard usually consists of numerous test methods in laboratories accredited to undertake them. However, the various laboratories in the country can only offer partially accredited tests for most mandatory standards. For example, the South African National Standards (SANS) 226 for metal taps consist of 12 tests. SABS is accredited for eight of these tests; ATL for seven; and OMEGA for 11. TIPS therefore suggested closer collaboration between private and public sector laboratories to increase testing and certification capacity in South Africa.

It is also time consuming and expensive for manufacturers to obtain South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) accreditation for their products. This further hampers the efforts of local manufacturers and hinders innovation. The introduction of new and modified standards also requires large capital expenditures for laboratories, equipment and training of personnel to be tested. Regulators are reluctant to make this type of investment because there are not enough new product manufacturers in the country to justify the expense.

The high cost of obtaining and maintaining SANAS accreditation also prevents many manufacturers from entering the market. There is also often a lack of understanding of the total cost involved in certifying products, especially new technologies, among manufacturers.

The lengthy testing process can also be a hindrance. A typical certification process takes at least 32 days and field testing up to 50 days.

In addition, many water and sanitation goods and services have not been designated correctly or at all. IOPSA and the Plumbing Industry Registration Board are committed to working with the International Trade Administration Commission and the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications to review and expand water and sanitation-related product designations.

“The challenges faced by local designers and manufacturers of water and sanitation products are vast and complex and therefore cannot be solved overnight. Given the severity of our water crisis, with Gauteng now also facing acute water restrictions due to the country’s crumbling sanitation system, we cannot delay any longer. The focus now must be on ensuring that quality water and sanitation products are used and that we have the local capacity to meet this demand and innovate to find solutions to these challenges. At the same time, a vibrant local plumbing manufacturing industry will help absorb the many unemployed South Africans, especially young people. In addition to creating stable job prospects, manufacturing industries offer immense opportunities for skills development and training,” concludes Reynolds.