Crisis in the plastic pipe manufacturing industry

HDPE pipe with SABS and SAPPMA stamps

The plastic pipe industry in South Africa, a key infrastructural and critical asset of South Africa, is facing a crisis which is threatening not only the industry as whole, but key infrastructural sectors in South Africa, such as mining and water supply.

The cause of the current crisis is solely a result of the South African Bureau of Standards (“SABS”) failing to perform in terms of its mandate as well as its obligations prescribed in the Standards Act 2008.

Amongst others, the SABS has:

  • Failed to renew licenses which have expired to plastic pipe manufacturers without providing any indication when the licenses would be renewed;
  • Unilaterally and without any consultation, decided in July 2015 to disallow partial testing of products manufactured by players in the industry;
  • Failed to ensure that testing facilities and laboratories needed to conduct testing on products are adequate and that those persons responsible for the testing are competent.

    The Southern African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers’ Association (“SAPPMA”) is a voluntary, non-profit organisation that represents almost 90 % of all certified manufacturers of HDPE and PVC plastic pipes being made in Southern Africa. One of its primary objectives is to improve product quality in the whole value chain of the plastic pipe industry in order to ensure the long-term viability of piping systems used in infrastructure through its representatives.

  • “Directly as a result of the SABS’s failure to perform in terms of its mandate, local manufacturers of plastic pipes are no longer able to use the SABS Certification Mark,” said Jan Venter, Chief Executive Officer of SAPPMA.

Venter said that these developments have, and will continue to have, dire consequences for the manufacturers, the industry and the country including:

  • A diminishment of product confidence in the market place;
  • No measurable improvement in product and service quality;
  • Disqualifying manufacturers from submitting their products for tender, as manufacturers are hindered in the sale and distribution of their products without the SABS mark of approval.

Several years ago and as early as May 2006, SAPPMA had warned about the potential for the actualization of the crisis and attempted to address the numerous issues with the SABS in regard to its testing facilities.

Despite numerous warnings issued in this regard by and attempts made by SAPPMA to address this issue over the past ten years, the SABS has failed to take heed of these warnings or implement any programme to avoid the present crisis.

“On the 29th of March 2016 SAPPMA has, through our attorney David Swartz of Phillip Silver Swartz Incorporated, again called for an urgent meeting with the SABS in order to address the issues and the crisis at length. On 15 April 2016 the SABS responded to the letter from our lawyers and agreed to the request for an urgent meeting, the date of which is in the process of being finalised,” Venter said.

SAPPMA has given its members the assurance that they remains committed to finding the best solution for the industry and will continue to give regular feedback in this regard.