21 February 2024

Caption: Gwen Mahuma-Madida, CEO, Chris Klagsbrun, sales director, and Kobus Burger, head of the company’s product research and development (R&D) and technical division of Colossal Concrete Products. 

Colossal Concrete Products’ De Aar precast concrete manufacturing plant re-opened on 12 October. Having been spun off from Grinaker LTA, the company has a 64-year history as a prominent manufacturer of pre-stressed concrete railway sleepers – as well as other precast concrete products – in South and Southern Africa. This is Part 3 of a three-part article.

… continued from Part 2.

The company sees cause for much optimism in the future. Recent developments in the awarding of tenders and contracts by Transnet suggest a positive shift in the industry, signalling potential momentum and a departure from the hesitancy observed in previous years.

“Collaborations between the private sector and Transnet are becoming more pronounced. We anticipate a proactive response to infrastructure challenges, especially concerning the revitalisation of the Transnet Railway Infrastructure. The interplay between the private sector and Transnet, coupled with ongoing discussions around corridor privatisation, indicates a dynamic period of change and collaboration,” says Gwen Mahuma-Madida, CEO of Colossal Concrete Products.

She expresses optimism regarding the broader prospects and challenges in Africa’s railway development, particularly in countries like Tanzania, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where significant railway line projects are underway.

When dealing with strong European competition, Mahuma-Madida emphasises their model of sustainability and a commitment to openness in setting up project factories cross-border. “In sub-Saharan Africa, it is important to understand the local context, collaborating with engineers and customers, and proceeding through feasibility studies. Our message is clear – the company is not just about setting up factories; it’s about contributing to the development of railways and other vital infrastructure in Africa, with a holistic and informed approach.

“We focus on building a sustainable ecosystem that goes beyond a single project. Unlike some international companies accused of extracting resources and leaving opportunistically, our model prioritises sustainability. We assess the long-term potential of a factory beyond the initial project. This forward-thinking approach ensures that our factory becomes a versatile hub for various products, reducing reliance on a single customer or project.”

She gives the example of the company’s successful bid for the Gautrain project as a case study (during the Infraset days). “Despite competing against international suppliers without standard gauge moulds, the company secured the contract. This achievement, coupled with the development of new products for the project, exemplifies our commitment to versatility and innovation.” She cites the company’s winning the Fulton Award for Construction Award as validating its excellence in the construction industry.

The company maintains a close relationship with clients and partners, especially in the realm of research and development (R & D). Close collaborations with clients, such as Transnet and other international entities, provide the company with a deep understanding of challenges and opportunities. Its approach to R & D involves not only an in-house department but also partnerships with specialised organisations.

The company’s low-profile sleeper, developed before rival products by European counterparts, showcases a proactive and entrepreneurial approach to environmental issues through the replacement of timber for railway sleepers with concrete. Another example is the development of a sand-resistant sleeper for desert areas, a solution born out of a practical need experienced in local contexts such as in Namibia.


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