Afrox is to the Namibian economy what oxygen is to a human being. This is the company whose products touch the core of every Namibian.
Once South Western Africa Oxygen (Pty) Ltd, Afrox set shop in Namibia 65 years ago. Since then, it has solidified and condensed its prominent position as preferred supplier of gas and welding equipment. That the first building, which now houses its management office, is still intact speaks volumes about the company’s resilience in its endeavor to push Namibia forward.
True to this assertion, the newly appointed managing director, Eckhardt Vorster, says there is no sector of the local economy Afrox is not involved in.
“We are active strategic partners to all the mining companies in the country we drive the hospitality industry by providing it with liquid petroleum gas to heat and cook and we supply most hospitals and clinics in Namibia with medical gases”
Vorster further boasts: “Every local school, hospital, prison, lodge or restaurant uses our products to heat or cook. Whether people are bottling water, cold drinks or beer, making biltong, ripening fruit, manufacturing steel constructions, repairing vehicles or purifying water, our products are used”
Afrox plays an integral part in the daily activities in the country and Vorster sees the role that Afrox plays as a huge responsibility.
Having joined Afrox in 2005 as a finance manager, Vorster would be promoted two years later to be the general manager of another company within the Afrox group, but would return to Afrox as the regional sales manager in charge of Namibia and Angola in 2009. He held this position until his recent promotion.
Explaining his phenomenal rise in the company, Vorster says, “A lot of hard work and a willingness to learn things outside one’s area of expertise helped me achieve my goals. I was always curious about all aspects of the business; about how people do certain things and why they do or do not do things the way they do. In search of methods to improve the way we work, I developed the ability to add value and make a difference.”
Now that he is at the helm of the company, Vorster levels his energy on giving direction to the company and its people. “For me, it is about us supporting the local economy and serving the consumers. Internally, it is my role to streamline our processes and procedures to achieve optimal results. It is definitely exciting,” he adds.
Most of the Afrox products are sourced from South Africa. The gases are brought into Namibia in bulk where it is compressed into cylinders and distributed throughout the country.
That Namibia is a land of long distances does not deter Afrox from having a neat network of distribution, which gives it a strong presence in almost every town. It either has a branch, a distributor or a re-seller, which includes small to medium enterprises (SMEs) partners.
However, according to Vorster, the company also manufactures gas locally. At its Windhoek plant it produces dissolved acetylene, which is used for the cutting and welding of metals.
In Karibib, Afrox has an N$33m pressure swing absorption (PSA) liquid oxygen plant, which extracts oxygen from the air using the PSA method. The oxygen from the plant is then fed into the gold-leaching process at the mine.
Vorster added that although their business is by nature very capital intensive, the value they add is making the energy source mobile. Once the gas is in a cylinder it can be taken almost anywhere.
“I also think that it appeals to our consumers that that product we sell has a lower carbon footprint than traditional energy sources.”
Buoyed by a rich history, Vorster says there is stiff competition in almost every aspect of their business comprising the gas supplies, the welding consumables, - accessories and - equipment.
However, Vorster insists what makes Afrox stand out above the rest is its reliability, its people and its efficiencies.
“Over the past six decades we have developed an extensive supply network that we backed up with the necessary storage and production infrastructure to differentiate ourselves through our ability to be super reliable whether you purchase from Afrox in Katima Mulilo in the north or Rosh Pinah in the south of the country.”
“Our people’s knowledge is another tool we use to differentiate ourselves from the pack. We have professionally trained sales and technical people whom we keep investing in to effectively serve our customers.”
“At Afrox we also continuously drive efficiencies to ensure we get the products to our customers at optimal prices”
In terms of the company’s future, they see a general upward trend in the gas consumption as the Namibian economy grow and the middle class in the country keep on expanding. Vorster added “the fact that the cost of electricity is constantly increasing makes our products attractive energy alternatives”
Vorster is excited about the potential Africa presents to the rest of the world. In his opinion, this potential translates into the growth opportunities to everyone who operates in the African economy.
“Exactly how it will span out, I am not entirely sure, but what I do know is that where there is growth, there are always new opportunities” We have been around for the past 65 years capitalising on the great opportunities brought about by change on the continent. I think we are well-positioned in terms of our ability to support the country’s economic growth and opportunities that might arise locally or beyond the borders with our neighbors. PF