JOHANNEBURG, South Africa: Tafadzwa (Taffie) Chibanguza will have his work cut out of him returning to the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) as Chief Operating Officer (COO) just as the global pandemic gives way to war in Ukraine.

He returns to SEIFSA and joins CEO Lucio Trentini to help lead the federation that represents and supports 18 independent employer associations in the metals and engineering industries while lobbying the government for policies to improve South Africa’s business environment.

Chibanguza has the necessary educational pedigree, with a BCom in economics and econometrics from the University of Johannesburg, a BCom (honours) in economic policy from the University of Witwatersrand, and an MComm in economic policy from the University of Witwatersrand. He is scheduled to complete an MSc in mining engineering with Wits University in 2022.

Chibanguza is excited to be back at SEIFSA after a stint at Minerals Council South Africa, where he was an economist. “The steel and engineering sector is important in any economy and will play an important role in the current South Africa and whatever the future holds for the country,” he says. 

At the moment that is a future is filled with uncertainty as the world digests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Any war is terrible, but from an economic perspective war always breeds uncertainty across the board,” he says.

Some of the issues South Africa may have to face, include the disruption of supply chains due to no-fly zones and other war-related obstructions, which will then result in shortages of various products.

“The countries involved in the war and their dominance in the commodities complex will threaten supply, which will then feed into inflationary pressures, and that is how it will translate for us, domestically. At this point. with the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we have already seen inflation accelerate again, and we are likely to see quite a spike in the inflation rate.

“Then the Reserve Bank will be under pressure to hike rates ahead of the cycle and that will increase borrowing costs and, with that, a decrease in investment. The war has come at the worst time as the economy is already under pressure, and this will choke the recovery.”

The rising fuel price, in particular, has a “blanket inflationary effect”, he says, so its effect is felt widely – when we fill up our cars with fuel and also when we buy food that is more expensive due to the increased fuel price, and again in numerous other ways.

There may be some silver linings though, in the form of the uncertainty around the supply of commodities, such as coal, which South Africa produces. However, the higher price may be good news for producers but also adds to the already abundant inflationary pressures. Gold miners may also benefit as they reap the rewards of a higher gold price due to the war-charged demand for the safe-haven asset. 

Keeping an eye on these developments will need to be balanced with the day-to-day demands of being SEIFSA’s chief operating officer, such as calling on the government to develop a coherent policy that creates stability for the industry.

“Government focus should be on kicking in a set of policy objectives that make the operating environment more business friendly and ensure that the cost of production is less. The environment must be more conducive to business,” says Chibanguza.

Despite the full plate, he finds time to run 5km-6km each weekday. “I use it as time to process the previous day’s events and plan the day ahead. Also, it’s a good time to process a thought or a plan. On the weekends I then also try to squeeze in a half marathon every so often, when I can.”

Like so many executives, his down time is rare and kept for those closest to his heart. “I also make it a point to prioritise family time. I have a young daughter, so I make it a point to be there during these formative years. Between my daughter and my wife, family time is pretty full of things to do,” he says.

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