Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Dr Mthobisi Clyde Zondi is the Executive Chairman of the SanDock Austral Group, which is the holding company for SanDock Austral Aerospace, SanDock Austral Shipyards, SanDock Austral Defence Engineering Systems and Torpedo South Africa.
With a history spanning almost 50 years, the group is the largest 100% black owned defence entity in South Africa, both in terms of revenue and facilities owned. SanDock Austral has an exceptional reputation for developing and delivering integrated solutions for commercial and defence engineering/mechanical projects.
Dr Zondi’s more than 20 years of industry and public sector experience has well prepared him to be at the helm of the group. He started his career as a Junior Mechanical Engineer for a nylon spinning company in Cape Town. A stint as an Engineering Manager at a pharmaceutical company in Epping Industrial, Cape Town then followed.
After completing two masters’ degrees, he spent four years with Transnet in various positions, including Chief Operations Manager in Richards Bay Terminals, and National Capacity Planning Manager in the Transnet Port Operations container business. Dr Zondi then worked as an Executive Manager for PetroSA, responsible for offshore support logistics operations.
This position was followed by 12 years working as senior official in the National Department of Defence in South Africa. He joined the Department of Defence as Head of Defence Supply Chain Integration, responsible for supply chain process design, logistics repositioning and material governance within the Department. He was later appointed chief defence material responsible for armaments acquisition, industry support, research and development, technology management and oversight of the procurement agency.
Dr Zondi commented that one of the highlights of his career has been in policy development, which once implemented has impacted an entire industry.
Currently, Dr Zondi’s primary role is to develop strategy for the SanDock Austral Group and direct the group according to its vision, which well resonates with him. He says, “We want to build the most valuable group in the African continent. One of the important aspects is the alignment of shareholder vision in terms of how we intend to take the group forward. What makes us unique in the space that we operate in, is that we are looking at collaboration and cooperation with several role players.”
The SanDock Austral Group seeks to provide a platform where South African companies can showcase their combined complementary capabilities through packaging integrated defence solutions that appeal to international markets.
“One of the challenges in the defence and security industry is that the local budget has declined in the last five years. The survival of defence and security companies does not lie in local spending. If you are going to compete in exports you need to make sure that you can put competitive products out there. We are introducing a business model to South African companies wherein they can collaborate in order to provide integrated products that can compete in the international space.” “We are able to put together a package to provide an integrated solution by plugging in various companies’ products and services that can be marketed for export. In our business we cover all three phases of war – prevention, equitable engagement and we look at post war rehabilitation programmes such as demining. Our technologies are very advanced given the heritage of technology development in South Africa,” explains Dr Zondi.
“We are therefore continuously engaging defence companies and organisations of all sizes, locally and globally, on potential cooperation and/or collaboration. The partnership model involves co-investment in the region, technology transfer, localised product support and indigenisation of customised product systems.”
SanDock Austral Defence Engineering Systems
SanDock Austral’s defence capabilities cover remote control weapons stations, low-cost active protection systems, missiles, systems engineering, assembly and maintenance of torpedoes, radars and subsystems and radar testing. Broad engineering and fabrication solutions are also offered. SanDock Austral manufactures precision mechanical components for weapon systems at a factory in Springs, east of Johannesburg. The group also has partnerships with numerous local companies in the fields of radar and electronic warfare, amongst others.
SanDock Austral Shipyards
On the marine side, shipbuilding and repair capabilities are offered through SanDock Austral Shipyards, formerly Southern African Shipyards (SAS). This is the largest shipyard in southern Africa and has built both naval and commercial vessels. The group offers the construction of small to mid-range steel and aluminium vessels and marine structures, repairs to all sizes of vessels and marine structures and construction and maintenance services to the offshore oil and gas industry.
SanDock Austral Shipyards has made major leaps and bounds towards employing the concept of the collaborative economy in the execution of its shipbuilding and ship repair projects. The recently awarded multi-billion rand contract to build a Hydrographic Survey Vessel (HSV) for the South African Navy represents one of the most complex projects to be undertaken in the African continent in recent years. SanDock Austral Shipyards was judged the worthy winner of the world-class and soughtafter tender, which will further establish the company as a shipbuilder of note.
Dr Zondi added, “A very exciting project that we are looking at currently is in how we can increase sea-based trade on the African continent. There is poor port infrastucture in several African coastal countries but there are inland waterways that are quite expansive. There are also huge rivers going through several countries that are landlocked, which is an opportunity for continental trade. We are looking at designing and manufacturing barges that can be used in these rivers and waterways, to move a range of cargo between these countries and to make sure that there is connectivity between both coastal and locked countries.”
SanDock Austral Aerospace
The group’s aerospace capabilities cover an electronic warfare jamming pod, electronic countermeasures, maritime surveillance aircraft and aircraft maintenance. Airport security is another capability offered, including personnel recruitment and training, airline and airport security audits, and airport security planning, design, and upgrades.
“On the aerospace side we are currently in advanced talks with several entities that have maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities which we believe can benefit from a consolidation and rationalisation of their expertise so that we can get work from South African and regional aviation operators. If government comes on board this could be a breakthrough in the technical support side of the aviation business,” explained Dr Zondi.
The greater good “SanDock Austral is very community and socially orientated – we always say that we are in business for the greater good.” One of the group subsidiaries has a 30% shareholding by military veterans. “We saw it prudent to bring them in as people who understand the defence and security environment as shareholders and directors at a subsidiary level. On a social level we deliver wheelchairs to military veterans if required.” SanDock Austral is also involved in community-oriented programme such as building schools and libraries.
The group has a large in-service training and apprenticeship programme. This allows new graduates and artisans to gain work experience that enables them to have their qualifications recognised. “We make sure that we do not turn anyone who requires in-service training away.”
“We really believe that with partnerships and collaborations this country has immense potential and we are here to make sure that it is realised,” concluded Dr Zondi.