File picture: Nadine Hutton
JOHANNESBURG - Afrimat, the listed open-pit mining company and a supplier of industrial minerals, commodities and construction materials, has placed its planned expansion into Africa on the back burner. It is investigating the possibility of expanding into other continents.

Andries van Heerden, the chief executive of Afrimat, confirmed this last week, adding that it was “a huge challenge” for companies to repatriate their money from African countries. This was because of the currency and economic problems caused by the slump in commodity prices.

Van Heerden said Afrimat was starting to see “green shoots” again in Africa and evidence of things picking up again, but there were so many opportunities available in South Africa.

He said Afrimat was also looking further afield than Africa into other continents and certain areas of the world where very similar trends to what they saw in South Africa 10 years ago were starting to emerge.

“I’m not saying we are going there, but we think we could possibly do that,” he said.

Van Heerden said that the timing of a decision to expand into other continents was still a long time off. “We’ll rather do too much homework than too little. It's going to take a long time to make sure (of the expansion),” he said.

Van Heerden said Afrimat’s exposure to Africa was very limited at the moment and the company only still had a presence in Mozambique.

“We still have a presence in Mozambique, but everything is on care and maintenance. That’s the only place we’re still at. We were in Tanzania at one stage and we were in Namibia. We have been scratching in Botswana a little, but we haven’t had much success. Africa is a very difficult place to work in,” he said.

Afrimat started operations in Mozambique in the second half of its financial year to February 2015, as part of a strategy to diversify geographically and enter new markets in Africa.

Van Heerden said at the time that Afrimat was attracted to Mozambique by several upcoming projects, including in natural gas and roads projects. However, he stressed that Afrimat would only talk about expanding into another African country when it started repatriating profits from Mozambique.

“We would rather go too slowly and do it properly than to rush and burn our fingers. It is difficult and something that must be done with great care. We are not hanging the business future on it,” he said at the time.

Afrimat last week reported a 24percent growth in headline earnings a share to 135.6cents in the six months to February from 109c in the previous year, after experiencing a tough first quarter to its financial year and an exceptional second quarter.

Shares in Afrimat closed unchanged on the JSE on Friday at R28.50.