The former general manger of PPC Cement’s Hercules and Jupiter operations in Gauteng, Bheki Mthembu, has taken up a position as CEO of CIMERWA, PPC’s Rwandan partner.

The appointment, announced on Tuesday, comes as PPC readies for an eventful 2017 after a troubled 2016.

PPC’s share price almost halved last year after it raised R4bn in a rights offer to service debt.

But in 2017 the company plans to start production at plants in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia to further establish it in sub-Saharan African.

"PPC’s African operations are dealing with near-term macro headwinds across the region. Across the continent cement prices are under pressure due to overcapacity and demand weakness, especially in regions that rely heavily on hard commodities," said Gareth Visser, cement and construction analyst at Avior Capital Markets.

The region needed significant infrastructure investment due to a growing urban population, which underpinned long-term growth fundamentals for the region, said Visser.

Visser said recent personnel movements across the group put the business in a position to weather the short-term headwinds and benefit from the long-term growth potential.

Mthembu has been at the helm of CIMERWA since the start of December.

PPC said on Tuesday that Mthembu was being guided during the transition by Njombo Lekula, MD of PPC’s international operations.

The largest cement maker in SA acquired a 51% stake in CIMERWA in January 2013.

Visser said the CIMERWA plant, the first plant outside Southern Africa to come online, would be a litmus test of PPC’s ability to operate cement plants outside its core region.

Mthembu, a development chemist, started his career at PPC Cement in April 1995. He has managed the company’s laboratory, and held positions as group quality assurance manager and head of the group’s technical services.

Mthembu said that while PPC’s well-established presence in Botswana and Zimbabwe had positioned it as an African brand, CIMERWA would spearhead the next phase of the company’s expansion on the continent.

"[It is] demonstrating our vision and commitment to building Africa. Given that the [CIMERWA] plant is already running at capacity utilisation levels above 50%, and sold over 148,000 tons of cement in the latest reporting period, it’s a very exciting time to be joining the team," he said.

Kevin Odendaal will replace Mthembu locally as PPC executive: Gauteng business unit.

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