IT took courage back in 1932 to start a new business in the middle of the most severe economic depression ever. Yet the Durban founders of African Bitumen Emulsions did just that. Today, 90 years later, their enterprise, now called ABE Construction Chemicals, is very much alive and a market leader in sub-Saharan Africa.
The venture’s stature started to grow in 1939 when it became a supplier of bitumen to what were then Natal municipalities and further similar operations were subsequently established in Johannesburg in 1940, in Cape Town in 1950, and then Port Elizabeth in 1953.
Over the years, ABE has grown in size and diversity to become a major supplier of specialised construction products to the building, civil engineering and building maintenance industries. Products are supplied through branches as well as builders’ merchants and hardware stores.
Now part of the Saint-Gobain global group, ABE has factories in Boksburg and Durban, and a network of branches and distributors throughout South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Indian Ocean Islands.
It has become a popular brand name throughout Africa and now has representation in Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Zambia, Mauritius, Reunion Island and Madagascar.
Some of the bitumen-linked products produced in Durban many decades ago have become household names in the hardware industry. Back in 1949, for example, ABE’s perennial bitumen liquid waterproofing product, super Laykold, was launched to pave the way for what is now an extensive and trusted range of waterproofing products that include the bitumen/acrylic blend waterproofer, Super Laycryl.
ABE started a flooring and adhesives division in 1946 with the brands, Abescreed and Epidermix, leading the way. Today, 76 years later, these products are still in demand and are but two of a large range for the flooring and adhesive sectors.
With a market consisting of large construction companies to small house builders, as well as specifiers, developers, facility managers, agriculture co-ops, and engineers, ABE manufactures, imports and distributes a range of specialised products used in the construction, renovation, waterproofing and maintenance of buildings and structures.
The company’s products are stocked by major national hardware and building suppliers as well as the small rural hardware stores in the platteland.
The has also brought top global technology to South Africa. It holds local distribution rights for the full range of protective coatings and joint fillers produced by Polyurea producers VIP (Voelkel Industrie Produkte) in Germany and Dowsil (formerly Dow Corning), a Belgian manufacturer of silicone sealants. It has also locally supplied the waterproofing range of Italy’s Index, the world’s leading producer of bitumen waterproofing membranes, since 1993.
ABE expanded the direct supply of specialised products through a new Retail Division in 1997.
A turning point in its growth came in 2010 when it delisted from the JSE AltX and was acquired by CHRYSO Southern Africa – now also part of Saint-Gobain. Chryso SA rejuvenated the historic company with new technologies and research and development programmes to modernise ABE.
Research and Development initiatives have optimised product performance and quality, with the company holding ISO9001 accreditation for its Boksburg, Isipingo, and Mount Edgecombe factories as well as other operations.
It has also strived to be a responsible producer environmentally with its modified powdered products helping to reduce the construction industry’s carbon footprint. These include ABE’s “dustless” cementitious powders and a new low VOC waterproofing range.