2021 Sappi Southern Africa Corporate Citizenship Report

Our compass

A magnetic compass needle lines itself up with the Earth’s magnetic field and points roughly north and south. Researchers have now discovered that birds use this magnetic field as they travel long distances over areas that do not have many landmarks, such as the ocean. Here’s how: A small spot on the beak of pigeons and some other birds contains magnetite. Researchers have also found some specialised cells in birds’ eyes that may help them see magnetic fields.

SDG1: No Poverty is the north star we are working towards. We are doing so by using the ‘compass’ of sensitive engagement with our stakeholders as we respond to their needs.

No Poverty

Why does this SDG matter?

Despite notable gains in reducing poverty post-apartheid, South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world, with more than 50% of the population living in poverty. Poverty levels have remained consistently highest among women, black South Africans, people with disabilities and those living in rural areas.1

1. https://theconversation.com/south-african-policies-go-some-way-to-tackling-poverty-and-inequality-but-more-is-needed-151696

How is Sappi making a difference?

We’re working to train people so that they are better placed to make use of job opportunities (see under SDG4: Quality Education). We’re also sharing value by helping to develop suppliers so that they can provide both Sappi and other businesses with goods and services, thereby becoming part of the economy. Read how below.

Developing local SMEs

In 2018, we launched a focused Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) strategy and established a dedicated ESD unit tasked with helping to incorporate small and medium enterprises (SMEs) into the mainstream economy. Since then we have made considerable progress: We have successfully integrated 145 SMEs into the value chain and in FY2021, spent over ZAR140 million with SMEs, exceeding our set annual target by ZAR35 million. In the process, 587 jobs were sustained by these active local SMEs.

The SMEs we supported supplied the following services:

  • Alien invasive plant management
  • Civil work
  • Forestry-related services
  • Logistics and transportation
  • Mechanical work
  • Maintenance
  • Plumbing and electrical, and
  • Wastepaper recycling through Sappi ReFibre.

Lessons learned

Many SMEs lack the technical and engineering experience and expertise, as well as the understanding of safety and legal regulations needed to thrive in a competitive business environment. Accordingly, we’re now collaborating more closely with contractors and suppliers to transfer technical skills. We’re also working with other institutions to achieve this. Read more about it under SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals.

A success story: Our alien invasive plant management programme
Read case study


For SMEs: Entrepreneurial skills and income.

For Sappi: The protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, suppliers who understand our needs, better community engagement and reputation, as well as an enhanced BBBEE score.


A success story: Our alien invasive plant management programme

In South Africa, alien invasive species like bugweed, lantana, pompom weed and water hyacinth, to mention just a few, are a threat to biodiversity. Our mills are surrounded by extensive landholdings, where some of these species could previously be found.

In 2018, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) trained and mentored youths from communities close to our operations on the management of alien and invasive plant species. This initiative is an example of true community empowerment: There are now five legal business entities (32 trained youths) providing services to our pulp and paper mills, with five-year service contracts beginning in 2019 entered into with these SMEs. Apart from rendering an important environmental management service, the programme has created and sustained a total of 47 jobs in local communities. Between 2019 and 2021, we spent a total of ZAR12.2 million with these companies, some of which are now expanding their footprint beyond Sappi to offer services to other companies.

Supporting emerging farmers

Given the limited work opportunities for the rural youth and women in particular, we are leveraging opportunities to provide emerging farmers with access to land for produce. Our forestry managers, community services officers and ESD department specialists are working together with partners (contractors, government departments and agencies) to provide training, as well as administrative and operational support and assistance.

For us, this makes sound business sense and is a good example of shared value: Supporting agricultural projects not only empowers others, it also enables us to investigate our own expansion into supplementary agri-business opportunities, by using these pilot projects as a testing ground for the market.

One such example is the peanut farming venture started by a group of women on our land. In 2018, Ms Ntombiyenkosi Mbuyazi and four other women started planting peanuts on a newly planted Sappi compartment close to her community at Shikishela in Mtubatuba, KwaZulu-Natal. Since then, Sappi has made more land available and sponsored seeds. Currently, there are 20 participants in the Palm Ridge project area. Our ESD unit is helping participants to register the business as a co-operative. The main objective of this is to gain access to funding and market opportunities.

“The women here are very proud of this project, and they have much to celebrate. With money made from this initiative of planting groundnuts, we are able to pay our children’s school fees.”

Ms Ntombiyenkosi Mbuyazi

Partnering to supply food parcels
Read case study


For participants: Free access to land and the potential to earn income.

For Sappi: Participants routinely weed while they plant. This saves weeding costs and time. What’s more, the roots of the peanut plants help to enrich the soil, as they have nitrogen fixing properties.


Partnering to supply food parcels

During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, many of our neighbouring communities experienced food shortages. We partnered with the Southern Lodestar Foundation, a registered not-for-profit organisation and well-known retailer, the Spar Group and Savithi Trading, one of our contractor partners, to provide relief in the form of food parcels, nutritional porridge and foodstuff.

We used our knowledge and access to rural community networks to distribute 60,000 kilograms of A+ instant porridge to vulnerable communities in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Mpumalanga during 2020, using the networks provided by community health workers.

During Mandela Month in July 2021, this outreach programme was again activated, especially when food shortages occurred following the riots in KZN.

During this time, we joined forces with Savithi Trading Company, one of our contractor partners, to distribute 1,500 kg of porridge. A further 3,000 kg of the porridge was distributed by our teams of foresters and community relations personnel, who worked closely with the Department of Social Development to identify and distribute the porridge to the child-headed households in our operational areas near KwaMbonambi, inland near Ixopo and Bulwer and in the vicinity of Greytown and surrounds.

In the communities of Umkomaas, Mandeni and Stanger surrounding our three mills in KZN, our employees contributed to food parcels which were distributed by local NGOs to people who had been affected by food shortages, exacerbated by the disruption of supply chains due to the unrest. Donations were also made by staff from around the country to assist communities who were left destitute by the civil unrest.

Leveraging the youth to drive social change

The communities close to our areas of operations are characterised – as in many rural areas of southern Africa – by high levels of poverty and unemployment.

To make a meaningful difference, we first had to understand what challenges the various communities were dealing with and identify any potential opportunities. Accordingly, we commissioned a third party to conduct research in neighbouring Sappi communities. Following this, in 2015, a programme which identified social mobilisers, known as the Abashintshi (‘the changers’ in isiZulu) was conceived. This involved training formerly unemployed youth volunteers in the following:

  • The Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) model which aims to empower community members to use what they have, instead of focusing on what they need or don’t have.
  • Youth life skills training.
  • Ifa Lethu (‘our heritage’) which documents the legacy of the elderly in the community in order to continue with successful practices and learn from mistakes.
  • Holiday programmes with children.

The Abashintshi programme has now been fully adopted by Sappi in-house and we are helping to guide participants on an individual basis to ensure that their unique skills and interests are identified – whether they be entrepreneurial, social or organisational.

Through this ongoing engagement, we hope to achieve sustained access and to work closely with our communities; conduct asset mapping audits to identify gaps and determine potential investment areas. We also want to ensure that Social Impact Programmes are targeted, tailored and relevant to creating shared value, positive social impact and promoting inclusivity and sustainability.

The programme has achieved exponential growth over the past six years:

Assessing the impact of the Abashintshi

We use the Poverty Stoplight tool to assess the socio-economic impact of the Abashintshi programmes in four key regions as set out in the representative examples below. With the exception of the Saiccor Mill region, we began measurement in 2017. We have set out data from 2018 when the Saiccor region was included. We measure 50 categories, ranging from vaccination to entrepreneurial spirit and motivation. The figures for 2020 relate to 789 households.

Income earnings above the poverty line

(Household income per month is greater than ZAR5,000, including grants.)

  KZN North KZN South Mpumalanga Saiccor
2018 30% 20% 45% 26%
2020 12% 32% 56% 16%


(The family eats enough beef/chicken/fish, milk, vegetables, fruits, rice/noodles/potato. They have at least two meals per day and none of them are suffering from obesity or malnutrition.)

  KZN North KZN South Mpumalanga Saiccor
2018 52% 27% 89% 61%
2020 61% 51% 87% 47%

Access to drinking water

(The family has constant access to drinking water within the house or in the yard. The home has a tap with running water that is clean and drinkable.)

  KZN North KZN South Mpumalanga Saiccor
2018 50% 33% 75% 76%
2020 80% 30% 64% 84%

Home structure

(The house is a well-built structure. It is insulated against the weather and is fire resistant. The doors are secure and family members feel safe. There may be a yard, or the plot may be fenced off.)1

  KZN North KZN South Mpumalanga Saiccor
2018 71% 65% 81% 70%
2020 87% 74% 88% 70%

1. The results obtained in the Poverty Stoplight Socio-Economic Assessment have generally shown an improvement, although a marked decline was noted in some areas, which could be ascribed to the impacts of Covid-19.