O tempora! O mores! Heralding the end of an era

By Samantha Choles – Editor, TAPPSA Journal

As TAPPSA prepares to close its doors and we close out 2018 with the final edition of the TAPPSA Journal, the team has – with the help (and memory) of many who have worked with the association – pieced together TAPPSA’s 36-year journey.

As far back as 1976, Ron Day, the then-managing director of Sappi, proposed the formation of an association for the paper industry. The US pulp and paper association TAPPI was approached with the idea of forming a branch in South Africa.

They declined but offered to help set up what was to become TAPPSA. According to editorial in the May/June 1982 issue of Paper Southern Africa (published by Primedia), a tentative start was made by the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE) with pulp and paper centric meetings held in the apt surroundings of the Science Lecture Theatre Complex at the then-University of Natal (now UKZN).

“During this preliminary period,” wrote Paper Southern Africa technical editor William Hastie, “it became clear that, apart from those directly engaged in the manufacture [of paper], there would be active support from the supporting industries… plant and equipment suppliers, chemical and dye manufacturers, felt and wires and all those in activities indirectly essential to a healthy and growing paper and pulp industry.”

TAPPSA is born

On 25 April 1982, TAPPSA hosted its inaugural meeting at the Maharani hotel in Durban at which its first chairman Charl Gonin was elected.

Over the years, a number of well-known ‘paper people’ took the chair including Graeme Lloyd, Tjaart van der Walt, Jim Casey, John Hunt, Roger Sobotker, Chris Macdonald and current chair Iain Kerr. Roland Streatfield originally ran the association as national organiser from 1996 to 2004, after which Jane Molony took over as executive director. Jane moved on to head up the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) at which time Lynne Askew, who was handling advertising sales for the journal, took up the mantle. At the outset, TAPPSA comprised three regions largely based on the locality of the paper manufacturers: Northern (Gauteng and Mpumalanga), Southern (Western and Eastern Cape) and the Eastern (KwaZulu-Natal) regions.

The association has been supported by paper mills and associated industries in the form of company membership by paper manufacturers, and sustaining membership by suppliers to the industry. Staff of the respective mills were encouraged to become individual members of the association.

At its height during the late 1990s and early 2000s, TAPPSA enjoyed the support of over 700 members but sadly these numbers dwindled to a mere 300, largely attributable to the rise of digital media and availability of online training, the closure of paper machines and mills, and the subsequent cost pressures.

Enter: the TAPPSA Journal

In 1999, the first edition of the TAPPSA Journal was published with Jane as the inaugural editor working alongside Roland. Jane continued to edit the journal, and brought Jodie Watt on board to assist her. Jodie took over editorship in 2008 until 2014, after which she continued to handle the design and layout when I took the reins.

At first, it was a daunting task but as my networks and knowledge grew, I managed to figure out what the big words actually meant. For Jane, Jodie and myself, the role as editor has taken us to interesting places and allowed us to meet many people. The TAPPSA Journal has always been a sought-after publication highlighting events and advancements made in the production of pulp and paper. The journal and the association could not have done without the stalwart support of Melanie Smith who organised the membership and mailing lists and ensured that the journal was posted on time.

The journal had many overseas subscribers keen to keep abreast of the progress within the South African pulp and paper industry. Over the years, it has been hard work to publish original research papers in the Journal, as it is not accredited by the Department of Higher Education and Training. Authors would rather have their work published in recognised journals so as to attract remuneration.

Despite several attempts to have the Journal accredited by the Department of Higher Education, and thus attract sufficient technical papers, these applications were all met with rejection. I recall the mysterious disappearance of one of my painstakingly-compiled submissions comprising years’ worth of journals. Some of them were the only copies we had, and nobody in the DHET could tell me where they landed up. Needless to say, we had to wait another year to make a submission. All I hope for is that the missing magazines have since been recycled.

Fun and games, and lots of learning

Over the years TAPPSA ran a number of successful conferences, workshops and training courses, with the international OMNI courses very well received and supported. Unfortunately, the cost of bringing these courses to South Africa became prohibitively expensive.

Its flagship event was the biennial TAPPSA Pulp & Paper Week, Conference and Exhibition which was always well supported and showcased supporting products as well as the various mills. In recent years, the event was changed to be held every three years, to cater for the shrinking industry along with shrinking budgets.

In addition to the national TAPPSA committee, each region had their own committee that arranged events (new speakers evenings, workshops, etc.) for their area. Somewhat of a double-edged sword, the Competition Act made it difficult for industry role players to meet and socialise these gatherings. As a result, various companies implemented protocols that prevented employees attending; added to this were leaner workforces and greater workloads. For many years, the Eastern Region ran the much-anticipated Berg Conference to which members from all regions were invited to attend. The format was a family weekend away which included various speakers on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, the AGM and the highly successful TAPPSA golf event.

Thank you and goodnight

The TAPPSA national committee is extremely grateful to each and every one of its steadfast supporters over the years. We appreciate your kind words of gratitude and encouragement. Closing TAPPSA has not been a decision that was taken lightly.

Thank you to Melanie, Jane and Lynne for their assistance in piecing this issue together. To Iain, our chairman, thanks always for the technical back-up! To Bob Heimann, many thanks for inspiring the title of this piece. My sincere gratitude to Jodie Watt who has done a sterling job with the design of this issue. In particular, I am astounded at how she has managed to capture 36 years in just a few pages. On behalf of the team, thank you to our advertisers, especially for this issue. Your support has enabled us to go out with a bang! It has been exciting to see the innovation in the fibre sector, and how an industry that has been disrupted by technology and the electronic age has the potential and foresight to do some disrupting itself.

As plastic and non-renewable materials become taboo, and paper and wood become the products of choice, this final issue pays tribute to such innovation, from the processes to the products. Long live paper (and all the innovative stuff we can make from sustainably produced wood and recycled fibre!).