The foundry industry in the Western Cape – then and now


The story begins with the arrival of Jan Van Riebeeck in the Cape – 6 April 1652.

On 24 December 1651, accompanied by his wife and son, Jan van Riebeeck set off from Texel in The Netherlands for the Cape of Good Hope. Van Riebeeck had signed a contract with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to oversee the setting up of a refreshment station to supply Dutch ships on their way to the East. Sailing on the Dromedaris with two other ships, the Rejiger and De Goede Hoop, Van Riebeeck was accompanied by 82 men and 8 women.

Land was sighted on 5 April 1652 and the ships docked the next day. Within a week of the arrival of the three ships, work had begun on the Fort of Good Hope. The aim was to establish a refreshment station to supply the crew of the Company’s passing trading ships with fresh water, vegetables and fruit, meat and medical assistance. However, the first winter experienced by Van Riebeeck and his crew was extremely harsh, as they lived in wooden huts and their gardens were washed away by the heavy rains. As a result their food dwindled and at the end of the winter approximately 19 men had died.

The arrival of Van Riebeeck marked the beginning of permanent European settlement in the region. Along with the Council of Policy, Van Riebeeck came equipped with a document called the ‘Remonstrantie’, drawn up in the Netherlands in 1649, which was a recommendation on the suitability of the Cape for this VOC project.


Van Riebeeck was under strict instructions not to colonise the region but to build a fort and to erect a flagpole for signaling to ships and boats to escort them into the bay. However, a few months after their arrival in the Cape, the Dutch Republic and England became engaged in a naval war (10 July 1652 to 5 April 1654). This meant that the completion of the fort became urgent. Fort de Goede Hoop – a fort with four corners made of mud, clay and timber – was built in the middle of what is today Adderley Street. Around this a garden was planted and meat was bartered for with the Khoikhoi (who were initially called Goringhaikwa, and later Kaapmans). The construction of the Castle of Good Hope, which still stands today, only began in 1666, after Van Riebeeck had left the Cape, and was completed 13 years later.

In 1679, Simon van der Stel was sent to the Cape to become the new governor and in 1689, some 180 Huguenot refugees were brought to the Cape after Louis XIV had banned Calvinism in France. They settled mainly in the Stellenbosch district near what is today known as Franschhoek. People from Germany, Scandinavia, Flanders and Switzerland also contributed to the diverse population of the Cape.

After the Napoleonic wars, Britain experienced a serious unemployment problem. Therefore, encouraged by the British government to immigrate to the Cape colony, the first 1820 settlers arrived in Table Bay on board the Nautilus and the Chapman on 17 March 1820. From the Cape colony, the settlers were sent to Algoa Bay, known today as Port Elizabeth.

During the early years of Dutch occupation, the focus was primarily on agriculture. In 1867, diamonds were discovered at Hopetown and in 1871, more diamonds were discovered in the vicinity of Kimberley.

The industrialisation of South Africa commenced with the discovery of gold in 1886 on the Witwatersrand. Together with the earlier discovery of diamonds it formed the foundation of South Africa as it is today.

Cape Town’s first industrial site
According to the book Cape Town: The Making of a City by Nigel Worden, Elizabeth Van Heyningen and Vivian Bickford-Smith Cape Town’s first industrial site was established in 1859 in Salt River.

Interest in railway development was shown very early in the Cape Colony. In 1853 a group of British financiers formed the Cape Town Railway and Dock Company, and in March 1859 construction of the first railway in South Africa started at the present Woodstock, reaching Wellington in November 1863.

The Transnet 150 year celebration release says the Salt River Workshops was created in 1862 to maintain the imported rolling stock, and the earliest plan of the workshops, dated 1869, show that it covered an area of 2000 m² consisting of two main buildings containing engine erecting, blacksmith, machine, carriage and paint shops.

The inner-city suburbs of Woodstock, Salt River and Observatory contrasted sharply with leafy Rondebosch. Situated in the teeth of the south-easter, they were much less desirable areas to live in. The flat marshes of the Salt River estuary were the least appealing. Here, on the margins of the town, Cape Town’s first industrial site – the new railway workshops – was established.


An aerial view of the Salt River Workshops

Here life was harsher than in the other suburbs. Work in the railway workshops was long and exhausting. The day began promptly at 7.15 a.m. “If you were more than two minutes late in clocking in you lost an hour’s pay. If you were more than half an hour late you weren’t allowed to start work that day for which of course you didn’t get paid.” The workshops were choked with smoke. “If you saw a beam of light in the foundry it was solid dust. They used a kind of powder in the castings, plumbago. It’s black, it filled the air, along with the smoke from the fires.”

First foundry in South Africa / Cape Town?
The earliest reference that can be found of a foundry in the Western Cape is of a Thomas Hunter who had a machine shop as far back as the eighteen-thirties (1830s), and he undertook “metal turning and cutting, the founding of bells of any size, all ships’ work, and the making of wrought and cast-iron railings round family vaults.” This reference comes from the book I Heard The Old Men Say Secrets of the Cape that has vanished, and little-known dramas on the fringe of living memory, by Lawrence G. Green.

Aptly named Cape Foundry there is another reference to Hunter and the foundry when an advertisement for the foundry appeared in the SA Directory and Almanac of 1834. The advertisement appears in an editorial format and Hunter writes “The Undersigned, in returning, thanks for the support he has for the last 16 years received, begs to acquaint his Friends and the Public in general that his Establishment, The Cape Foundry, Bree-street, Is in sufficient state of forwardness to receive Orders and Patterns for Castings, in Iron or Brass, in all their Branches; and he trusts that the manner in which his Business has hitherto been conducted will be a sufficient Recommendation to those who may favor him with their Orders, assuring them their commands shall be attended to with dispatch, and executed in a neat, sound, and workmanlike manner.”

There is more to the advertorial – see accompanying picture – which was signed by Hunter in Cape Town, Dec 24, 1833. One cannot assume that the foundry work started 16 years prior to the advertorial but rather sometime during the period prior to 1833.

There are references to other foundries in the 1830s, for example Albany Iron & Brass Foundry in Grahamstown, Andrew Elliot & Bros, also in Grahamstown and Howard Farrar & Co in Queenstown and one must assume that these were started by the 1820 settlers, because, it is recorded that initially, about 4 000 Settlers arrived in the Cape in around 60 different parties between April and June 1820. The Settlers were granted farms near the village of Bathurst (20 kilometres inland from Port Alfred) and supplied equipment and food against their deposits, but their lack of agricultural experience led many of them to abandon agriculture and withdraw to Bathurst and other settlements like Grahamstown, East London and Port Elizabeth, where they typically reverted to their trades.


The earliest reference that can be found of a foundry in the Western Cape is of a Thomas Hunter who had a machine shop as far back as the eighteen-thirties (1830s), and he undertook “metal turning and cutting, the founding of bells of any size, all ships’ work, and the making of wrought and cast-iron railings round family vaults.” Aptly named Cape Foundry there is reference to Hunter and the foundry when an advertisement for the foundry appeared in the SA Directory and Almanac of 1834

The next reference is that in 1873 the Cape Government took over Cape Town Railway and Dock Company and established the Cape Government Railways (CGR). Driven by the discovery of diamonds and gold, the railway network expanded rapidly, reaching Worcester in 1876, and Kimberley in 1885. Expansion at Salt River kept pace with the increased activity. By 1881 the works area had grown to 5000 m² and now included a springsmith shop, a foundry, and a woodworking shop. In 1886 a 60-ton Traverser (a transfer table used for the maintenance of railway coaches etc.), which remained in use for the next century, was provided, while the addition of new engine erecting, machine, carriage and wagon shops doubled the workshop floor area to nearly 10 000 m².

The book reports that Salt River life took place on the streets and in the 1920s, at lunchtime, young men from the railway works “used to go up to the Main Road and go and pick up the young girls working at OK Bazaars and Oblowitz’s and take them down to the beach at Mouille Point and have royal good time.”

Salt River Workshops has seen several booms and busts. During the 1960’s there was a decline in Salt River’s output following the investment in new workshops at Koedoespoort and Bloemfontein to build modern rolling stock and electric units. However, this slack allowed Salt River to become more involved in the maintenance of harbour equipment such as cranes and mechanical craft, and, following the completion of the Ben Schoeman Dock, the introduction and maintenance of specialized equipment to handle cargo containerisation. It also played a vital role in keeping the Cape Town harbour operating at peak efficiency during the 1973 Suez Canal crisis.

In 1989 the “Legal Succession to the South African Transport Services Act” transformed SATS from a government department into a public company, and on April 1 1990 the new public company, Transnet Limited, was registered with the South African Government as its sole shareholder.

By this time the Salt River Workshop floor area had grown to 95 000 m² with a further 28 000 m² covered by store buildings.

However, transport deregulation had led to a sharp decline in the railway industry as uncontrolled competition allowed road freight to take over rail’s main freight transport activities. This led to the closure of many branch lines and the cancellation of uneconomic passenger and freight services, and rail infrastructure and operating equipment was left to deteriorate to a point that more than 30% of the rail system became inoperative.

This, together with the restructuring under Transnet, hit the Salt River Workshops very hard. Most of the high-tech and lucrative locomotive overhaul, repair and upgrade business was given to the more modern Koedoespoort and Bloemfontein engineering facilities, resulting in the closure of a number of shops at Salt River and massive staff reductions and by the turn of the century headcount dropped as low as 400.

The foundry closed in 1987.

First commercial foundry?
The earliest commercial foundry recorded was in 1876 when an engineering business known as Cunningham and Gearing was established. The company had premises in Ebenezer Road, which runs off Somerset Road near the V&A Waterfront complex. The company operated as general engineers and iron founders. Remains of the foundry can be seen in the building housing the Beluga restaurant, which aptly forms part of The Foundry office, hotel and retail complex.

There is no doubt that other foundries were established during and before this period but no records are readily available.

Economic Research Southern Africa, a research programme funded by the National
Treasury of South Africa, working paper 408 states that: By 1850 agriculture dominated economic activity in the Cape Colony and stimulated commercial activities in the coastal towns. The decade of the 1850s opened with yet another frontier war, which persisted until 1853. The economic impact of the war was positive, since it stimulated military expenditure by the colonial authorities in the region. Increased demand for subsistence goods stimulated businesses in Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown (Mabin and Conradie 1992). Around Cape Town agriculture was dominated by the production of wheat and to a lesser extent other winter cereals such as barley, rye and oats, fruit and wine farming, but the town itself was the main center for manufacturing and commerce in the colony. Manufacturing was elementary, such as brickfields; fish curing for export; flour mills; soap and candle factories; snuff mills and iron and brass foundries. Similar basic manufacturing activities were also conducted in the districts serving the dispersed farming communities’ needs for processing of agricultural products or manufacturing of farming implements, wagons, furniture or stone quarrying.

It is also recorded that small quantities of manganese ore, used largely to add specialised properties to steels and other alloys, were mined at Hout Bay near Cape Town in the early 1900s.

Extracts from the National Archives Ref WO 126/162 for the Boer War service records list Otto Von Domarus, age 22, as an iron moulder with a business address of Phrenix Foundry, Cape Town. This is probably an incorrect spelling of the foundry name, as will be shown in the following.

According to the document Plans, Architects and Owners: C1890-C1913 – City of Cape Town – A register of original properties between the years 1890-1913, showing area, date, plan number, owner, address, usage and architect, the following entries/plans are documented:

1896 Messrs Cunningham & Gearing, Bree Street C/R Prestwich Street, Atlas Foundry additions

1896 Jenkinson E., Church Street & Gladstone Street, usage – foundry

1898 Phoenix Foundry, Harrington Street Near Caledon Street, WC additions

1901 Cunningham A, Albert Road & Bromwell Street, usage foundry

1902 Jenkinson Eli, Star Chambers Concert Hall, C/R Foundry & Westminister, usage shops, dwelling, brass & iron foundry etc.

1903 Messrs Perrott W.J. & Co, William Street & Wright Street, between Sussex & Station, usage foundry

1904 Phoenix Foundry, Harrington Street, Factory alterations. It is not known when this foundry was established or when it closed but there is reference to Julian Mayer, principal technical officer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, UCT for the last 36 years, that once completing his studies at Cape College for Advanced Technical Education he worked at Phoenix Foundry as an apprentice, but the work was mundane and repetitive and he left. This would put the date at about 1974/75.

The foundation stone of the Selborne Dry Dock, Simonstown was laid on 15 November 1906 and the building of the Naval Dockyard and Selborne Dry Dock was completed at the end of 1910. It is recorded that the factory building situated on the west of the dry dock was one hundred and sixty-six metres long by twenty-six metres wide and comprised of an engine-fitting shop, a boiler and blacksmith’s shop, a gun mounting shop, a coppersmith’s shop, a foundry, a smithery, a machine shop, a saw-mill and a joiner’s shop.

A foundry still exists in the Simonstown Naval Base today but is very small. Whether it is the origins of the original foundry no one knows.

A report in 1911 on Cape Explosives Works, also referred to as the De Beers Dynamite Co, in the Somerset West district, which was established in 1902 and later operated by AECI (African Explosives and Chemical Industries) as Somchem describes the factory also possessing fully equipped workshops, including a foundry, a boiler shop and wood and metal working shops containing up-to-date modern machine tools.

In this period the SA Metal Group, South Africa’s oldest and one of its largest metal recycling companies, was founded by Wolfe Barnett in 1919 and it has remained a family business into the fourth generation.

Carl Gustav Wilhelm Voigt, an immigrant from Luckenwalde on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany arrived in Cape Town in April 1893, established himself in Paarl and laid the beginnings of the engineering firm W. Voigt Engineers and Copper Works.

During the First World War the farmers in the area and particularly the wine growers found themselves having to rely more and more on the Voigt’s Works. No agricultural machinery could be imported and parts were difficult to obtain. Voigt started making machinery and components, concentrating on the wine industry.

By this time Voigt had an iron and brass foundry and was even capable of rolling iron plates. They produced wagon axles, their patent wagon brake (Voigt Briek), wine presses, doppie and wine pumps, brandy stills and of course the Voigt Voortrekker Oil Engine – designed, cast and machined in Paarl.

The history of Cunningham and Gearing foundry, by John James
In 1876 an engineering business known as Cunningham and Gearing was established. They had premises in Ebenezer road near the docks and operated as general engineers and iron founders. The remains of the foundry can be seen in the building housing the Beluga restaurant. They did ship repair work, made agricultural machinery and also made wind pumps. The Gearings wind pump was well known and some are still in existence. The wind pump museum in Loeriesfontein, Northern Cape has a number of working examples.

The main business of the company became ship repairs with an emphasis on servicing the whaling fleets. In the late 1930’s the company was taken over by two entrepreneurs Gerrie van Zyl and Frederick (Jammie) Jameson and the name changed to Gearing and Jameson.
During the second world war the company was kept busy with ship repair work. In 1947 Messrs van Zyl and Jameson made a name for themselves by salvaging the SS City of Lincoln that had run aground at Quoin Point (also known as Jessie’s Point).

In 1950 an agreement was reached with Globe Engineering that entailed Globe Engineering to be responsible for the ship repair business and Gearing and Jameson would undertake to do the foundry work.

It was decided that a new foundry was to be built in the newly developed Epping Industria.
This foundry was equipped with a mechanised line with boxes sized to make harpoon shells for the whaling industry. There was also a floor moulding section to produce castings in grey iron up to six tons mass.

The foundry was then sold to Federale Voksbeleggings (60% shareholding) and Everite (40%) and the foundry began making Everite pipe couplings and pipeline fittings. A Rothfischer pipe spinning machine was also installed to produce spun cast soil pipes.

In 1959 it was decided that as there was a plentiful supply of steel scrap the cold blast cupolas would be replaced by a GHW hot blast cupola to convert the steel scrap to pig iron. The pig iron project never materialised and the foundry ended up with more melting capacity than it could handle.

Dirkie van Zyl took over the running of the foundry and in 1963 was joined by his nephew Boetie van Zyl as technical manager. He began to develop the manufacture of automotive castings for the new local content programme in co-operation with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) that had an assembly plant in Blackheath. First components to be cast were brake drums, discs, flywheels and clutch plates for the Mini and the 1100 cc engine range of cars.

John James joined the company in 1966 as project engineer.

“The consensus of the experts at the department of Trade and Industry said that South Africa did not have the capability of producing cylinder blocks. With the help of BMC we undertook a project to cast cylinder blocks for the Mini,” said James.

“We visited the British Leyland Wellingborough Foundry in the UK and were given a set of patterns and core boxes for experimental purposes. In 1967 we successfully produced castings, which were machined and assembled into test vehicles.”

“It was then decided to tool up for production. The IDC took a shareholding, which gave us access to capital. The IDC also had shares in James Barwell in Alberton and Mangolds Engineering (Founded 1875) in Port Elizabeth. These three companies were the start of the Ferrovorm Group of Iron Foundries.”

Commercial production of the mini block began in 1970 and continued until the end of the Mini in 1985. Other blocks cast were the Marina 1750, the Rover 2600, the Renault R5 and the Fiat 128.

In 1970 Boetie van Zyl left the company and John James took over his portfolio as technical manager. In 1974 the company commissioned a Disamatic Mark 2 for production of automotive castings. This was followed by a lengthy development programme leading to the installation of an Asea holding furnace before the company was able to produce satisfactory castings. It turned out that most producers of drums and discs on Disamatics at that time were having similar problems. Many theories were advanced as to cause and solution but Gearings, with the help of BCIRA, were one of the first foundries to provide a satisfactory solution.

In 1975 Mr Dirkie van Zyl retired and John James became General Manager.

The Ferrovorm Group became actively involved with the Atlantis Diesel Engines project and was awarded the contract for the provision of a foundry to supply blocks and heads and John James was involved in this project.

In 1981 the Ferrovorm Group was sold to the Murray & Roberts Group, who already had a major shareholding in Cape Foundries, which at the time was owned by Reuben Rosenbloom. Gearings Foundry was also acquired by Murray & Roberts in 1981 and Gearings formed part of its foundries group. The Ferrovorm Group then became Murray & Roberts Foundries Pty Ltd.

“We undertook an overseas recruiting programme and obtained some very competent foundry men, among them Steve Foggo, Melvyn Bircher and the late Tony O’Brien,” recalls James.

“In 1987 air pollution laws forced us to close the hot blast cupola. In a two month shutdown the cupola was removed and replaced with two induction furnaces. This project cost over R5 million and was carried out on time, on budget and no customer went short of castings. This facility came on stream in January 1988,” said James.

“In addition to automotive castings the company produced jobbing castings on the mechanised line, floor moulded castings and piano frames for a piano manufacturer in Wellington, Western Cape. In order to rationalise it was decided to make only machine moulded castings and to close the floor and piano line.”

“The new electric furnaces allowed us to develop the production of ductile iron, initially as cast but later heat treatment facilities were installed. A start was made with the development of catalytic converter castings.”

“This business grew very rapidly and led to the development of manufacturing cells in the fettling department to process these components as rapidly as possible.”

John James retired from the M&R Group in 2000 and Melvyn Bircher was then appointed Divisional Manager.

At the time Gearings was an internationally respected ferrous foundry with an impressive growth phase and a well-equipped, technologically advanced shopfloor with a capacity of some 12 000 tons melt/year producing a 55% yield, comprising 6 600 tons/year of automotive components.

However, the key to the next investment programme was a Disamatic Mark 4, which was installed in June 2001 and commissioned in September that year. Gearings Foundry was casting 50% grey iron and 50% SG iron.

The Murray and Roberts Group sold Gearings Foundry in 2002 to British firm Industrial Investment Holdings. At the time the foundry’s main products were castings used to manufacture flanges for exhaust systems. The largest share of this output was taken up by Cape Manufacturing Engineers (CME) while another Cape Town engineering company Cambro Tools and Components was also a major customer.

Under the new British management Gearings expanded its range of products but soon ran into financial difficulties.

CME tried to rescue its supply of castings when it purchased Gearings Foundry in 2005, after it had gone into liquidation in 2004. However CME was not successful in its endeavours and within three years one of South Africa’s oldest surviving foundries had been purchased by an asset stripping organisation, all the equipment was sold and the company closed down.

Other known foundries in Cape Town that no longer exist
Cape Foundries was situated in Wallflower Street, Paarden Eiland and was owned by Reuben Rosenbloom. The company operated cold blast cupolas, had a mechanised line and was a jobbing floor foundry melting mainly cast iron but also had a small brass foundry. Production included street furniture and valve castings, which were machined and assembled onsite.


An early price list for Klipheuwel Engineering Works (KEW), which was started by George Knoop, father of Andre and Nico Knoop, in 1967

The company was purchased by M&R Foundries Group (MRF) and Reuben Rosenbloom became executive chairman of MRF before retiring in 1988.

In 1989 there was serious explosion in the melting department in which one man was killed. The foundry was closed shortly afterwards.

Atlantic Foundry in Woodstock was owned by the late Gerry Ferry. Ferry was the mayor of Cape Town for the period 1967 to 1969. It was a jobbing foundry, producing ferrous and non- ferrous castings, and closed in 1976.

Hudson & Hopkins Foundry (Phoenix Foundry) was situated in Paarden Eiland and it was closed in the 1970s. It was a jobbing foundry and reportedly did brookie lace, street poles, street furniture, manholes and general castings in ferrous and non-ferrous.

Elsies River Foundry, was established by a Mr Violo who the sold it to his foundry manager a Mr van Dyke, who moved the foundry to Blackheath. The foundry manufactured street furniture and was subsequently purchased by Reuben Rosenbloom and then closed. No dates are available.

Klipheuwel Engineering Works (KEW) was started by George Knoop, father of Andre and Nico Knoop, in 1967. The foundry produced cast iron manholes, sewerage (soil) pipes and fittings. The company was run by sons Nico and Andre Knoop before Andre purchased his own foundry – Allcast Foundry – in 1979. Nico subsequently closed Klipheuwel Engineering Works in 1992 before starting his own foundry – Heritage Castings – in 1994.

Kaz Engineering & Foundry was located in Parow Industria and owned by Tank Anziska. The foundry closed in about 1980.

Outdoor Lifestyle was one of South Africa’s leading manufacturers of outdoor furniture products using a wide variety of methods. These included gravity dies, low and high pressure die casting, sandcasting and tubebending.

The company was established in 1970 and was known as Geofurniture. It then went through quite a few changes during the next two decades and evolved into Outdoor Lifestyle in 1987.

In 1995 Hans Ilse bought into the company and promptly moved it from Maitland to Epping. It is not known exactly when the company closed but by 2010 Ilse had emigrated to Australia. All the equipment at Outdoor Lifestyle has now been sent to China and it is believed that the company is trying to start up the foundry there.

On 22 September 2004 the Competition Tribunal issued a Merger Clearance Certificate approving unconditionally the merger between Bid Industrial Holdings (Pty) Ltd and G. Fox & Company (Pty) Ltd. Bid Industrial is a subsidiary of Bidvest, an international investment holding company listed on the JSE and G. Fox was a private company controlled by Mr David Rubenstein. The report mentions that G. Fox controlled 100% in Globe Foundry (Pty) Ltd with a registration number of 1947/027471/07. No further details can be found.

Atlantis Aluminium (Atlantal) – The South African government, through the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), established Atlantis Aluminium (Atlantal) in 1983 to support South African diesel engine production against a background of the threat of trade sanctions against the country due to its apartheid policies. However, as compared to Atlantis Foundries, which is an iron foundry, the metal cast in this foundry was aluminium. The greenfield foundry was set up by the late John Profitt as MD and Alan Wood as the Production and Technical Manager. At first Atlantis Aluminium (Atlantal) was a sand casting foundry but progressed into gravity castings concentrating on manifolds, sumps and diesel engines for Daimler, Perkins, VW and Toyota as well as general engineering aluminium castings. Atlantis Aluminium (Atlantal) was purchased by the Murray & Roberts Foundry Group in 1993 and moved to Port Elizabeth.

What is not known to many is that in the 1960s Plessey South Africa had an investment casting foundry located in their facility in Wynberg. Plessey entered South Africa in 1963 and it is believed the foundry opened in 1964 but was closed by 1968. Some of the names that worked in this foundry included Peter Humphreys, Roy Sale and Doug Murray, who was one of the founders of Ajax Manufacturing.

It is also believed that Metal Box at one stage had a foundry in Epping Industria.

Ace Foundry, which originated in Pietersburg in the 1970s and was then moved to Bellville, mainly made irrigation castings for a British company. The company was sold to Agriplus before being purchased by Wahl Aluminium (Neville Wahl) in about 1990.

There is also a record of a Magnum Foundry purchasing castings from Allcast Foundry (see further on) but no further records can be found.

Current foundries
One of the oldest surviving foundries in the Western Cape is Protea Foundry and Engineers, which was previously known as Protea Brass Foundry. The foundry was established by Sonny Derman, who, at the time, was a scrap dealer.

In 1942 Derman discovered that there was a shortage of brass battery terminals and anodes used by the shipping and harbour industry and as a result started a small foundry to produce these components. As he was a keen fisherman Derman branched out into castings for the fishing industry, including stainless steel castings.


An early picture taken of Klipheuwel Engineering Works (KEW)

The foundry is also credited with being one of the first foundries in South Africa to manufacture brass bells and cast and machined church bells up to 14 inches. At one stage the foundry operated from Epping Industria employing up to 300 staff.

In recent years the foundry was run by Derman’s son-in-law Errol Reinhardt until he passed away in 2013. The foundry is now run by Dave Cooper, who has been with the company since 1980. It still concentrates on castings for the shipping and fishing industry and is based in Voortrekker Road, Salt River.

The second oldest known foundry still operating is Ajax Manufacturing, which was established in 1952 by Doug Murray and Ted Hall. After moving location a number of times over the years, the owners moved the business to Paarden Eiland and built a new foundry in Auckland Street in 1967. The company still occupies this facility today.

Established originally as a gravity aluminium foundry manufacturing low technology products, today the processes include gravity, foundry, high pressure and sand casting supplying components to the automotive, lighting, marine, petroleum, fire control, furniture, lawnmower, complete assembly of traffic signal heads, industrial fans, signage corners, electronic, fence fittings, lift, awning and electrical (cast, machined and coated) and general engineering.

The business has changed hands several times during its history. In 1962 the late Charles Rowe Senior, bought a half share of the business from Doug Murray. Murray then emigrated to the USA but returned to the company in 1965. Hall’s shares were acquired in 1967.


The second oldest known foundry still operating is Ajax Manufacturing, which was established in 1952 by Doug Murray and Ted Hall. In 1962 the late Charles Rowe Senior (pictured), bought a half share of the business from Doug Murray

In 1971 the company was sold to Tube Investments, with Doug Murray and Charles Rowe Senior remaining on as joint MD’s for four years. On their retirement, Rowe’s son Charles who had been with the company since 1969 and retired in 2011, was made a director and ran the business.

In 1976 General Electric acquired Tube Investments’ shares and in 1985, through a management buyout, Charles Rowe bought the shares from General Electric.

In November 2011 Ajax Manufacturing was bought by Sicame, a French-based multi-national business with interests in supplying electrical connectors to power stations and other industries.

The John Thompson foundry is a division of ACTOM (Pty) Ltd and is located in Sacks Circle, Bellville South. John Thompson started operating in 1954 as a boiler manufacturer. The foundry was started in the 1970s to cast original equipment components and spares for its boiler manufacturing plant. Early management of the foundry included Ian Balfour and Frank White and today the foundry is run by Lionel Solomans.

Early tonnages were estimated at 28 tons per month but this has grown to approximately 60 tons per month with a focus on manufacturing in house products such as stoker links and industrial water tube grate bars for all John Thompson and ICAL boilers, stokers, mills and other ancillary equipment.

In 1999 the foundry was licensed to produce castings under the Meehanite process. It is one of four foundries in South Africa with a Meehanite license. Two types of materials are manufactured – Meehanite HE for the stoker links and Meehanite HS for the grate bars.

Mazal Die Casting is a family owned company dating back to September 1964 when Harry Hirst established an aluminium gravity casting foundry in 14th Avenue, Maitland. In 1966 the company expanded its capabilities to zinc die casting and then in 1980 management took a decision to concentrate on aluminium high pressure die casting, manufacturing components for its own design drying appliances, gardening equipment, clothing accessories, the armaments industry as well as custom die casting. Mazal Die Casting also has full toolroom and design facilities with the latest CNC equipment.


A view of a section in the Gearings Foundry in Epping

Rowan Hirst, son of the founder, joined the company in 1966 and his sister Elizabeth joined in 1996, having previously acted as the company’s agent in Gauteng for 10 years. Rowan’s wife Helen looks after the sales side of the business. Mazal Die Casting is based in Parow Industria.

CFW Fans has been in existence since 1966 manufacturing a wide range of pre-engineered fans including centrifugal fans (all types), high pressure centrifugal blowers, oven plug fans, roof fans, plate axial fans, propeller fans, evaporative coolers and dust collectors. CFW Fans facilities include CNC forming, punching and bending, laser cutting, sandblasting and spray painting, static and dynamic balancing and a machine shop with CNC lathes and machining centres.

The company started its own aluminium gravity foundry in 1976 that casts components for its own consumption with a small percentage of outside work. It casts on average five tons of aluminium per month.

CFW Fans is currently based in Parow Industria, having previously been in Ndabeni and Maitland. The company is run by five directors – brothers Ralph Raad Snr., Ozzie Raad and Nausier Raad, and Ralph’s sons Ralph Jnr. and Eddie.

Allcast Foundry CC was established by Milton Katz in 1978 and was then purchased by Andre Knoop in December 1979, who sold the foundry to Garry Herbst in December 2007, when Andre decided to retire. For a short period in the beginning Andre Knoop had a partner, Arthur McKril, but when the funds did not materialize this partnership was annulled.

“I purchased the company for R11 000.00 which was a sizeable amount of money in those days,” Andre fondly remembers.

“The first two months (January and February 1980) in business our turnover was R2 500.00. This was followed up with a turnover of R3 800.00 in March and R4 300.00 in April and a huge jump to R6 800.00 in May,” accounted Andre.

Allcast is a jobbing foundry equipped for small to medium size production runs and the range of materials the foundry casts include 27% chrome iron, ni-hard, stainless steel, steel, cast iron, SG iron, brass, bronze and aluminium. Allcast has a comprehensive in-house pattern making facility.

Presently, Allcast uses the following methods to produce castings: continuous mixer (resin bonded sand), batch mixer (green sand), jolt squeeze machine and die casting (aluminium).

Castco Precision Castings was established in 1974 by Norman Glass and Milton Katz as an aluminium sand casting foundry. Current Chairman Robin Portlock joined the company in 1979 having previously been involved with the company supplying patterns and tools. Portlock, along with a couple of partners purchased Castco from Glass and Katz. Portlock subsequently took full ownership of the company in 1994. Portlock’s management team have subsequently all become partners. This includes Yunus Turan (MD), John Fisher and John Lesch.

In 1979 the investment casting process was established into the aluminium sand casting foundry plant and the first investment casting component was manufactured. In 1985 the company closed the aluminium sand casting division to concentrate on precision investment casting manufacturing. Investment casting parts are now manufactured in a range of ferrous, aluminium, copper and special high performance metal alloys for the automotive, aerospace, manufacturing and specialty industries. The company has also been involved in some groundbreaking development processes in the medical arena and research development with the University of Cape Town. In 2002 Castco manufactured an aluminium rapid prototype casting with a size of 442 x 345 x 345 mm, which at the time was one of the biggest investment castings manufactured. The casting was manufactured to radiographic and dimensional tolerance requirements.

Castco Precision Castings is based in Parow and Robin Portlock, who was very instrumental in founding the Western Cape Institute of Foundrymen (WCIF), is still involved with the company.

Atlantis Diesel Engines and Atlantis Foundry
In 1976 a team of Ferrovorm technical and financial management working under the then MD Geoff Willis, began conducting a feasibility study for the establishment of an integrated diesel engine casting, forging, machining and assembly facility in South Africa. The South African government, through the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), wanted to establish South African diesel engine production against a background of the threat of trade sanctions against the country due to its apartheid policies. The purpose was to provide security of supply of diesel engines for both military and civilian (automotive, agricultural and industrial) requirements.

John Davies was a member of the team and later appointed Project Manager of the Atlantis Foundry Project and in 1982 was appointed MD of Atlantis Foundries (Pty) Ltd, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlantis Diesel Engines (Pty) Ltd, a position he held until early 2000.

Davies was instrumental in the startup of the greenfield foundry that took 15 months to design and build and which cast its first engine block on the 31st March 1982.

Atlantis Foundries manufactured cylinder blocks for diesel and petrol engines and gearbox housing for export customers in Korea, Germany, UK, USA and France. At one time Atlantis Foundries was manufacturing 40 000 tons per annum of cylinder blocks and heads a year and employed over 600 staff.

After the demise of the Apartheid government and the establishment of democratic government in South Africa, new trade and economic policies led to the opening of the South African automotive markets to international competition. With no more protection ADE and Atlantis Foundries were hard pressed to stay in business. In December 1998 engine manufacturing was shut down and some parts of the plant were sold piecemeal. The major part of the manufacturing facilities were sold to Daimler-Benz who used these to manufacture engine components for their global needs.

In 2000 Atlantis Foundries was taken over by DaimlerChrysler and in 2004 it was decided to expand the plant to a capacity in excess of 80 000 tons. By 2006 the company was already exporting 49 000 tons of castings and currently its tonnage stands at 68 000 tons of grey iron castings per year. This is the largest iron casting plant in South Africa and possibly in the whole of Africa.

When Daimler and Chrysler split in 2009 Atlantis Foundries became a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz South Africa, which is part of the Daimler Group of Germany.

The Andrag Foundry is part of Andrag Agrico, a company that has its roots dating back to 1904 when German immigrant Paul Andrag started his own business in Cape Town. Today third and fourth generation family members run the company that has three factories producing implements, agricultural tractors, industrial tractors, centre pivots, quick coupling pipes, PVC pipes, polyethylene pipes, drippers, micro jets, aluminium and iron castings, electric valves and crop sprayers.

The foundry began life in 1980 casting aluminium components for the company’s own consumption. Cast iron components were first cast in 1983 and the company introduced the V-process to its mix in 1990, specifically to manufacture sumps for ADE.

Last year the foundry changed from green sand to the chemically bonded sand process and today it also casts SG and grey iron. The foundry is located in Bellville.

Pex Foundry was established in 1990 to produce hydraulic pump components for its holding company Pex Hydraulics. Located in Killarney Gardens the foundry changed its mix of castings and customers 12 years ago and became less reliant on the holding company, which began to import castings from China.

Pex Foundry is a jobbing foundry, also equipped with two continuous mixers for production runs. The foundry has a fully equipped pattern shop to design and manufacture any pattern to customer requirements.

Pex Foundry produces grey iron, SG iron, chrome iron, steel, bronze and aluminium castings for the railway, marine, commercial, agriculture and general engineering industries.

When Gear Pump Manufacturing (GPM) opened its doors for business in Epping Industria in 1985 the company relied on Gearings Foundry, that was located ‘down the street’ from its main facility, for its casting requirements. This changed in 2001 when the company decided to open its own foundry.

GPM manufactures a comprehensive range of both bearing and bushing cast iron gear pumps / motors and flow dividers, with a large amount of components being cast in its own foundry.


Inside the Bronze Age Foundry, which is housed in The Woodstock Foundry which is a heritage building

GPM was incorporated into Dosco GPM Holdings (Pty) Ltd in 1998. In 2011 Dunford Holdings acquired a majority shareholding in Dosco GPM Holdings. Dunford Holdings is based in Durban and is headed up by brothers Tommy and Graham Dunford. Included in the Group is another foundry – Jos Grieveson – a versatile KwaZulu Natal foundry producing ferrous and non-ferrous castings for the sugar, valve, mining, heavy duty vehicle, motor, crusher, shipping and general engineering industries in KwaZulu Natal, as well as Gauteng.

Since the acquisition, all companies have been consolidated under one group structure although they continue to trade under their individual names.

Castaway Components was established in 1998. The company specialises in zinc spin casting and pressure die casting with an emphasis on the clothing, promotional and furniture hardware industries. The company is run by four partners – Alan Shadbolt, Alec van Wyk, Nick Harding and Ed Raubenheimer. Castaway Components was previously based in Montague Gardens and in December 2013 moved to Killarney Gardens.

Takata South Africa’s history began in 1951 when AB Jackson formed Bremco (Pty) Ltd.
Early products included injection moulded components for commercial and allied industries. Due to local OEM demand, the company acquired a manufacturing license from Petri AG (Germany) to produce steering wheels in 1961. In1974 Petri AG acquired a 24% shareholding in Bremco and in 1990 the plant was relocated to the industrial area of Atlantis.

In 1997 Petri AG acquired the remaining 76% shareholding of Bremco and in 1998 the company name changed to Petri South Africa. In 2000 Petri AG was acquired by Takata Corporation of Japan and the company name changed to Takata Petri South Africa (Pty) Ltd. The company is due to relocate to a new facility in Durban, KwaZulu Natal in June 2014.

2005 saw the start of magnesium diecasting in the steering wheel frame production area having previously been involved in aluminium diecasting of steering wheels and motor housings.

Norths Garden Furniture and Heritage Castings are now owned by Max Teichmann and are situated in Blackheath. Teichmann purchased Heritage Castings in May 2008 from Andre Knoop who had previously purchased the company from his brother Nico in 2006.


Andre Knoop who was the second WCIF President, after John Davies had served for the first three years. Andre started his career at his father’s foundry Klipheuwel Engineering Works and then owned his own foundry, Allcast Foundry, for 28 years

North’s Garden Furniture was established in 1964 as a manufacturer of aluminium patio furniture in cast and tubular aluminium.

Heritage Castings was established by Nico Knoop in 1994 and focuses on reproducing Victorian “filigree” items in cast aluminium, using the same time-honoured foundry processes used to craft the 19th century cast iron originals including friezes (decorative panels), corner brackets, bollards, lamp posts, fences and gates. Other casting methods used by Heritage Castings include boarded patterns and gravity die casting. The former method is suitable for large items such as lamp posts, whereas gravity die casting is most effective for small, higher-volume items such as tables.

Art foundries
The Bronze Age Foundry is a multifunctional art foundry that specialises in casting sculpture in bronze with both the lost wax and sand casting processes. Founded in 1997 the foundry provides services to artists from around the world, including the likes of Dylan Lewis, who is best known for his life-sized bronze leopards, William Kentridge and David Brown.

Bronze Age Foundry, formerly based in Simon’s Town, is now the heart of The Woodstock Foundry complex, situated at 160 Albert Road, Woodstock, which was opened in March 2012. The Woodstock Foundry is a heritage building that has been renovated to combine the beautiful character and craftsmanship of the old world with the design and amenities of a modern world.

Sculpture Casting Services is a fine art bronze casting foundry located in Somerset West. They cast various sculptures for well-known artists in nickel bronze and silicon bronze as well as aluminium. In addition to the lost-wax / ceramic cast bronze process, they do cold cast resin bronze.

A recent addition to the business is Bronzart Tiles, which casts tiles with the same silicon bronze metal used for sculptures. All bronze art tiles are handmade and thus slight variations may occur. The tiles are coated with a chemical, which gives them a dark look and enhances the sculpted shapes.

Sculpture Casting Services is a family business that was founded in the 1990s by Robert Knight, who was later joined by his two brothers Warren and Bruce Knight.


Acclaimed South African wildlife sculptor Dylan Lewis commissioned what was then known as Ingwe Editions of Stellenbosch and run by Gerhard Deetlefs to cast a life-size bronze of a white rhino bull. The bronze ended up weighing about three tons when completed. Because of this weight, Ingwe have had to reinforce it with a stainless steel mesh, to support the structure. Moulding took five weeks and the casting alone took four months. The casting is made up in 33 different sections using the lost wax and ceramic shell process before final welding. The final dimensions are in the region of four metres long by two metres wide and three metres high

Jean Doyle, is one of South Africa’s leading sculptors, renowned for her public and corporate commissions. All the work is cast by the Doyle Art Foundry, which opened in 1980. The artist works in close collaboration with skilled and experienced foundry technicians to create her bronzes. Many of her sculptures exhibit the diversity of Southern African cultural heritage.

Talitha and Gerhard Deetlefs are artists whose work is exhibited under the Deetlefs Fine Art Studio label and manufactured by Gerhard Deetlefs’ Jupiter Studios Foundry. Deetlefs previously owned Ingwe Editions, a foundry that was also based in Stellenbosch.

Western Cape Institute of Foundrymen (WCIF)
Although the South African Institute of Foundrymen (SAIF) was established in 1964, having previously been the South African Branch of the Institute of British Foundrymen since 1939, the Western Cape Institute of Foundrymen (WCIF) was only founded in 1979. It’s mandate was that it would act as a branch of the SAIF in Cape Town and the surrounding area.

However there is mention of Cecil S. Marks being a Member and Past President of the Cape Section of the British Institute of Foundrymen in The Magazine of the Cape Technical College for 1954. Marks studied at the Cape Technical College and was a well-known businessman in the Cape engineering circles, and was a member of and held a number of executive positions of the various engineering institutes and associations in Cape Town.

Three men instrumental in setting up the WCIF were Robin Portlock, Carlos Santos and Wally Beckley. John Davies was elected as the first President of the WCIF and held this position for three years. Andre Knoop would succeed Davies to the position. Inaugural meetings took place at Castco Precision Castings premises.

Thereafter the position of President of the WCIF was held at various times by John Magner, Charles Rowe, John Fisher, Keith Mascall, Morris Grant, Alan Wood, Tony O’Brien, Nigel Pardoe, Martin Jansen Van Vuuren, Dean Horne, Willy Polis and Mike Killian.

Foundrymen that served on the committee in the early days included John Wyers, Doug Murray, Wally Beckley, Carlos Santos and Jannie Brink. Gail Gregoriades was the first secretary and then Gill Atkins took over from her for sixteen years.

One longstanding member of the WCIF who is still alive today is Sonny Wade. At the age of 98 he still likes to keep informed about the industry.


One of South Africa’s oldest foundrymen who is still alive today is Sonny Wade


John Magner was one of the earlier Presidents of the WCIF


Rory Park-Ross who at one time was with North’s Garden Furniture, with Robin Portlock of Castco Precision Castings. Robin, Carlos Santos and Wally Beckley were instrumental in setting up the WCIF

The first annual dinner/dance of the WCIF took place on the 26th November 1982 at the Constantia Nek Restaurant and the cost of a double ticket was R30.00 (there was no VAT in those days). The following year, again at the same price for a double ticket, the annual dinner/dance took place at Arthur’s Seat Hotel in Sea Point on the 14th June 1983. The evening included a four-course meal. Grace at this particular event was recited by John Steele and the reply on behalf of the guests was given by Ken Cowie, who was President of the SAIF at the time.

One of the primary developments within the WCIF has been the formation of the WCIF Operators Training short course notes, which is MERSETA recognised and now used countrywide. Instrumental in getting the training programmes courseware together were Keith Mascall, Alan Wood, John Smuts, Tony O’Brien and Jim Duggan amongst others.

It is interesting to note that in the Cape Technical College Calendar for 1925 and 1926 the Mechanical Engineering fourth year course offered the following:
Special attention to be paid throughout to show how the principles or mechanics and strength of materials are applied, Q problems connected with a selection from the following: Workshop practice in pattern shop, foundry, turning and fitting shops, including simple cases of modern machine tools-lathes, planing, shaping, drilling and slotting machines, boiler work, steam engine details, pumps, valves, internal combustion engines, steam turbines and air compressors.


The tickets issued for the first and second WCIF Dinner/Dance


The tickets issued for the first and second WCIF Dinner/Dance

In the Cape Technical College Calendar for 1937 a patternmakers and moulders course was offered with the following:
General introduction. Materials used in patternmaking.
Tools in general use in the pattern shop, general principles affecting the design and use of patterns, general principles of moulding, taper for draw of patterns, patternmaking for simple work, such as bushes, pegging and dowelling, shrink-age of the commoner metals and use of the shrinkage rule, lathe work – machine tools used in patternmaking, ring segments, construction and building up of patterns to prevent warping, simple strickle work for moulding with pan patterns, simple semi-coring patterns, patterns for moulding boxes, simple bedded work in foundry floor, simple examples of strickle work in the foundry, dry sand moulds, use of chaplets, simple cupolas, ladles, lining, preparation for use, and charging, melting and pouring of iron, simple types of brass furnaces, freehand drawing and sketching.


The proceedings and menu for the second WCIF Annual Dinner/Dance

Cape Engineers and Founders’ Association (CEFA)
The Cape Engineers and Founders’ Association (CEFA) was formed in 1920 by Harry Gearing of Gearings Foundry. Before then engineering employers were recognised within the Cape Chamber of Industries, which itself had been established in 1904. In 1943 the engineering employer associations in Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elisabeth together with CEFA from Cape Town formed the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA). This was driven by employers in the industry who were having to negotiate with trade unions within the national industrial council and wanted to speak with one voice. It is notable that Harry Gearing became the first president of SEIFSA.

The editor would like to thank the following people that helped with compiling this ‘brief’ overview on the history of the Western Cape foundries: Andre Knoop, John Davies, John James, Alan Wood and Robin Portlock. To the best of our knowledge all facts are correct. There could be some information that we have missed and we would welcome any contributions to make the document as complete as possible. If anybody has some historic pictures please can you send us copies.