Milestone 45th SAPICS Conference was a huge success
Best Speaker award winner, Dikeledi Sathekge, with SAPICS president MJ Schoemaker.

This year’s milestone 45th SAPICS Conference - Africa’s leading education, knowledge sharing and networking event for the supply chain profession - was a huge success, the organisers have announced.

Some 750 supply chain practitioners from 32 countries across Africa and around the world gathered in Cape Town for the annual conference that has been hosted by SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management) since 1975. Held under the theme “Forward Thinking Supply Chains”, the 2023 SAPICS Conference enjoyed exceptional support from sponsors and attendees. The delegates who attended this year have commended the high calibre programme and outstanding global and local speakers who shared their insights and expertise.

The 2023 SAPICS Conference featured an exciting collaboration between SAPICS and the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF), which co-hosted the event. There was also a global public health supply chain track running throughout the conference programme for the first time. “Lives depend on strong, resilient health supply chains. Partnerships and collaborations are critical to building these and SAPICS is a perfect platform for these discussions,” said SAPICS president MJ Schoemaker.

In her opening address at the event, SAAFF chief executive officer Dr Juanita Maree noted that the supply chain gives life to trade and conducts world economies. “Without it, goods and services would not move,” she stated. Maree and Shoemaker thanked this year’s conference sponsors, including Diamond sponsor Transnet.

The important supply chain themes covered at the conference ranged from artificial intelligence (AI), innovation, supply chain professionalisation and risk management to resilience, skills development, supply chain leadership, and South Africa’s logistics crisis. In a compelling panel discussion on the practical use of AI in supply chains, experts highlighted the benefits in a range of sectors, from agriculture to healthcare. The “coolest” applications, according to the panellists, include tracking and improving driver behaviour in real time to make roads safer, and enhancing medical diagnoses and treatments by optimising medical coding (ICD-10 codes) Panellist Farayi Kambarami cautioned, however, that large language models, like ChatGPT, have a problem with hallucination. The AI chatbot has fabricated information entirely, including fake court cases that are the subject of one high profile legal wrangle. He cautioned SAPICS delegates not to use ChatGPT for anything related to facts.

How to address the challenges in South Africa’s rail policy was the topic of a panel discussion in which Stellenbosch University’s Professor Jan Havenga weighed in. He noted that South Africa is a transport, logistics and supply chain intensive country where 58% of the cost of every commodity is in logistics. Havenga and fellow panellists Mesela Kope-Nhlapo and Warwick Lord, and moderator Deylyn Naidoo, concurred that with public and private sector collaboration, there is light at the end of South Africa’s rail tunnel.

Opportunities abound for exports of African fresh produce, from fruit and vegetables to flowers and tea, according to 2023 SAPICS Conference speaker Keith Marshall. With consumers becoming increasingly focused on the origins of products and on sustainable, ethical supply chains, supply chain managers and logisticians have a vital role to play in Africa’s success, he told SAPICS Conference delegates. Optimising transport and distribution to reduce carbon emissions is critical, but the demand for more shipping over air transport is good news for Africa, which is well placed to capitalise on the refrigeration technology now available to ensure that even flowers can be kept fresh when shipped from Africa to Europe.

In a discussion on supply chain professionalisation, the renowned and knowledgeable panellists shared challenges and lessons as well as inspiring good news stories from the public health sectors in Nigeria, Rwanda, Benin, Malawi and Mozambique. In Nigeria, there is now a national supply chain strategy and framework that will improve healthcare skills and outcomes. In Malawi, a pharmacy assistant training programme was hugely successful and will be repeated. There has been high demand for a New Master Programme in Health Supply Chain Management at the University of Rwanda. The University of Mozambique is working on its first bachelor’s degree for health logisticians. It has been a long journey and there is still a lot to do, but the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place to professionalise supply chains in Africa and attract a pipeline of young talent into the profession, according to the panellists.

At the closing dinner that ended the conference on a festive note, prizes were awarded to the following outstanding speakers and exhibitors:

  • Best Exhibition Booth – Last.Mile.Fast
  • Best Double/Multiple Stand – Interroll
  • Best Exhibition Stand – Supply Chain Handling Equipment
  • Best Written Paper – Lee-Ann Barlett, Mon'e Manez, South Africa
  • Best Innovative Presentation - Dave Hallett, supply chain senior director at PepsiCo, and co-presenters Nomkhosi Ncube, supply chain customer collaboration manager, and Silindile Manyoni, senior customer collaboration manager
  • Best Speaker –Dikeledi Sathekge, group head of planning and digital transformation, Takealot Group, South Africa

In addition to learning and networking, the SAPICS Conference organisers and delegates also found time during the conference to give back to those less fortunate. A “Rise Against Hunger” meal packaging event that was sponsored by Savino del Bene saw delegates don hair nets and gloves to pack meals for disadvantaged communities. A total of 6 000 meals were packaged.

Transnet was the Diamond sponsor of this year’s SAPICS Conference. The Gold sponsors were Accenture, Africa Resource Centre (ARC), Lombard Insurance Company, SAP, Savino Del Bene and The Global Fund. The event’s Silver sponsors were Bidvest International Logistics, DP World, DSV, First National Bank, Interroll SA, Management Sciences for Health (MSH), Relex Solutions and VillageReach.