Charka – 40 years as SA’s number one braai partner

The Charka team: Prof Laubscher (Managing Director), Monique de Bruin (Administration Manager), Arista Vogel (Financial Manager), Francois du Plessis (Operational Manager) and Johan Albasini (Factory Manager). Inset: Louis du Preez (Marketing Manager)

It is 40 years since Charka, the iconic and proudly South African charcoal and briquettemanufacturer first transformed our relationship with fire.

Charka Briketts were the first on the SA market and for a long time were the only such product available. Today, the Charka range, including Braaimeester, is available at all leading retail stores nationwide.

In 1978, Yellowstone Timber Holdings purchased the Charka Factory at Wildrand from a company then known as Hunt, Leuchars & Hepburn Forest Products (today Mondi Forests). Yellowstone Timber Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of Suiderland Development Corporation, changed the Charka company’s name to Suiderland Charka Limited.

In 2015, the company changed its name to Safire Charka (Pty) Ltd when a local short-term insurer, Safire Insurance Company Limited, together with a syndicate of timber farmers and existing Charka management, became major shareholders. The Charka-Safire relationship is a synergetic one, which is particularly relevant given that symbiotic relationships in nature form the foundation for Safire’s marketing efforts.

Safire Insurance is a specialist agricultural and general insurer with a strong co-operative base of timber-growing clients countrywide. Charka is able to use wood from burnt plantations in charcoal production, thereby reducing the ultimate net loss from timber fires through the maximisation of salvage recoveries.

The production process The Charka production process is sustainable and is good news for the environment as invasive alien Black Wattle (amongst other woods) is used. Wood is packed into kilns and burned in a controlled process. The burned residue, known as lump wood charcoal, is sorted and the larger pieces become Braaimeester Lump Charcoal, a pure, natural heat source.

Smaller pieces are milled into a fine charcoal powder mixed with corn starch and water, run through a briquetting press that shapesit into pillow shaped briquettes, and dried in a hot air drier. Charka Briketts, Braaimeester Lump Charcoal and Charka Firelighters are the main products distributed by the company but Charka has also developed innovative additions to its range.

Instabriks (instant lighting briquettes) and Braaimeester ILC (instant lighting charcoal) eliminates the need for firelighters when starting a fire or a braai. SABS and FSC certification, internationally approved Charka has a factory in Piet Retief, close to its timber source, and another in Polokwane, near the silicone smelting plants and Tzaneen forests. The smelters use bulk loads of charcoal in their production process.

The factories are SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) accredited and Charka was the first SABS approved charcoal product in the country. Charka is the leading charcoal manufacturer in South Africa and is F.S.C. (C.o.C.) certified as required by the export market to prove that sustainable wood supplies are used.

A cost-effective product Charka and Braaimeester products are extremely concentrated: 6-7kg of wood makes 1kg of briquettes. Being so concentrated ensures a heat source ideal for braaiing, retaining its heat and ensuring an even-burning fire that lasts for a long period.