A few years before 1939, Kalie Rood had induced McKinnon Chain and African Cables to establish factories in Vereeniging. He provided the ground for these enterprises from the large tract of land at Peacehaven owned by Usco; and when war was declared these companies together with others in Vereeniging were poised for the industrial expansion that was to carry the town to its present prominence as a steel and engineering centre.
In 1939, General Smuts invited Rood to establish an agricultural and implement factory in Vereeniging because of the eminent danger that South Africa's overseas source of supplies would be placed in jeopardy. Rood promptly founded Safim, an enterprise which gradually found its feet in the difficult war years and later grew into an undertaking of considerable size and importance in the early post-war years, by which time Massey Harris (later Massey Ferguson) had acquired the majority shareholding in the company.
Early in the war it became imperative to increase the nation's steel production beyond the capacity of the Iscor works in Pretoria, and while Van der Bijl was negotiating for the purchase of the farm Kookfontein, near Meyerton, for Iscor's second steelworks, Louis Marks drew his attention to the problems he may expect if, as was proposed, the effluents from the works were to be disposed of in the Klip River. Marks anticipated that the Rand Water Board would object because the contaminated Klip water would enter the Vaal above its intake station at Vereeniging. Van der Bijl accepted the warning and asked Marks if he could provide a site where there was no similar problem. Marks escorted Van der Bijl to a large tract of mealielands which Vereeniging Estates owned downstream from the Board's intake station. Van der Bijl agreed to purchase the site at £100 an acre provided his engineers found it suitable for the foundations of the steelworks. Finally, the decision was taken which led to the establishment of Iscor's giant steelworks on the site.The construction of the plate mill began in 1941, and with it the founding of the town of Vanderbijlpark. The steelworks, which in time dominated the western skyline of Vereeniging, now produces more steel than the mother works in Pretoria.
When the establishment of a ferro-alloy works in South Africa was first mooted early in the war, Rood and Marks
impressed on Van der Bijl the advantage of locating the new plant in the growing steel centre of Vereeniging rather than at Witbank, and to ensure that this was done Usco sold a portion of the corporation's lands at Peacehaven to the African Metal Corporation and on this site Amcor established its original works. Later, Amcor was to transfer its operations to Kookfontien.
Within months of the declaration of World War II, Vereeniging's major industries had converted to war production or they were well advanced in tooling up for the manufacture of munitions. Vereeniging burgeoned with an influx of munition workers. Among them were thousands of women brought in to swell the town's labour force and to replace operators and artisans away on service.
Stewarts and Lloyds alone employed 1,000 women to man shell making lathes and they, with some 600 males and 3,000 Bantu, made up the company's daily workforce. By the end of 1942, the tube company's output had reached 130,000 shells a month, and later tubing, valves and pumps made in the Vereeniging works were shipped to the Far East theatre of war. The Union Steel Corporation converted immediately to the manufacture of aerial bombs, and within eighteen months production of 250-pound bombs alone had reached 1,000 a week.
As the war proceeded, the steelworks produced a wide range of products and components for the manufacture of machines and implements of war. African Cables was committed to war production as well and the cables the company produced at Peacehaven were used extensively for military communications systems and in the wiring of machines of war. Although enlistments had depleted both the staff and the white labour force employed by Vereeniging Estates in its operations in the town, the resources of the collieries were invoked by the Directorate of War Supplies and coal was requisitioned for purposes directly linked with war production.
The Union Defence Department took over an area of 200 acres of the company's lands at Leeuwkuil on which the South African Air Force established a flying school. In 1940, the company allocated a further 500 acres (free of charge) for an auxiliary flying school.