New purpose in the face of Covid-19

Faced with the threat of the Covid-19 virus, some local companies have swiftly repurposed themselves in a bid to keep afloat and assist in meeting the demands created by the spread of the pandemic.

One such company is Durban overall manufacturer Siyasebenza Manufacturing, which has turned to producing protective face masks when the pandemic first started in China and the supply of imported masks began to dry up.

While the company’s three-ply cloth mask is still to be certified by the South African Bureau of Standards, the company says it is made to specifications, which allows it to meet the demand from medical equipment suppliers that had previously imported masks. Siyasebenza Manufacturing marketing manager Naveen Nair said it was hoped that this move into producing protective masks would help the company, which, like many in the textile industry, has been battling to survive and grow in the face of cheap imports.

“The decision is essentially a reaction to the demand. We could never compete with China and the likes in the past in the normal market. We saw this as an opportunity as the distributors are looking for local suppliers,” said Nair.

“This is a way of repositioning the business and, going forward, making the business healthy again. We weren’t in a healthy space. The clothing and textile industry in this country has been under pressure for the past 15 to 20 years — even more so for small black businesses like ourselves which don’t have access to capital and which have historical debt.”

The company, based in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, has turned out 100 000 masks thus far. In addition, it has sold 60 000 masks in two weeks to medical suppliers who sell to retailers and other end-users.

“Our challenge now is to find out if we can continue production during the lockdown, given that what we are producing is a medical essential to help the fight against the virus. We’re still trying to find out from trade and industry what the protocols are as we need to ensure that whatever we do is legal,” he said. 

Currently, bulk masks sell at a cost of between R22 and R24 each

Nair said Siyasebenza had been forced to find a way to produce the masks using existing machinery as the delay in importing purpose-built mask-making equipment was lengthy because of the global shutdown in response to the virus.

“The demand is massive as all the medical suppliers are looking for local manufacturers. This is a massive opportunity, both now and going into the future, but we will need government intervention if we are going to be able to compete with international suppliers in the future,” he said.

Currently, bulk masks sell at a cost of between R22 and R24 each, depending on volume.

“People are accusing the industry of profiteering, but we’ve never been able to make the R8 and R10 masks like China. If we could, we would have been in that side of the business all along,” he said.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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