Although it is small in size, South Africa’s textile industry has played a key role in creating jobs and contributing to growing the economy.
Over the years, the local industry has been badly affected by the influx of fabric from other countries, resulting in a number of factories closing down and jobs being lost.
However, some – like Da Gama Textiles in the Eastern Cape – have managed to weather these pressures, thanks to a government initiative aimed at promoting competitiveness in the manufacturing arena and ensuring job retention in the sector. The business was on the brink of collapse and had to retrench staff because it could not compete with the cheap fabric imported from abroad.
“Due to the state of our machinery, we could not compete with other spinners in the country because we could not reinvest in modern machinery,” said Da Gama’s Financial Director Ryan Brent.
The company was forced to close its East London plant, which was mainly for the spinning of cotton into yarn, and also had to decrease staff numbers at its Mdantsane and Zwelitsha factories over the years.
It was while the company was hanging on by a thread that the government decided to step in and help the textile industry.
“The textile industry was highlighted as an industry that needed support because it is labour intensive and has the potential to create jobs which is aligned with government’s mission of supporting job-creating initiatives,” explained Brent.
About five years ago, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) established the Production Incentive Programme (PIP) aimed at supporting companies in the textile industry.
“We applied for the grant and were granted between R17million and R20 million per year. That started in 2011. We used that money to buy new machinery.”
Brent added that the grant by the dti and IDC helped to save the remaining jobs and has helped Da Gama become a competitive company in the textile industry.
“With the first load of funding that we received, we bought new weaving looms and our product is now cheaper than imported fabric. If we didn’t purchase those looms, we would not be competitive at all and would not have saved the jobs that we still had.”
Currently, Da Gama employs just under 700 people – the majority of which are from Zwelitsha and surrounding towns.
“At the moment, we have about 500 weekly paid staff and about 170 admin staff who are all paid on a monthly basis.
One of those whose job was saved by the PIP is Given Qumza. He has worked at Da Gama for over 20 years and has grown from being an apprentice to managing the weaving in the factory.
The company empowered him by helping him to further his education. He studied for a Diploma in Textile Technology at the former Technikon Natal, now Durban University of Technology.
“I spent three years at technikon but mostly it was practicals here at Da Gama and I’m glad that I survived that because I started a bit late at tertiary level. At the time, I was 30-years-old,” he said sheepishly.
After completing his diploma, he worked at the East London plant as a quality co-ordinator before moving up the ladder to become quality superintendent.
“I had to work in both East London and King William’s Town doing quality audits at those two plants. I was also in charge of the lab.”
In 2001, Da Gama sent him to Rhodes University where he studied for a management degree.
“It was not easy. You have to pull up your socks; the route to management is not as simple as it seems.”
Currently, he supports his mother, two brothers, wife and four kids. Had it not been for the dti’s incentive programme, Qumza would not be able to take care of his dependents.