The president and his Finance Minister have spun a vision of what a post-COVID-19 economy could look like and thousands of Cape Town textile workers are taking the dream and running with it.
As the rest of the country stays home, garment factories have retooled to manufacture much-needed protective equipment.
These masks and surgical gowns are produced for essential workers at supermarkets and labs.
The industry has been under extreme pressure in recent years, with competition from cheap imported clothes leading to mass job losses.
Trade Call Investments Apparel in Epping usually produces clothing that competes with imported garments in the nation’s stores.
But in the era of COVID-19, the workers on this factory floor are making something else, something vital to the fight against the pandemic.
Every day, these textile workers churn out thousands of masks and surgical gowns, using all locally manufactured materials and a scientifically tested filter that extends the life of the mask.
“We got the national bargaining council to accredit these manufacturers in South Africa so that they can manufacture masks. It also drives compliance. We don’t want people to manipulate the system and to manipulate workers at this time.”
The company’s CEO Herman Pillay said that they obeyed strict hygiene protocols and ran shifts at a third of capacity.
The sound of whirring machinery fills the air in Epping’s TCI factory, where dozens of women hunch over the sewing machines they used to make T-shirts and chinos but since COVID-19 hit our shores, they’ve been running up masks and surgical gowns and their jobs have taken on even more meaning.
Workers sit further apart than they used to, with only a third of workers on shift at any given time.
They’re not too worried about catching the virus even though Western Cape health authorities have flagged factories as potential infection hubs.
One seamstress said that her family was worried about her safety but they understood.
“They say: ‘Ma must be very careful and do what ma must do – wear a mask and be safe.'”
Workers at the nearby K-WAY factory are now producing cloth masks by the thousand and floor manager Beverely Williams said that it’s been a smooth transition.
“Reason being the people are very highly skilled, these machinists.”
The masks will soon be mandatory apparel for anyone who goes outside.
TCI is one of several factories who’ve signed a collective agreement to supply 45 million masks to the Department of Basic Education.
Wesgro CEO Tim Harris said that successes like these represented glimmers of hope for the local economy.
“I am optimistic that we can achieve a V-shaped recovery, particularly because of the ability of the business services, IT, call-centers to pivot.”
He said that the collaboration between government and business during this unprecedented time had been encouraging.