16/12/2010
The South African textile sector is now facing its own Rubicon
The textile industry in South Africa is seething over the accreditation of a Chinese company by the SA Bureau of Standards (SABS).
Marcus Varoli, the chairman of Mediterranean Textile Mills, said that the granting of a certificate of approval by the SABS and the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) to a Chinese textile mill for work wear fabric, in turn being imported for use in the mining industry, undermined efforts to revive the textile sector.

If this dire situation is not dealt with in an intelligent and amicable manner by all the role-players, we could experience the even further demise of the textile sector in South Africa.

The recent revelations that the South African Department of Trade and Industry (the very same department that publishes restructuring policies for the textile and clothing sector) has allowed a Chinese textile company to carry the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) stamp on the products it manufacturers and then import them into South Africa is extremely worrying.

The SABS debacle has sewn confusion within the industry and neither have the South African government depart (Department of Trade and Industry) nor SABS made any public announcement in defense of this disastrous decision. One has to ask why the silence?

The concern around the SABS is but one of many concerns that the letter addressed to Minister Patel highlights. The other major concern is the apparel sectors’ lobbying of rebates on certain textiles. Not only does this highlight the lack of a cohesive strategy within South Africa’s clothing and textile sector where one sector is willing to sacrifice another, it demonstrates, that the clothing and textile sectors are extremely fragmented. There are indications that the apparel sector will achieve the rebates with the consent of the clothing union.

It seems that the government and even the South African clothing and textile workers’ union (Sactwu) feel that the textile sector does and cannot contribute to poverty reduction, industrial development in the same manner as does the apparel sector.

What is lacking is the ability of long-term vision. Where will such action stop? For now, it is one Chinese textile mill. Soon it will be another and then it will be items of clothing carrying the SABS stamp.

I believe that the time of closed-door engagement with the union, the government and with Minister Patel is over. It is imperative to move the crisis the textile sector finds itself into not only the local but global public space.

We urgently need NGOs, global unions and international clothing companies and representative organizations and individuals to begin a campaign directed towards the South African government. Such a campaign must be constructed so that it catches the attention of the national and international media.

by Renato Palmi
The ReDress Consultancy , South Africa
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