Opinion / 5 February 2019, 3:30pm / Eustace Mashimbye
JOHANNESBURG – Recent trading results from some local retail giants have painted a sorry picture of the slump in sales in shopping malls across the country.
Despite December being a traditional boom month, if any of our shops did see a spike, there was little to celebrate as 2018 final quarterly figures were analysed early in the new year.
It is no secret that our founding retail member, Edcon, is looking for a financial package that will enable it to continue trading, keeping stores open and retaining thousands of jobs. If the chain, including CNA, Edgars and Jet stores were to close, it would result in the single biggest job loss in South Africa to date.
I was devastated to hear just recently of the risk of massive potential job losses at one of our leading clothes designers and manufacturers.
House of Monatic, custodians of the Viyella, Carducci and my personal favourite, C Squared, brands. They have been around for almost 100 years, designing, producing and distributing local high-quality men and women’s garments, scarves, ties and shoes and demonstrating a business ethic second to none.
The company dresses SA Airways and Protea Hotels’ staff, among other corporate clothing contracts, and yours truly is an ardent supporter of their suits. It would be a tragic loss in terms of jobs and skills if their factory, equipped with state-of-the-art machinery where some 450 jackets, 700 pairs of trousers and 50 shirts are produced every day, were to shed these jobs, and even more should the situation not improve.
This is the impact of poor retail sales of local goods on just one local designer and manufacturer.
The difficulties in staying afloat, of course, have a knock-on effect through the entire value chain – including on service providers and suppliers to the retail trade.
A reduction in productivity impacts on suppliers of buttons, zips, fabric, cotton thread and all the other accessories and inputs required to produce a finished garment and jobs will be lost in each of these areas, too.
We have tried to demonstrate many times in this column the importance of buying local and the real consequences of our individual choices. If we are aware of Made in SA labels as a consumer, we will take this to our place of work, where we may be able to influence buying habits of many of the items we use daily in the office or factory.
If we were to combine the 140 000 direct and indirect employees of Edcon, add them to House of Monatic’s 800, that equals almost half-a-million people – the families and dependants of those employees – that will suffer the job loss as well in the event that the worst happens to the retailer and manufacturer. These are only two examples of which there are many more suffering the impact of current economic conditions.
The best we can do in this economic climate is direct what limited spend we may have to the purchase of local products to ensure that we contribute to the retention of jobs and start the trajectory of creating much-needed new ones.
Orders placed by Corporate SA with local factories will go a long way in sustaining the jobs at The House of Monatic, for example, so we urge the private sector to replace imports at every opportunity and start the turnaround.
My song this week is already a grim reality for many South Africans. In Homeless, Ladysmith Black Mambazo sang “moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake” – if we continue to demonstrate a preference for imported goods we may be consigning many more South Africans to this fate.
Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly South African. The views expressed here are his.