Cape Town-140325-Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel visits the Lontana factory in Cape Town, as part of the SACTWU 25th anniversary celebrations. He chats to Francoise Cloete. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams. Reporter Zara Nicholson

Zara Nicholson

Metro Writer

MINISTER of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel went back to his roots yesterday, reporting back to clothing factory workers after five years in government – assuring them that there was a future for the industry and that more jobs could be created with innovative fashion thinking.

Patel addressed workers at the Lontana clothing factory in Gardens after they had asked him to report back on what the government had to done to assist the clothing industry.

Patel, a former SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) general secretary, left the union in 2009 and was appointed to the cabinet by President Jacob Zuma.

He said Lontana was one company which had been receiving support from the government through a production incentive programme to strengthen its operations and improve its technology.

“We recognise that in a globalised world our industry has to be competitive and they have to employ large numbers of people. The clothing industry has enormous strengths, the quality of its work, the fashion innovation, and we must build on those. We can create many more jobs in this industry,” Patel said.

He added that in the last five years, there had been a dramatic reduction in job losses with new factories starting up.

Lontana was started in 2000 and employed workers who were retrenched at another factory which had closed down.

“The workers reminded me that five years ago the union debated and agreed that I should be released to serve in the government. They were curious about what we have achieved and they wanted to hold me accountable,” he said.

He reported back on government’s “Buy Local” campaign which encourages people and the government to buy local goods.

“In government we support locally manufactured taxis, buses and trains and we are now making that a regulatory requirement on the city. All the new MyCiTi buses will be assembled in Cape Town and 80 percent of the bus body will be locally manufactured,” he said.

He was questioned on what the government was doing to ensure a future for the clothing industry, to curb unemployment and to stamp out illegal clothing imports. Patel said in the past three years, police confiscated illegally imported clothing worth R1.8 billion.

“Clothing has a future. Today its about innovation and fashion content. People are shopping for what is known as fast-fashion, ideas change constantly and we have an opportunity to learn from some of those advanced production skills,” he said.

“I see a clothing industry that can grow, it will require hard work and partnership between business and labour.

“This industry can continue to serve Cape Town well. I came from a clothing factory as a child and I can see that generations of children to come will find that this industry can provide them with food and education,” Patel added.

By not bringing down the import tariff the government would ensure that the clothing industry was protected.

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