Photo Cred: Supplied | Lelly Mntungwa
Photo Cred: Supplied | Lelly Mntungwa

Operating a business in the time of a pandemic is no easy feat, but companies like the one Lelly Mntungwa founded are helping to create a tapestry that is changing the landscape from one of unemployment and despair to one where skills are imparted, and jobs are created.


KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (17 November 2021) – Touched by the high unemployment rate in the Msinga area, Lelly Mntungwa felt she needed to do something to create job opportunities for the locals, particularly young women.

Mntungwa left her job at a financial institution to start sewing. Prior to sewing clothes, she conducted research of her own to see what she could do to create jobs as well as impart skills to her KwaZulu-Natal community.

“Skills transfer is a sustainable gift that can empower people to become income generators and survive during difficult situations,” she says.

She explains that during a recent visit to her Msinga Clothing factory, that it was not easy to get the factory off the ground.

“It was not easy. People did not understand what I was trying to do. Some were even laughing at my family and me when we were cleaning the building,” she says of the factory located in Keate’s Drift.

Prior to its new lease on life, the factory was an abandoned and vandalized building, which in its previous life had once served as a shoe factory that closed its doors 26 years ago. Its closure left 3000 families without a source of income. Using funds she received from a previous employer package, it took seven years in total to get the factory up and running. The factory was established in 2012 with the initial objective being to organise youth and women who were involved in sewing businesses within the area and providing them with technical training.

Today the entrepreneur’s factory employs 160 women who sew clothes for well-known clothing company The Foschini Group (TFG), which has assisted by donating cutting tables to work on when making garments. The good work produced by the company saw it attract government support, and in April 2019, it received 30 sewing machines from the Department of Economic Development facilitated by the then Kwazulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Sihle Zikalala. Furthermore, the Skills Education Training Authority (SETA), a body responsible for overseeing skills development and training, intervened and trained 60 women and youths on the manufacturing of sanitary towels, masks as well as school uniforms.

Photo Cred: Supplied | Lelly Mntungwa
Photo Cred: Supplied | Lelly Mntungwa

Currently, the factory makes garments for TFG, Mr Price as well as Ackermans.

Deputy Minister of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition Nomalungelo Gina, who visited the factory in April, hailed the company as a perfect example of what government and the private sector can achieve when working together.

“This company is a perfect example of the public-private partnership in action. All spheres of government and various state-owned agencies were involved in making this company a success. This company exemplifies what government wants to do to ensure that the private sector plays a role in stimulating the economy of the rural areas and creating much-needed jobs. As government, we are also working hard to rejuvenate the clothing and textile sector so that it regains its importance as a significant contributor to our economy,” said Gina at the time.

Developments at the factory speak directly to the Retail-Clothing, Textile, Footwear and Leather (R-CTFL) Value Chain Masterplan, which is aimed at creating a noticeably and sustainable market for the Clothing, Textile, Footwear and Leather (CTFL) sector.

The factory has helped many women to put food on the table.

“Since I came here, I have learnt a lot. Now I can sew clothes – something I couldn’t do when I started here,” says Ngendzeni Dumakude, an employee and mother of three who has been working at the factory since 2019.

Stakeholders in the sector have since committed to growing the market for local clothing, textile, footwear and leather producers.

The agreed target is to grow total clothing, textile, footwear and leather retail sales to R250 billion in 2030. It is envisioned that 333 000 jobs, including 165 000 clothing, textile, footwear and leather formal sector manufacturing jobs, will be created.

The 42-year-old Mntungwa’s vision is not only to provide job opportunities but also to start a school where people will be trained on how to operate sewing machines. She also aims to become a trusted brand in the clothing and textile industry not only provincially but in the rest of the country as well. This also includes becoming a market leader in the knowledge of the industry and use of energy efficiency technology, and becoming a trustworthy supplier to their clients. As she continues to grow the factory, the entrepreneur was afforded an opportunity by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition to receive training in clothing and textiles, including cotton processing, at Minjiang University, in Fuzhou, China in 2017, an experience she will not forget.

Photo Cred: Supplied | Lelly Mntungwa
Photo Cred: Supplied | Lelly Mntungwa

Over the years, the government has appealed to South Africans to support local industries by buying local at a time when many jobs have been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s national Buy Local campaign seeks to strongly influence procurement in public and private sectors, to increase local production, influence consumers to buy local and stimulate job creation.

Earlier in the year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said every effort must be made to support local businesses that were severely affected by COVID-19 in a bid to save existing jobs while also creating new ones. Speaking at the annual Proudly South African Buy Local Summit and Expo, the President said the country needs to step up its efforts not just to get locals to buy local but also to improve the entry of South African goods and services into export markets as well.

Operating a business in the time of a pandemic is no easy feat, but companies like Msinga Clothing are helping to create a tapestry that is changing the landscape from one of unemployment and despair to one where skills are imparted, and jobs are created.

Sources: Lelly Mntungwa | SA News 
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