For some time now, even before the COVID-19 crisis, the government has, in addition to assistance offered to local manufacturers, been encouraging the nation to buy local to assist in job creation and infuse the economy with positive growth and energy.Although the government has commendably made available a R500 billion fund to boost the economy during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, everyone is aware that it’s going to take more than that to keep South Africa standing and to keep the economy fluid. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, this has become not only more important, but also sometimes the only option. Globally, this may become the norm for the foreseeable future – already countries are looking at ‘re-shoring’ their manufacturing efforts to mitigate the risks that globalisation has brought. It’s not the first time that South Africa has faced a need to reverse the negative impact of imports, albeit for different reasons. In the late 1980s South Africa’s footwear manufacturing industry was booming, with 900 factories servicing the industry. But then the first wave of cheaply made Chinese imports arrived and brought with it a flood that would decimate the industry, reducing this number to a mere 130 factories today – a number likely to decrease post the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2003 local companies were desperate for a solution. Home-grown safety footwear leaders Bagshaw Footwear, Beier Safety Footwear, United Frams and Wayne found themselves locked not only in a battle for survival with imported products, but also amongst themselves. Collaboration was the only solution to defending the local safety footwear manufacturing industry and this resulted in a merger that brought about the formation of BBF Safety Group, the largest manufacturer of safety footwear in Africa.
For many years, BBF Safety Group’s mission has been to ensure economic empowerment, transformation and development in South Africa, and have forged numerous mutually beneficial partnerships with local SMMEs to create a network of highly committed, professional and efficient local suppliers.“Protecting and creating jobs is imperative – we operate from a base of looking after our own communities. If we do not change our consumer buying habits now in line with locally manufactured products, we will all have some role to play in the unemployment figures. Now, more than ever, we have to put our people first,” says Silvio Ceriani – Group CEO, BBF Safety Group. Recently, BBF Safety Group experienced an import issue with the production of their PPE masks, which although manufactured using majority local materials, required two specific components to be imported. To counter this and drive localisation, BBF Safety Group turned their attention to local manufacturers with the potential to deliver on these components. Through incentives and support offered by the government, a local supplier adapted their production to meet the specifications required in the essential filtration component, which is now being manufactured locally. Through collaboration with a South Africa based company, the nose clips are now being manufactured locally resulting in a FFP2 mask that can be 100% locally sourced and manufactured. “We are proud of our team who worked with other South African companies to deliver on solutions that benefit us all as a country. It is testimony to the talent within our country and the potential we have to source and innovate locally, defending and, if supported, creating local jobs. It’s a great accomplishment,” says Silvio Ceriani – group CEO, BBF Safety Group. In the coming weeks and months, as South Africa experiences the different levels of lock-down and a slow easing of restrictions on trade and movement, we can expect to see more and more innovation from companies, ensuring that the nation can truly make it together. South Africa, her people and her businesses must stand together to ensure that the changes wrought by the pandemic are positive and effectively give the economy the boost it so desperately needs.