Home Press Releases Archived 2008 Thank You Madiba for saving jobs in the Clothing and Textiles Industry
Thank You Madiba for saving jobs in the Clothing and Textiles Industry PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 July 2008 16:58

Press Release: Immediate


This auspicious occasion, the 90 th birthday of Madiba, is a time for South Africans, and the world, to celebrate a truly great leader. A man whose deeds and actions have rightly earned him the love and respect of people everywhere.   

The Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers' Union (SACTWU) adds its voice: we wish Madiba a very happy birthday and thank him for his role to help save jobs in the clothing and textile industry. We recall the following:

Amongst Madiba's lesser known - though not less great – deeds, was the significant role that he played in rescuing the South African clothing and textile industries from severe job losses in 1994.

The job losses would have happened as a result of an agreement made in the late 1980s by the old South African government at the Uruguay round of talks on trade liberalization. As the General Secretary of SACTWU, Ebrahim Patel, recounts that “...the offer involved dramatic tariff cuts. It was caused by the fact that the Europeans and United States characterized South Africa as a developed country, even though the majority of South Africans were living in conditions of bitter poverty and the local industry was incapable of surviving the effects of liberalization. Massive job losses would have occurred”, he says.

The unions only found out about the proposed measures after the formation of the National Economic Forum in 1991. By 1993, they were engaged in discussions with the government about liberalization, particularly in relation to two sensitive sectors: the automotive sector and the clothing and textile sector.

The lead negotiators for both sectors, Alec Erwin from NUMSA and Ebrahim Patel, the General Secretary from SACTWU, first called for a meeting with the European Community. After an initial reluctance to reconsider the deal proposed by the old South African government, the Europeans finally conceded that the deal was inappropriate. Yet meetings with the United States were not as fruitful. The negotiators from the United States were hostile to suggestions from South Africa that the deal was inappropriate and, as the talks progressed, it became evident that the finishing touches were already being made on the original deal. It was to be formally announced in early 1994.

In December 1993, Madiba had gone to Scandinavia, to both Oslo and Stockholm, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As Ebrahim Patel recalls “Throughout the early 1990s, Mandela was up to date with the affairs of clothing and textile workers. To his credit, in the middle of that big moment in Scandinavia, Mandela phoned Bill Clinton in the White House and conveyed the deep concern of the South African people about the tariff liberalization program. He said South Africa would not, in any way, be a signatory to any deal that would damage our industrial capacity to the extent promised by the one that was being prepared. As a result, the White House instructed the American negotiators to meet with our negotiators and modify their position. Eventually the tariffs were lifted from 30% on clothing to 45%, and what was to be a tariff liberalization period of 8 years was changed to a period of 12 years”.

That important intervention by Madiba was one that helped to protect jobs in South Africa to a greater extent than would otherwise have been the case. It is yet another reason that we have to celebrate the birthday, and the life, of Nelson Mandela.


Issued by

Andre Kriel


Deputy General Secretary