Gwebza, a Cape Town women’s sewing, supplying and catering cooperative, pivoted its operations from making local school uniforms to sewing cloth masks out of traditional African fabrics.
This after the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown halted their production.
The women’s cooperative, headed by founder Linda Mlanzeli Baleni, operates from a factory in Woodstock and employs 34 women. When the lockdown was announced, Baleni had to shut its doors.
“It was a crisis, I couldn’t sleep at night because I didn’t know what we were going to do tomorrow,” she said.
When someone suggested they try their hand at making cloth masks to help with the fight against Covid-19, Baleni and her accountant Tiou Joseph Ledwaba at Bright Path Business Consultants, decided to take the leap.
Together they set up sewing machines in the living room of her house in Mfuleni, where she now employs six women.
“It feels great!” she told News24. “Knowing the background of being a woman and being abused and all those things and, seeing that you can make changes to other people’s lives, you sleep with a peaceful night (sic).”
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One of her employees Khanyisa Makeleni said she was grateful because without this opportunity she wouldn’t have been able to put food on the table during the lockdown.
“When I heard about the lockdown, I was very worried because we were not going to be able to provide for our families because everyone has to stay at home. Then this opportunity came and I am so happy,” she said.
According to Ledwaba, they wanted to solve the issue of access to protective masks for many South Africans and encourage the public to use cloth masks so that surgical masks would be available to essential workers on the front line.
“Who is going to save that little family on the corner? Who is going to save that mom who doesn’t have a phone for the internet to order a mask online? We had to be within the reach of the community and come up with something that they can easily understand and identify with,” said Ledwaba.
The National Development Agency has reached out in support of the initiative, and Ledwaba said they are hoping to soon be supplying masks to other provinces as well.