Looting affects clothing stores and the clothing industry in South Africa

Widespread looting in two of South Africa’s most populous provinces last week caused significant damage to around 1,000 clothing stores and impacted supply as well as the clothing industry and the manufacture of textiles.

The days of riots and looting sparked by the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma have spread throughout KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg, home to some 27 million people.

More than 800 stores were looted and 100 torched in the week of July 12-16, according to the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA). More than 200 entire shopping centers have been looted and destroyed. The damage to the entire retail industry is estimated at ZAR 5 billion South African ($ 340 million), CGCSA told Just Style.

“Everyone is frantically running numbers. We know that around 1,000 stores have been closed, from shopping center stores to street stores, ”said Michael J Lawrence, executive director of the National Clothing Retail Federation of South Africa, at Just Style.

The Mr Price Group, one of the nation’s largest clothing and home decor retailers, which includes Mr Price, Mr Price Sport, Miladys, Sheet Street and Power Fashion, with 1,592 stores nationwide, had 109 stores, or 7%, “completely looted,” the Durban-based company said. It temporarily closed 539 stores.

Lawrence said the immediate concern was the security of the distribution centers. Hammarsdale, a logistics, manufacturing and storage center near the port city of Durban on the country’s main highway, the N3, which goes to Johannesburg, has also been targeted by looters. “Hammarsdale is of deep concern because there is still civil unrest. We are concerned for the safety of distribution centers, ”said Lawrence.

The South African National Defense Force’s deployment following the unrest largely restored supply lines, but Lawrence said it was still a challenge. “There is a bit of a battle to get the products out,” he said.

Imports of clothing and textiles have been affected by the temporary closure of the ports of Durban and Richards Bay, the main import centers of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. “It’s a problem given how time sensitive the clothing season is,” Lawrence said.

While large retailers should be able to recoup losses from insurance claims, it is the smaller and midsize stores that will struggle to make up for the financial losses, Lawrence added.

There have been few reports of damage or attacks on clothing manufacturers in Durban. One manufacturer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the company had struggled before the Covid-19 pandemic and was badly affected last year. The factory has been closed for two weeks. “It was difficult to get the employees to work and keep them safe,” he said.

Fabric factories have been affected, however, such as the Newcastle manufacturing center in KwaZulu-Natal and other parts of the province. “KwaZulu-Natal has a fairly large manufacturing community. There are reports of fabric mill losses, some of which are completely wiped out, ”Lawrence said.

The looting is expected to lead to significant job losses, further impacting an economy struggling with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and its highest unemployment rate, at 32.6%, since 2008.

“By the time consumers can access stores, what happened to household income? We don’t know what will happen when trading conditions normalize, ”Lawrence said.

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Anne G. Cash