New shine for historic leather industry

2013-03-08 00:00

THE revival of Pietermaritzburg’s historic leather and footwear industry is a step closer to becoming a reality after Economic Development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu announced yesterday that the sector had been identified as uMgungundlovu’s niche industrial hub.

Research showed that although the sector had been under threat, there was a gap between China’s mass-produced products and Italy’s hold on the high end of the market.

The local industrial hub will concentrate on processing genuine leather and the production of genuine leather goods.

Mabuyakhulu said there was potential for substantial job creation as the hub would incorporate the entire value chain, from tanneries, trims, adhesives and designs to the sale of the final products.

For the venture to succeed, leather would have to be collected on a large scale.

“We are already saying to farmers that they must try not to damage skins and hides.

“Similarly, we are going to ensure that subsistence farmers can get value from the skins of their animals. We are going to open leather centres throughout the province and start collecting hides,” Mabuyakhulu said.

Economic Development Department head Desmond Golding acknowledged there had long been talk about the revival of the leather industry. He said the time had also been used for analysis and research. They were now at the point of implementation, talking to the municipalities within the industrial hub and appointing experts in relevant sectors.

Pietermaritzburg was once a major centre of the South African leather shoe industry. However, trade liberalisation resulted in widespread retrenchments and the closure of most shoe factories in the city over a 12-year period.

The tanning industry gave rise to extensive wattle plantations in the Midlands, and the Wattle Research Institute was established in 1947 to research better quality tannin to convert raw hide to leather.

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