The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) and the South African Furniture Initiative have embarked on a process to draft a Furniture Industry Master Plan.
The entities earlier this week hosted the last of a few consultative workshops, in Port Elizabeth, to gather input from industry experts.
“The master plan will be used as a catalyst to tackle challenges facing the industry as well as boost the economy to create employment opportunities in the country,” says DTIC agroprocessing chief director Ncumisa Mcata-Mhlauli.
The furniture industry exports about R3.9-billion of locally made furniture every year, but imports R6.9-billion worth of furniture, mainly from China.
Although the furniture industry is critical in driving employment, owing to its labour-intensive nature, and developing small enterprises, it is plagued by challenges including overpricing of raw materials, capital investment, access to market, competition from cheaper imports and issues around skills development.
These challenges have resulted in the industry’s workforce having declined from 50 000 jobs in 2009 to about 26 000 in 2018.
Mcata-Mhlauli explains that the furniture sector draws much attention from young people who trade informally. Therefore, it is important for government together with the private sector to join forces to ensure the sustainability of the industry to grow the economy and to increase the current threshold of employment.
“Industries like furniture are very attractive to the youth. In most townships, informal businesses are booming in the furniture industry. As government, we need to develop strategies on how we can respond to those who are starting production in their backyards to help them to grow and ensure they contribute to the local economy.
“We urge the private sector to come on board and form a partnership. That is why we have the process of the master plan. It is important to indicate that master plans are about commitment and collaboration between government, the private sector and labour so that we can implement actionable strategies that are going to take the industry forward,” she says.