JOHANNESBURG - A department of labour initiative which dates back to the second world war is helping create jobs for people with disabilities who have borne the brunt of South Africa's unemployment scourge.
Official data shows that some 4.7 million people live with disabilities in South Africa, of whom 10 to 15% require an environment such as the department's Supported Employment Enterprises (SEE), a projected established after World War II to provide jobs for veterans.
The SEE initiative current boasts 12 factories which operate in seven of the country's nine provinces and employ nearly 1,000 people with disabilities, with the capacity for another 3,000.
The factories manufacture some 3,000 products for hospitals, schools and the police force, including furniture, textiles, metalwork, leatherwork, canvas work, bookbinding and screen printing.
In rural areas, SEE has created another 1,100 jobs indirectly. It transports school desks which are assembled by local carpenters who also do repairs when needed, establishing a sustainable eco-system.
The SEE project has provided employment for disabled people such as Andrew Moeketsi, who had one of his legs amputated after he was shot in a hijacking in 2003.
Another beneficiary is Louise Badenhorst, a textile designer, pattern maker and fashion designer with Friedreich's ataxia, an autosomal recessive inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system, while Hannelie Roos, who was left with a traumatic brain injury after a head-on collision, is about to retire with a pension after 38 years at SEE.
In addition to contributing to South Africa's manufacturing sector, the non-profit SEE initiative pays all its own expenses and staff. Dennis Matsepe, a deputy director for business development in the department of labour, markets and sells SEE's products.
"The people are disabled, but are not seen as such," Matsepe says. "They do all the work and if given a chance can do anything."