Covid-19: Leather business in Oudtshoorn takes strain as tourism plummets

Cheslyn Wagenaar makes belts and sandals at his RDP home with offcuts of crocodile and ostrich skins

Photo of a man

Cheslyn Wagenaar has seen buisness dry up because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo supplied

By Mpumi Kiva

18 April 2020

In the backyard shack of his RDP house in Toekomsrus township, Oudtshoorn, Cheslyn Wagenaar makes belts and sandals from offcuts of crocodile and ostrich skins. He also makes wallets, women’s handbags and key holders. He gets the offcuts from nearby factories.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has seen his business, which relied on local and overseas tourists, dry up.

Wagenaar operates from a makeshift structure of metal sheets and planks. The shack is now filled with boxes containing finished items, ready for shipping or selling.

A father of three, he started his business in 2016 after he was retrenched as a machine operator at a local shoe factory. He spent his pension fund to buy a small machine and some equipment to start making sandals and belts. In 2017, he displayed his products at the annual Klein Karoo National Kunstefees. Things were going alright.

In the Klein Karoo township, which has high youth unemployment, crime, and substance and alcohol abuse, his business had created job opportunities for five youngsters. And then came Covid-19.

“This lockdown has caused so much financial loss … I used to receive more than 50 foreign visitors a day, who came to buy and view my products,” he says.

“We all have to listen and abide by the regulations, but … everything now has come to a standstill.”

“I have finished orders for people across the country as well as foreign customers, but now l cannot courier anything,” he says.

“I just hope a vaccine is found.”