SAPEMA – A 50 Year Story

SAPEMA, originally called the “Personal Protective Equipment Manufacturer’s Association” was founded in 1961 by 6 major manufacturers and distributors of personal protective equipment. Its main objectives were to create an association that could represent its members and lobby on their behalf with the government and the South African Bureau of Standards; to promote its members as suppliers of quality products and services; and to educate users in the correct application of PPE.

SAPEMA was welcomed by the safety industry. A representative of the Safety First Association acknowledged the contribution that SAPEMA could make “for their understanding the need for accident prevention. With their knowledge and tuition, they will reduce the number of accidents. We hope that this will herald a brighter future not only for industry, but for all workers and their dependents who have always feared the dire consequences of unexpected happenings”.

The year of SAPEMA’s founding in 1961 was one of the most significant periods in the history of South with the withdrawal from the Commonwealth on 31 May, the birth of the Republic of South Africa and the rand becoming the official monetary unit. The change of currency didn’t cause much confusion as you just doubled the pound to reach the rand equivalent. In other words, a dust coat that cost £1/4/6 (or 28 shillings and 6 pence) was now quoted at R2.85. To help citizens grow accustomed to the rand, the jingle “I’m decimal Dan the Rand Cent man” was heard far and wide. South Africa’s economic growth in the 1960s was second only to that of Japan.

Trade with western countries grew, bringing foreign investment and with it, a heightened awareness about the welfare of workers. South Africa was, however, in the heart of its

1961 – 2011

apartheid years and in 1962 the UN General Assembly requested its members to sever ties with South Africa and impose economic sanctions. Construction in South Africa during the 60s took off with the undertaking of major infrastructure developments to ports, power stations, airports and highways. Major cities were silhouetted with construction cranes. SAPEMA was centralised in Johannesburg where the skyline changed with the erection of iconic buildings such as the Carlton Centre, Standard bank, Trust Bank and Associated Newspapers. Decentralisation was becoming a trend, with the construction of shopping centres in the suburbs around Johannesburg, such as Southdale Centre in 1961, followed by Killarney Mall 1967 – 1969, and then Rosebank Mall 1968 – 1969.

Industry and mining operations showed unprecedented expansion and the economy boomed. Unfortunately, this boom period brought with it more frequent incidences of accidents, some directly attributable to fast track recruitment and lack of skills training. This looming problem became a matter of major concern. Employers and government both realised the need to become pro-active by training the workforce rather than to suffer the costly and damaging consequences of disabiling injuries and loss of life. This realisation was jolted into prominence by the tragedy of South Africa’s worst mining disaster in which 435 miners died at Coalbrook colliery near Sasolburg in 1961, and was supported by international trends in worker welfare.

SAPEMA members continued to play a leading role together with other safety associations in assisting industry and mining with preventative measures such as the correct use and application of PPE, and most importantly the correct training of the workforce in all aspects of safe working practices and conditions. Over the years, new legislation came into effect to enforce a safe and healthy work environment with consequences for employers who violated the law.

History of Sapema

Over the years, SAPEMA continued to grow and entrench itself as a professional association. In 1982 its name changed to “The Southern African Protective Equipment Manufacturer’s Association” to cover the broader region in which it operated, by this time the membership had increased to seventeen. In 2003, with the return of international trade and investment, its name changed to the “Southern African Protective Equipment Marketing Association”, to represent companies distributing quality imported products and not only local manufacturers. This year SAPEMA celebrates its 50th anniversary with 48 members.