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Simba African Designs

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

Graduated from life Mr Simba Matanda shares his tailoring and fashion design skills with whoever wants to learn the gift of sewing and designing

Simba Matanda joined Yes We Can South Africa Foundation (YWC) recently but he has created such a huge impact already with his own unique way of teaching, sewing, pattern making and tailor styling ideas. His enthusiasm and positive outlook on life makes our students adore him. He is the main facilitator of the sewing classes which are taking place at the Homeless Hub at the Rainbow House shelter from Rehoming Collective in Observatory, Cape Town.

Simba was born in Zimbabwe but has been living in South Africa for many years with his wife and three children. He was brought up by his maternal grandmother from nine months until the age of 17 years old when she sadly passed away. He grew up in a poor family in a small village where there was no way out of poverty! His mother had gone to work in the town of Mutare and he never knew his father. Throughout his time in the village he never owned or wore a pair of shoes. His mother was never able to send any money back to the village.

At the age of 23, after having looked after livestock for a living in and around his small village, his mother called on him to join her in Mutare. Up until that time he never had a birth certificate or a passport. His mum arranged them for him on his arrival. She was working for a Malawian gentleman who had a sewing shop, and asked Simba to come and learn the trade, for which he took the opportunity. His mother ultimately played a very positive role in his life by introducing him to the creative gift of sewing and designing! He worked there for two years by which stage he was desperate to go out on his own by making his own stuff, this was a little more challenging than he thought.

He ended up in Johannesburg for six months, and then carried on down to Cape Town. He worked for a company called JM Clothing, who makes clothes/fashion for Foschini, BelleyClind and other retail shops. He has an enquiring and enthusiastic mind and says “I wanted to learn the way Cape Town wanted the designs made. I taught myself by looking on the internet as to all the designs that came into the factories. I wanted to learn something every day, and still do!”

Simba left JM Clothing for his current job at Hillebrand TransOcean where he became qualified at fixing the large industrial sewing machines after following the mechanics around who were called in to fix the machines at the time. As always he wanted to learn everything he could about both the machinery and design!

Whilst working at Hillebrand TransOcean, Simba has opened and now runs a very successful and busy fashion design business called Simba African Designs from home in Harare, Khayelitsha. Simba is well known for making the most gorgeous African outfits for both men and women and his business is equipped with an over-locker, two plain industrial machines and a leather machine as he makes ladies bags too. All the equipment was bought through his hard work, savings and perseverance.

Are you self taught, Mr Matanda?

Yes, I am always looking on the internet and downloading patterns and designs to study. My customers come to me asking to make the latest dress, ladies or gentlemen suits, handbags etc. I love it, it’s a challenge to me! My wife is very tolerant as there are so many ladies coming in and out of the house all the time! My working week is from Monday to Sunday, but I am passionate about sewing so really don’t mind!

From where do you buy your materials like fabric and stuff?

I buy them from the local shops in and around me in Khayelitsha, as well as from Cape Town CBD and Bellville. I can draw up a pattern by studying the design the person wants from a picture on the internet. I do take a lot of pride in my work.

How did you become involved at Yes We Can SA Foundation?

My wife is a seamstress and has been with YWC for more than two years already, she joined the team when Covid hit us and started making masks, PPEs, medical caps, bags etc and over time I got to know the organisation and Mila became interested in me as a designer and tailor. She asked if I would like to join forces with them at the Homeless Hub since I had taught both my wife and several members of my family to sew informally and knew that I had the potential to teach others. I have surprised myself in that I feel that I have the leadership skills to teach sewing and pattern making to people.

How has been the experience of teaching your craft to the homeless?

I can relate to them as I come from a very poor background too, having the issues of begging for food and keeping a roof over my head each and every day is a huge challenge.

Some of the students do find it difficult to remain still for the whole class and ‘run’ away in the middle of the class, others don’t want to put in the time and effort to learn a new skill. They are not to blame, it is tough and those who are interested and can see how this skill will help them realise the potential for their future will learn as much as they can from their time here.

How did you learn to survive in a foreign country?

As a Zimbabwean we understood and learnt from our neighbours, the Mozambicans, as to how to buy, make and sell goods to make a living. The Mozambicans used to come to Zimbabwe during our good years (when we were known as the breadbasket of Africa until 2000) to sell their goods. We thought of them as ‘lower class’ and us as ‘middle class’ but then we found ourselves in that same position and we had to stand on our own two feet when in South Africa by doing exactly what we had been ‘taught’ by the Mozambicans. We do not get any hand outs from the Government here and need to create our own employment, unless we are lucky enough to get a job with a company here.

What are your future goals?

I would like to return to Zimbabwe within the next few years, mainly to feel free and safe, as there is a lot of crime here in South Africa. At present the local currency in Zimbabwe fluctuates too much to trade on, however the US$ (Zimbabwe uses the American Dollar as their other currency) is stable but very few people have money to buy anything.

My wife and I have a home that we are building in the small town Mutare which is close to the Mozambique border and in the Eastern Highlands which is very beautiful. There is a famous waterfall there called Mutarazi Falls, the highest in Zimbabwe and a magnificent tourist attraction! Who wouldn’t want to live there?

I have three children, two boys both born in Zimbabwe and a daughter born here in South Africa and I am married to Catherine.

Simba is clearly a man with a vision and a positive mindset. He is enthusiastic and willing to teach anyone interested in sewing and designing, he is very generous with his time. He believes that everyone needs a 2nd and 3rd chance in life.

We applaud Simba for all that he does with the homeless and wish him all the best going forward. We at Yes We Can South Africa Foundation feel very honoured for having him in our family! Thank you, Mr Matanda, for adding so much value into our organization. It is a privilege to have you!

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