Madiba Shirt Maker Joins The Fight Against Coronavirus

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Over 200 jobs saved in Cape Town’s CMT industry, as the Presidential Group, best known for manufacturing the ‘Madiba Shirt’ style of ‘Presidential Shirt’ turns into a mask manufacturer. 

The non-medical, personal protective equipment (PPE) masks are being supplied to organisations and companies with essential workers throughout South Africa, as well as being donated to the company’s contacts through its network in the non-profit sector. 

Demand for masks has been exceeding supply, with Presidential employing a night shift for the first time at its Lontana Apparel Factory in Gardens. 60 people are being employed in the factory and further work has been shared with selected local CMT manufacturers, keeping over 200 more people busy making masks. 

“We have experienced machinists, used to making high quality shirts to very exact specifications so I had no concern about their ability to rise to the challenge” says Robert Sim, CEO of The Presidential Group. 

Additional safety measures have been put in place for the workers, with the whole factory disinfected twice a day, tables 3 times a shift, mandatory shoe baths, basins and hand sanitisers before entering, and all machine stations standing 1.5m apart. 

Two types of mask are currently being produced, a 5 layer reusable mask and a 3 layer disposable mask. The design of the mask has changed over the weeks, with masks being made lighter and more breathable. The 3 pleats allow for air to circulate through the mask while protecting the face, nose, and mouth from sprays of droplets and touches. 

The manufacturer usually makes the beautiful ‘Madiba’ shirts, worn by the late Nelson Mandela. “We have designs for masks in the fine Presidential fabrics, even ones that match our shirts, and once the lockdown has been lifted we will move into manufacturing these, but for now, we are just trying to provide as many protective masks as we can,” says Annette Sim, Creative Director.  

Says Founder Desre Buirski, wondering how Nelson Mandela would have felt just now. “I think he would have been immensely proud of the unity and bravery South Africans are demonstrating, and hopeful for the future, but still telling us we could do more for one another.” 

“The call now is for each of us to ask ourselves: are we doing all we can to help build the country of our dreams?” -Nelson Mandela  


Presidential Group is an independent group of South African clothing stores. Presidential, Thomas & Benno, Twill, Robert Daniel, and Tie Stop. Lontana Apparel Factory in Cape Town was acquired by the Presidential Group in 2017.  

Presidential Shirt was founded by Desre Buirski in 1994 after she gifted a hand-printed batik shirt to Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard, with a note saying “Thank you for everything you have done and the sacrifices you have made for our beloved country”, Mandela wore the shirt to the dress rehearsal for his presidential inauguration. She subsequently designed many printed, embroidered, and over 150 hand-painted silk shirts for South Africa’s beloved Madiba, which he wore on the world stage, becoming a global style as well as a political icon.  

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