By Vincent Kahiya
A LEADING clothing manufacturer and retailer this week decided to take up the cudgels to deal with cheap Asian merchandise which i
s threatening to cripple the local clothing and leather industries.
A provocative advert in the Herald this week shows a man and a woman who appear awestruck and embarrassed by the sight of two other characters in their “birthday suits”.
Accompanying the picture are these words; “Kana wakapfeka zvekwa zhing-zhong hauna kupfeka. Wakashama. Uri mushwi. (If you are wearing something from zhing-zhong you are undressed. You are naked)”.
Zhing-zhong is the street lingo for products from Asia – mainly China – which have hit the country.
The advert might be in bad taste for those adorned in the cheap zhing-zhong apparels from footwear right up to headgear including everything in between and beneath.
The clothing and footwear being sold at flea-markets and in the Western area of Central Harare do look presentable and well enough to cover all aspects of human anatomy but the cheap imports have left local clothing retailers and manufacturers exposed. The industry has over the years suffered as a result of imports of second-hand clothing.
The entry of Asian imports has deferred the recovery of the industry and with it jobs have been lost and production lines closed at some factories.
But the distress call from local industry has not moved government at all as the zhing-zhongs are construed as an illustration of the commitment to promote stronger ties with Asian countries.
In parliament at the beginning of the month, Industry and International Trade minister Dr Samuel Mumbengegwi brushed aside questions on the durability of the cheap imports and spelt out what he was doing to protect local manufacturers.
He said goods being imported into the country were checked for durability by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ).
The SAZ however denied this saying it requires authority from government to check imported goods. Mumbengegwi repeats the same assertions in a story we carry in the businessdigest adding that consumers were free to make choices.
“Why should someone buy a more expensive product when you can get it for less?” he asks.
To translate the minister’s empty response, his ministry has no programme to protect local industry from cheap clothing imports.
Does it not bother him that jobs could be lost in the clothing factories and at textile companies? Or does he perceive the entry of the Chinese traders to be direct foreign investment? Can Zimbabwean businessmen walk into China and saturate the market there with Bata shoes and Pilot shirts? Does free trade mean absolute freedom to move goods across borders?
Also exposed by the zhing-zhong wave is Zanu PF stalwart, indigenisation exponent and shoe manufacturer Philip Chiyangwa. His leather products company Midiron, a subsidiary of Native Investments – which last week signed a US$20 million deal with an SA firm – is under threat “due to the influx of cheaper products from Asia”. Mumbengegwi says Zimbabwean goods must compete.
Chiyangwa is however looking West to sell more shoes and leather products.
“We intend to venture into the European markets as various enquiries have been made from these parts of the world but were not developed further due to capacity constraints,” he said at the signing ceremony last weekend.
But compare this with President Mugabe’s position in his speech to parliament on Tuesday last week;
“Mr Speaker, I have consistently exhorted the business sector to break the spell cast on them by colonial history, a spell that irrationally attaches them to the West for investments, imports, exports, loans and even for best practices. This neo-colonial depe-ndence syndrome has been our repeated ruin.”
Remember party policy Cde Phil:Look East.
President Mugabe was in Malaysia this week to attend a South-South junket – the Langkawi Smart Partnership Dialogue.
We await the implementation of a number of projects which the government says would pan out of the Look East policy.
The nation has been told of the establishment of a computer assembly plant, DVD assembly lines, a US$2,5 billion agro-export deal with a Malaysian company to benefit some 35 000 old and newly-resettled farmers. With this Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono does not need Homelink!
But here is an unfortunate spin-off from the Look East policy.
It has been learnt that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has left cheap zhing-zhong condoms with names like Molly and Alice – manufactured in China – and Karex of Malaysia to be distributed at Zimbabwe’s border posts. The influx of the untested condoms “being sought after like hot cakes” was celebrated in the Sunday Mail which came up with this marketing message: “They are known to cause a burning sensation in both parties during intercourse which makes them a hit among those in the sex industry.”
We were also told that they often break during sex as they are too small for African men. Reaction from government on the distribution of these condoms, which do not have expiry dates, has been a convenient silence – even if the sex appendages are illegal and a huge risk to the population.
Compare this with the chorus of disapproval this month after it was discovered that Care International inadvertently distributed a tainted sorghum seed variety in Masvingo last year.
Dr David Parirenyatwa, please do something about Molly, Alice and Karex.
Zimbabwean men being tingled by these condoms should take heed of the ad: “Kana wakapfeka zvekwa zhing-zhong hauna kupfeka.”