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Traditional exhibitors such as Merlin and Dunlop, which employ hundreds of workers, failed to showcase their products due to viability problems. The companies, which have previously scooped awards at the ZITF were a no-show, and instead a myriad of SMEs were prominent at the fair.

ZITF chairman Bekithemba Nkomo said of the 675 exhibitors, only 141 Bulawayo companies were direct exhibitors while 21 were indirect participants. “We are not happy with the response from Bulawayo companies but we understand that a lot of local companies are struggling and they can’t afford ZITF rentals (which are US$50 per square metre),” said Nkomo.

Bulawayo firms have been hard-hit by viability challenges, which resulted in the closure of 87 companies, rendering 20 000 workers jobless.

Government then launched the US$40 million Distressed and Marginalised Areas Fund to bail out ailing firms countrywide including Bulawayo.

ZITF was this year partly dominated by non-performing parastatals and public entities. The National Railways of Zimbabwe, New Zimbabwe Steel, Cold Storage Company, Air Zimbabwe and Hwange Colliery are exhibiting with their officials saying they merely did so as a routine.

Municipalities, including the Bulawayo City Council, which has failed to pay workers for the past two months, are also participating at the fair.

While council workers are engaged in a crippling strike, Bulawayo Mayor Thaba Moyo hosted a lavish banquet on Tuesday night for ZITF exhibitors.

A survey by the Zimbabwe Independent this week showed that although a number of ailing state enterprises were showcasing, they however had nothing to offer. The parastatals’ pavilions were almost empty and had the same old displays.

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