By Tatira Zwinoira
BUSINESS woman, Josephine Takundwa (JT) was recently appointed Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) vice-president for the Mashonaland Chapter, in a giant leap towards bigger achievements for the youthful entrepreneur. In this interview with our senior business reporter Tatira Zwinoira (TZ), she reveals her desire to see the economy rebound, as she outlines a sea of growth opportunities that abound. Below are excerpts of the interview:
TZ: Congratulations on your appointment. Please tell us, what is in store for business?
JT: Thank you very much for the interview. I was appointed to the position of vice-president for Mashonaland region over a month ago.
TZ: What are your priorities during your term?
JT: I would want to see businesses in towns that fall under Mashonaland coming to join the chamber so that we strengthen our voice. As you know, we are the voice of business. You see, the challenge that we have in business is that businesses sometimes present their issues individually. But there is power in collective action. What I think would work is for businesses in towns like Bindura, Marondera and Chinhoyi to form groups in their towns under the auspices of larger organisations like the ZNCC so that they speak with one voice. We would like to see them coming with their contributions so that we can all work together as we lobby for policies that create a more enabling environment for business. If you have businesses in Bindura or Marondera that have issues to be attended to, they stand a better chance of being heard if they come together and present their issues as a group. Definitely, whether they are approaching the ministry or any other stakeholder, they would be happy to attend to issues once, instead of attending to 500 different businesses. If they can come together and synergise, they will have a louder voice. We want to see the industry growing and supporting the economy, especially in terms of job creation. I am happy to say that we have been seeing growth.
TZ: Please tell us about this growth. Where is it coming from?
JT: We have food processing as one of the major contributing sectors to the economy in our region. We also have other industries like chemical manufacturing, footwear and textiles. But food processing is one of the key contributors to the national economy. We see a lot of change in the footwear manufacturing industry in Mashonaland, we have seen change in textiles and bed manufacturing. In terms of contribution to the economy, the companies must focus on job creation by increasing capacity utilisation in the plants.
TZ: Do you see potential in agriculture and mining?
JT: Agriculture is also another major contributor to economic growth, especially looking at the level of output that has been realised during the 2021 agricultural season. So, definitely we have quite a huge output and contribution from agriculture. But we can have more support for farmers in Mashonaland in terms of inputs. They must get inputs in time. This must be supported by fair commodity prices. If prices are not fair farmers suffer losses. With regards to mining, at national level, we can definitely say mining is one of the key contributors to the economy. But for the ZNCC Mashonaland region, we would advocate for more support for small-scale miners, including artisanal miners. They are already organised into associations and groupings that can get support from policymakers and regulators.
ZI: We have seen the entrance of more people into self-employment in Mashonaland and other regions. How does this affect the economy?
JT: These businesses need support in order to grow and to formalise their operations. I am sure you are aware of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, which was ratified in January this year. And, you will be interested to know that even such kinds of regional bodies also look into the informal sector, whereby such small businesses are also encouraged to come together and form groupings to export their produce or services as a group. There’s strength in synergy. They have to come together to form small associations in which there are 10, 15 or 20 businesses, but they must be recognised formally as businesspeople. From there, they can take advantage of opportunities in the environment. There are opportunities for exports for these small businesses but if it’s going to be one person who comes with one tonne of sweet potatoes, for example, it won’t work, really. But if you get 50, 60 businesses coming together and they create hundreds of tonnes or whatever amount they can, they can export. So, those businesses in smaller towns need to get organised. There is that potential for exports, but they have to be making sense.
TZ: What role is the ZNCC playing in the transformation of these informal businesses?
JT: Okay! The ZNCC, being the voice of business, is the voice of everyone. We do not lobby or advocate for just a few companies but we advocate for business at large. So, definitely there are benefits for those companies through the ZNCC because we present issues that affect the business environment, whether it’s to regulators or ministries. And we try to look for relief and solutions to the problems that businesses are facing. Another thing is that the ZNCC does not work in isolation. We work in partnership with other BMOs (business member organisations) like ZimTrade. So these businesses, should they wish to grow or improve, can approach the ZNCC. We work with them and where they need to work with other BMOs that are relevant to their particular business we have those synergies.
TZ: In terms of policy intervention, what would you advise the policymakers?
JT: What we need right now is some kind of relief for businesses in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. We can have interventions on the tax side. Some tax relief measures that can allow businesses to recapitalise and improve their production capacities will work for us. This is one of the main things that we would need. We also need capital at affordable rates. It is a good thing that the economy is set on a growth path, but we still need those interventions.
TZ: Tell us about the current level of taxation. Are businesses managing?
JT: It is really a matter of cash flows. We are also quite appreciative of Zimra (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) from the point of view that they staggered the due dates for income tax for 2020. They also considered the fact that they are under strain and they staggered those dates. But, really, what we are saying is can we also consider some tax breaks for business so that they can recapitalise. Not that we want to take too much from the Ministry of Finance. From where I am sitting, the outlook looks good based on what we are seeing on the ground, albeit, of course, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which affected a lot of businesses. But, should the macroeconomy continue to be stable without any major shocks, the pandemic comes under control and agriculture also grows, the outlook should be good.