So the government a couple of weeks ago stated that it would ban the importing of second-hand clothing if the Finance Bill to operationalise the mid-term review passes. Under the proposed action, second-hand clothing attempting to come into the country will be subject to forfeiture and destruction. The Minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa, said that this move was aimed to help revive Zimbabwe’s textile industry which has struggled to compete with cheap imports since the dollarization of Zimbabwe’s economy. Many people have cried foul over the move, stating that government has essentially begun a war against the nation’s urban poor.
The state of Zimbabwe’s clothing industry and why it needs government support
Zimbabwe’s clothing manufacturing industry, like most of Zimbabwe’s industries, has been struggling. Statistics collected by the Confederation of Zimbabwe’s Manufacturing Industries at the end of 2014 put overall average capacity utilisation in Zimbabwe’s industries at 39.6% with average capacity utilisation of the clothing industry slightly higher at 45%. The two biggest capacity constraints according to the survey, were lack of local demand and lack of working capital. The bans essentially address the former problem by trying to encourage local demand for locally produced clothing by barring access of cheaper second-hand imports. This is in line with what the Zimbabwe Clothing Manufacturers’ Association has been lobbying for.
The Zimbabwe Clothing manufacturer’s association has been working hard to try rally support for the sector, warning of the dangers of textile imports, whilst attempting to increase the efficiency of its members’ operations. The sector continues to be plagued with high overheads, dated machinery and systems, and general manufacturing inefficiencies. According to the Zimbabwe Investment Authority, fewer than 10% of Zimbabwean clothing manufacturers manufacture for export despite a growing international export market. The textile industry needs a technical overhaul in order to rejuvenate production. There has been an influx of smaller manufacturers but these struggle to survive and do not benefit from economies of scale. The clothing manufacturing sector is putting a lot of effort into bouncing back, stating that it is aiming for 100% capacity utilisation by 2020 and aiming to employ 40,000 people.
Striving for balance: future jobs versus current livelihoods
Yes, our economy requires some serious measures in order to sort out the over two decades-long slump that has been our lot. Cross border trading became the norm for many women as they attempted to ensure that they could afford to provide their families with the basics needed for survival: food on the table, children in school, pay newly introduced exam fees, purchase utilities, pay the rent. Really, our economic downturn created the need for cross-border trading. It was all about survival. In many ways it still is.
I understand that we need to increase local production and rejuvenate our industries for the sake of our economic prospects. Indeed, government believes that these measures (banning second-hand clothing imports) are entirely necessary in order to ensure the effective rolling out of ZIMASSET, Zimbabwe’s economic blue print. The promise of future jobs is great, who doesn’t want to have a Zimbabwe with a vibrant economy and a low (ideally non-existent) unemployment/ under employment rate? However, I have to wonder what we expect those who rely on cross border trading to support their families to do in the interim?
Moves for the good of the country seem to be prejudicing the same group of people
The past few weeks and months have seen the introduction of measures that are supposed to regularise the Zimbabwean economy, and push back against a ‘culture of lawlessness’. However, a lot of the measures seem to be prejudicing the same groups of people and we’re not doing a very good job of supporting them or meeting their needs. We seem to be continuously relying on the poor and the urban poor to bear the brunt of measures that provide the best outcome for the majority, in a truly simplified Benthamite fashion. These are the same people hit by our new-found disdain for vendors and their wares in our CBDs. These are the same people struggling to keep up with the increased associated costs of our education system.
We are putting a lot of new ‘nominal’ fees on the backs of people who do not have options. They simply cannot afford to survive in our society, and we seem hell bent on making it worse and/or distancing ourselves from the problem. We are expecting them to somehow be enterprising whilst limiting the avenues that will permit them to do so, realistically speaking – what are they supposed to do now before the miracle jobs, that they will theoretically benefit from, turn up? What is going to hold our urban poor over? Our recovery is prejudicing the urban poor and we must factor in this human cost – we must mitigate the negative impact of the recovery process.
To read more from Anthea, check out her blog: thirdculturefeminist.wordpress.com
Main image from www.zimeye.com