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Labode stirs hornet’s nest

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Economic Planning Deputy Minister Samuel Undenge yesterday accused local businesspeople of being “crybabies” for complaining against the influx of cheap Chinese products.

Report by Nqobile Bhebhe

Undenge was responding to a question by prominent Bulawayo businesswoman Ruth Labode at the AMH SME breakfast meeting on what South Africa was doing to protect local industry from Chinese imports.

The question was directed at South African Trade and Industry deputy minister Elizabeth Thabethe at the event organised by Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), publishers of NewsDay, The Standard and Zimbabwe Independent.

But Undenge, who said his wife Letina was thriving as a small-scale businessperson, responded by saying most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were “crybabies”.

“SMEs play a pivotal role in the country, but most of them are cry babies complaining about the influx of Chinese products,” he said.

“My wife is in the textiles industry, but she is not complaining. Her business is thriving.”

Labode complained that although Zimbabwe had laws protecting local industries, South Africa had given the Chinese “a blank cheque” and imports eventually found their way into this country.

“It is regretable that South Africa has given up its manufacturing sector to China as it is flooded with imports with minimum duty,” she said.

“The same goods tend to make their way to Zimbabwe and South Africa is contributing to closure of industries here.”

However, Thabethe dismissed the claims, saying the influx of Chinese goods was a complex matter that was not peculiar to South Africa.

“South Africa is not responsible for collapse of industries in Zimbabwe,” she said. “It is not true that we have surrendered our industry to China. China is very much aggressive in its approach. They (Chinese) are everywhere, including the United States and London.

“We have bilateral agreements with China whose negotiations were not easy. In South Africa, we have protected our manufacturing sector after industries were closing and some were cutting jobs.”

Small and Medium Enterprises Development minister Sithembiso Nyoni said the Chinese had “out-marketed” themselves out of Zimbabwe.

“They have flooded their goods here. They are cheap and of low quality, but our people want good quality,” she said.

“They have marketed themselves. But let’s be proud to buy our local brands.”

Nyoni praised AMH for organising the event that provided a platform for SMEs to interact with policymakers.

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