THABANI Mpofu, a cross-border transport operator popularly known as umalayitsha was not happy when the government imposed import restrictions, ostensibly to curb currency leakages from the country, which is battling crippling cash shortages.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
Mpofu has for years survived on this cross-border transport business.
He prides himself for having managed to buy a Toyota Quantum, and a house in Cowdray Park high density suburb using the proceeds from his crossborder ventures.
Every Friday morning around 7:30am, he arrives in Bulawayo from South Africa loaded with various goods and groceries.
Old mattresses, tshangaani bags, and all manner of groceries and goods lie scattered outside his yard on Friday mornings as they are carefully “sorted according to their destinations.”
“It makes the deliveries easy, otherwise you will spend more than two days making several trips to one suburb whereas I could have dealt with one suburb with a single trip,” Mpofu said.
“Business has of late not been low since many now find it easy to travel across the border to Messina to buy goods and groceries.”
And with the coming of import restrictions on many South African products, Mpofu says the future looks even bleaker, and makes him sad.
Government recently restricted the importation of various basic commodities in a move it said would help reduce the import bill and
protect the struggling local industries.
According to Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016, it is now illegal to import coffee creamers (Cremora), Camphor creams, white petroleum jellies and body creams.
The new regulations also restrict the importation of baked beans and potato crisps, cereals, bottled water, mayonnaise, salad cream, peanut butter, jams, maheu, canned fruits and vegetables, pizza base, yoghurts, flavoured milks, dairy juice blends, ice-creams, cultured milk and cheese.
Other products include construction products such as wheelbarrows, structures and parts of structures of iron or steel — bridges and bridges section, lock gates, towers, lattice masts, roofs, roofing frameworks, doors, windows and their frames and threshold for doors, shutters, balustrade, pillars and columns and plates, rods, angles, shapes section and tubes prepared for use in structures of iron and steel ware.
Also restricted is the importation of second-hand tyres, all re-treaded or used pneumatic tyres of rubber, baler and binder twine, fertilisers (urea and ammonium nitrate), compounds and blends, tile adhesive and tyson, shoe polish and synthetic hair products.
The new statutory instrument also outlaws the importation of flashdoors, beds, wardrobes, dining-room suites, office furniture and tissue wading.
Woven fabrics of cotton, containing 85% or more by weight of cotton, weighing not more than 200g per square metres classified under the headings 5208 and 5209 of the customs tariff, have also been banned.
“How we are going to survive? We don’t know since we transported these banned goods from South Africa to Zimbabwe for a living. It’s all bleak since also many people prefer using coaches when travelling to and from South Africa and not our kombis,” he laments.
“We were mainly relying on ferrying these banned goods from South Africa, serve for December when Zimbabweans based in that country travel back home using our taxis.”
Mpofu is not alone in crying foul in the import restrictions.
Every late afternoons when municipal police are no longer raiding vendors, Memory Nyatanga, of Magwegwe Old Suburb, sells body lotions, bath soaps and perfumes near the busy Egodini bus terminus.
A 250ml Johnson’s Baby petroleum jelly which retails at $1,80 to $2 at major supermarkets sells for a $1 at Nyatanga’s stall.
Nyatanga says her pricing is a major attraction, and the profits have somewhat cushioned her against the harsh economic situation in Zimbabwe.
“I buy these products in Messina for resale here, but with the coming in of the import restrictions what do they want us to survive on since we do not have jobs?” she asks.
Nyatanga’s echoes the sentiments of other cross-border traders who said they “cannot allow the government to mess with their lives when there are no jobs.”
Residents in separate interviews said they cannot be forced to buy expensive groceries and goods from local shops when “we can easily buy them at half the price or less from cross border traders.”
The import bans will also affect many families that rely on goods and groceries sent through omalayitsha every month-end, a Mpopoma resident, Gilbert Sibanda, said.
“It made a lot of sense to buy groceries in South Africa and send them via omalayitsha than to send rands through money transfer agencies which will not buy much owing to the exchange rate,” Sibanda said.
“How do they survive? If someone sends ZAR1 000, which translates to about $50, what can one buy at a major supermarket in town? It’s sad, and only shows this government is out of touch with reality, and does not care about people’s suffering,” he adds.
The ban, unpopular as it is among many, has, however found currency with the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign activists and industry. Industry argues this will boost production and create jobs.
Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, last week, said the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign should be supported, adding the import bans was necessary to “limit the usage of our hard earned currency to importing only those goods which are critical to meeting nation demand”.
Information released by the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (Zimstat) shows that the country imported goods valued at $2 billion in the five months to May 2015 compared to exports of $948 million, resulting in a $1,122 billion trade deficit.
“The measures which are being taken are targeting only those goods which are locally produced, and for which we know the local production is meeting national demand.
The goods locally produced are of a higher quality and it is for this august House to support our local industry, manufacturers and our local economy. Please support the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign,” he told Parliamentarians.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has threatened to seize cross border buses which carry into the country the banned goods.
But for many residents, cross border traders and transporters, the import ban spells doom and suffering for them, but some like Nyatanga said “they will cut corners to survive”.
“We will just have to smuggle them, after-all, there is corruption in Zimbabwe, we will just pay bribes,” said Nyatanga, a cross border trader.
The import ban recently torched scenes of violence at the Beitbridge Border Post as affected residents fought running battles with the police and torched some properties.