BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
ZIMBABWEANS across the country love locally-produced goods, but issues to do with availability, affordability and quality, among others, have forced them to buy foreign products at the expense of local ones.
The southern African nation’s manufacturing sector is reeling under a plethora of challenges, chief among them shortage of raw material, scarce foreign currency, cheap imports, crippling power cuts, a brain drain and limited access to credit.
The sector’s capacity utilisation levels have been on a decline since 2012 and last year it stood at 48%.
This year, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries projected that the figure would drop to about 30% due to negative macro-economic factors that affected the country since January.
Due to these challenges, the sector has struggled to produce affordable and competitive goods, forcing citizens to opt for cheaper foreign products.
“We have issues to do with quality and price. It’s not like people like foreign things, people have limited choices. People like locally-produced goods, but they are not readily available. Those that are available, we have seen people buying them,” economic analyst, Persistence Gwanyanya, said.
“The challenge that we are having in Zimbabwe is that there is no production. There are no industries. Industries are closed and as a result, there are no goods to buy. The solution is to increase production. Production is basic,” he said.
For instance, two litres of locally-produced cooking oil costs about $60, but the imported one from South Africa costs around $40.
Inflationary pressures have seen the cost of living rising beyond the reach of many, as prices of basic commodities have more than quadrupled, resulting in the poverty datum line for an average family of five skyrocketing to $2 191,62 in September 2019.
Before Finance minister Mthuli Ncube suspended the publication of annualised inflation figures until February 2020, the inflation figures stood at 176% as at the end of June 2019.
Buy Zimbabwe, whose mandate is to promote, deepen and broaden the utilisation of locally-sourced and produced resources, has conducted a number of national awareness programmes across the country, emphasising the need for consumption of locally-made products to boost industry’s production capacity and eventually bring down the country’s import bill.
Government has even placed some products on import restrictions as part of a strategy to narrow its trade deficit, and help revive local industries.
According to the industrialists, Zimbabwe needs over US$8 billion to replace old equipment in its factories and revive local industries.
But due to issues of affordability, quality and availability, these efforts have yielded very little.
Buy Zimbabwe admitted: “It’s of no doubt that local people perceive local products as of good quality than foreign ones, but in some instances they are forced to go for foreign products because of availability and affordability.”
Prices of basic goods such as mealie meal, sugar, milk, rice and cooking oil, among others, are skyrocketing daily beyond the reach of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Economic analyst, John Robertson, commended the quality of some of the Zimbabweans products compared to some foreign goods found on the market.
“I think that most Zimbabweans would rather have Zimbabwean clothing and shoes if the only option is Chinese. I know that some Chinese goods are of very high quality, but I suspect we always made better clothing than they did,” he said.
“For the hi-tech and technical items, like electrical appliances, I’m sorry to say that we’ve not kept up with production methods, the use of more modern materials and upgraded designs, so a Zimbabwean toaster or kettle won’t compare with a modern import,” Robertson said.
He said Zimbabwe used to be as up-to-date as any country and when it made Supersonic radios, they could be exported around the world in competition with the best from Japan, Holland or Germany.
“But, we couldn’t keep pace with technological changes and today’s radios consist of a few microchips that didn’t exist when Supersonic was a big, successful company,” he said.
“When Fashion Enterprises was running, Zimbabwe exported ladies’ dresses to France and Superior Footwear exported shoes to Italy and Dairibord exported cheese to Greece and the whole of Europe was keen to buy Zimbabwean beef.
“We invested in the training of designers and toolmakers and our skills kept us competitive. The real question is: ‘What did we do that made us slip down so badly? Confidence dropped, investment in skills stopped and the trained people left the country for better jobs elsewhere. We have a lot to do to rebuild and we have to start with confidence!”
In one of his writings, Maqhawe Dube, a marketing strategist, said Buy Zimbabwe needed to recruit genuine ambassadors of the Zimbabwe brand — people who would not wait until a Zimbabwean product is the best to love it, but who will love it until it is the best.
“And there is great need to be wise about it. Clearly, Zimbabwean politics is divisive and, therefore, a political figure from either side would alienate a portion of the population. We may need to appeal to respected professionals and those in the arts and culture space to take up this mantle,” he wrote.
To address issues of quality, affordability and availability, analysts said there was need to capacitate industry.
They also called upon government to create a conducive investment environment.