TWO months after Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced a ban on the sale of second-hand clothes, business is still thriving at Mupedzanhamo market in Mbare and several city flea markets where scores of vendors continue to sell heaps of the banned garments.
By VENERANDA LANGA
A visit to flea market sites in Harare last week by The Standard established that second-hand clothes are still the most trading commodity.
The way the second-hand clothes business thrives at Mupedzanhamo, Copacabana and Charge Office flea markets shows the recently outlawed trade in pre-owned clothing will be difficult to stop.
For as long as the market for the clothes is there, vendors will remain determined to import used clothes into the country, by whichever means. They said there were too many “holes” through which they would continue to bring in the clothes.
A vendor who identified herself as Chido Musoro, who operates from Copacabana and sells second-hand underwear, confirmed the banned stuff continued to find its way into the country despite the ban.
“We are still using the usual channels to bring the bales of second-hand clothes into the country,” said Musoro, while her male assistant shouted at the top of his voice advertising second-hand panties and brassieres which were going for a dollar each, while ladies’ swimming costumes of different types cost $2.
“Nothing has changed yet and business is thriving as usual. Today, I am expecting a bale of second-hand trousers which I ordered. It will be difficult to stop this business. Anyway, how does government expect us to survive in a country where there are no jobs?” she asked.
Another male vendor selling used shoes confirmed that it was business as usual and that second-hand clothes continued to be imported into the country.
“There are still ways to bring the clothes into the country; nothing has changed my sister,” the vendor who identified himself as Tawanda Moyo said.
In July, when Chinamasa announced the ban in his mid-term fiscal policy review statement, he said it was going to be effective by August.
“I move to remove second-hand clothing and shoes from the open general import licence and any future importation of second-hand clothing and shoes will be liable to forfeiture and seizure,” Chinamasa said while announcing the ban.
It seems enforcement of the ban on sale of second-hand clothes will be difficult given the porousness of the country’s borders.
Last Tuesday Chinamasa told the National Assembly that government would not budge on its ban on the importation of second-hand clothes and was determined to stop it.
This is despite that MPs across the political divide opposed the ban on the premise that it would affect thousands of families in the country, whose only source of livelihood was the sale of the second-hand clothes.
Chinamasa said it would be hypocritical for him to say that he wanted to protect local industries, and yet still allowed the importation of second-hand clothes.
“A number of MPs raised the issue, saying it will affect a number of people who are unemployed and make a living through the sale of second-hand clothes. Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga also suggested that the ban should only relate to the sale of underwear,” Chinamasa said.
“The proposed measure is to support the textile and clothing industries. I need to say that in my last visit to Bulawayo, I toured textile companies that are now resuscitating their operations. One or two of the companies said they were buying machinery from collapsed textile industries in South Africa.”
He said the textile industry in South Africa had collapsed because of the sale of second-hand clothing, adding he would not allow Zimbabwean companies to follow suit.
“We do not want to go that route and we need to protect our people from diseases. Admittedly, the ban has been one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. But, we cannot talk honestly about reviving companies in Bulawayo and other cities while at the same time allowing importation of second-hand clothes,” he said, adding that clothing manufacturers should ensure clothes were affordable.
The ban of second-hand clothes sparked an uproar from vendors.
Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organisation (Ziso) director Promise Mkwananzi last week said vendors were not to blame for the porousness at borders and were trying to make a living through the sale of second-hand clothes. He said the economic hardships had made the system at borders prone to corruption, making it easy for vendors to import the clothes.
He said as along as government continued to fail to formalise the informal sector, the entry of second-hand clothes and their importation would continue.
“People are still selling second-hand clothes. It is because of compelling circumstances arising from acute economic hardships and joblessness, as well as lack of income. Chinamasa is majoring on minors by saying he will not budge on the ban of sale of second-hand clothes,” Mkwananzi said.
“He must address the symptoms and should be seized with fixing the economy and the country’s image and accountability issues by the top government officials, as well as the rule of law so that investors can have confidence in opening industries in the country, instead of concentrating on vendors. The fact that even professionals are buying second- hand clothes shows the economic hardships are serious.”
The Ziso director said it was the economic hardships that caused porousness at the country’s borders where even government officials were involved in smuggling.
“What must happen is that government must change its attitude on how they view the informal sector. If importation of second-hand clothes is to stop, then government must come up with proper and efficient mechanisms to ensure informal traders are formalised and run the ailing textile industries,” Mkwananzi said.
In a bid to solve the issue of porousness at border posts, President Robert Mugabe announced that a National Border Post Authority Bill would be tabled during the current session of parliament. This is likely to culminate into the promulgation of a law that deals with the porousness at border posts.
The Standard had a chance to witness the porousness of the country’s borders in June this year during an investigative visit to Forbes Border Post by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services. Forbes Border Post is one of the major entry points of second-hand clothes.
The committee was shown footpaths around the border post that are often used for the illegal entry of bales of second-hand clothes. Acting regional immigration officer at Forbes Border Post, Richard Tambandini told the committee that he watched helplessly as trucks entered Zimbabwe without clearance, and as people crossed illegally using nearby pathways. He said it was the duty of law enforcement officers to stop the illegal entries.
“As long as there are people willing to be paid to assist in using illegal entry points, it is a problem,” Tambandini said, adding he had on several occasions tried in vain to negotiate with law enforcement agents to stop the corruption and enforce the law.