Mutare: Rampant smuggling and sale of second-hand clothing at Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique is robbing the country of revenue badly needed for social development, officials say.
Used clothing, mainly shipped from European countries to Africa for charity, has a lucrative market in Zimbabwe as the high cost of living makes it difficult for many to afford new clothes. The sale of such clothing has become a major source of livelihood for residents.
To protect the local textile industry from the influx of the second-hand clothes as well as stop an activity that is deemed illegal, government says it is looking at the possibility of imposing punitive laws.
Speaking during a post cabinet briefing in May this year Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Monica Mutsvangwa said government would upscale enforcement of the law banning the importation of second-hand clothes.
At the time, the spectre of a rapidly-spreading coronavirus and its possible transmission through second-hand clothes loomed large, with the Western world reporting staggering infection rates on a daily basis.
According to investigations by this paper, smuggling of bales of clothing is carried out by syndicates with kingpins in Chimoio and Manica Provinces in Mozambique, who comprise Zimbabweans resident there and others of Asian origin. Low salaries and low morale in the security sector make it easy for the smugglers to bribe their way past security agents manning the porous Forbes Border Post and other entry points.
They pay around US$50 for the transportation of the bales to their intended destinations in Zimbabwe. The bales are moved to the border by courier service individuals known as “runners”, who drive trucks which can carry as many as 100 bales per trip.
The merchandise is smuggled in the wee hours into the country with the runners paying their way to their destinations.
“If there is security at the border, why do we continue to see an influx of second-hand clothes?” a local resident asked rhetorically.
National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi did not dismiss the possible involvement of rogue police elements but said the police were currently busting all smuggling syndicates irrespective of status.
“We are busting all smuggling syndicates including business people, prominent persons like recently at the Airport (Robert Gabriel Mugabe International in Harare) and even security personnel,” Nyathi said.
“The police is doing its job and we recently arrested three detectives in Mutare who were part of a smuggling syndicate with some business people.
“We also busted a smuggling syndicate in Beitbridge a few days ago.”
The police spokesman said legitimate business was being used as Trojan Horses for most of the smuggling.
“A multi-stakeholder approach including those involved is needed if we are going to stop smuggling,” he said.
Nyathi said to show its commitment to fighting smuggling the police had also arrested four more people, two who are in the security sector in the smuggling case of Zimbabwe Miners Federation chairperson Henrietta Rushwaya, recently apprehended at the Harare Airport and accused of trying to smuggle 6kg of gold to Dubai in her hand luggage. The case is before the courts.
Although Nyathi could not give statistics on the number of police officers arrested for smuggling, the arrest of the three detectives in Mutare last week who have since appeared at the Harare Magistrates’ Court could be the tip of an iceberg, given the prevalence of the practice.
Admire Masenda, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Textile Manufacturers Association, said it was difficult to come up with statistics or estimates on how much the smuggled second-hand clothes are worth as they enter the country illegally.
“No one has really done that (compiled statistics). The statistics are hard to get because we are talking of smuggled clothing. People walk through the border with them and it is difficult to get the quantities,” he said.
Masenda said the second-hand clothing is supposed to come into the country duty free for donation to the less privileged or refugees.
“They are supposed to come duty free but are converted into a commercial venture, which has taken space in the textile industry,” he said.
“The competitiveness of the local industry in such a situation is thrown out of the window as we cannot compete on both pricing as they are cheap and also quality as some of the clothing is designer wear.
“A study done around 2016 over a five-year period revealed that 200 000 jobs were lost in Sub-Saharan Africa in the textile industry due to the effects of (the sale of) second-hand clothing,” he said.
Masenda said the impact of sales of second-hand clothing is huge in Africa as Europe collects about 14 million tonnes of clothing annually which would be regarded there as waste which cannot be burnt due to environmental concerns and in the long run is offered to Africa.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority spokesperson Francis Chimanda said he would respond to questions sent to him on the size of the smuggling problem and what they are doing to curb it once he got feedback from the authority’s technical people. There has been no response for over a week.
According to Oxfam in its 2005 research “The impact of the second-hand clothing trade on developing countries”, global trade in second hand clothing may be undermining local textile and garment industries, and livelihoods in some developing countries.
The research by Oxfam revealed that trade in second-hand clothing in recipient countries is mainly informal and is poorly regulated.
“In some instances, it has facilitated considerable customs fraud and has led to reduced government revenue and greater competition for domestic production, as new imports enter without the full tariff duty being paid,” Oxfam wrote.
This story was produced by Norman Dururu. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.