More protests planned as Zim's new import law sparks outrage
05 July 2016, 15:18
Harare - Additional demonstrations have been planned for Wednesday after residents of Beitbridge and Musina, the border towns of Zimbabwe and South Africa, last week staged massive demonstration against the Zimbabwean government’s introduction of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 (SI64), which restricts the importation of a host of products.
Some of the products that now require import permits, including justification for importing them, include but are not limited to potato crisps, bottled water, baked beans, salad cream, peanut butter, yoghurt, doors, window frames and a variety of plastic pipes.
On the face of it, these products are hardly anything to cry for as most of them are not necessities and are readily available locally.
The Zimbabwean government is also somewhat justified in introducing SI64 because if it doesn’t, the country’s industry will never recover while the import bill will continue to balloon. It is also because of the import bill, that the country’s nostro accounts have been depleted resulting in delayed payments to suppliers with a backlog now stretching for several months.
Why is SI64 a hard sell?
The introduction of SI64 has however proven to be a hard sell as evidenced by the demonstrations that culminated in a warehouse belonging to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority being burnt.
More demonstrations are also being planned this coming Wednesday with the International Cross Border Traders Association (ICBTA) sending out a memo to transporters and clearing agents urging them not to load passengers and goods on the 6th of July.
“This is part of our process to force the government of Zimbabwe to abolish its statutory instrument number 64 of 2016 which ban the importation of some goods which cross border traders and shoppers used to import into Zimbabwe,” said the ICBTA in a memo seen by Fin24.
People have resorted to demonstrations for various reasons, one of them being that the ban came as an “ambush” to importers. Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association secretary general Augustine Tawanda was recently quoted saying the ministry was failing to issue the documentation required by cross-border traders.
“You go to the ministry of Industry to get the proper documents and there are no people to assist you to get the documents,” he said. This obviously causes delays and frustrations to importers wanting to follow the new procedures. Accepting the SI64 will automatically become difficult as people will not have faith in the system.
Why SI64 angered Zimbabweans
Another bone of contention against SI64 is that it became effective at a time some individuals and companies had shipments already en route before the instrument was gazetted and before import permits were required. The list of banned products also included some products that cannot be made in Zimbabwe, something which brought more anger to affected parties including the Zimbabwe Clothing Manufacturers Association.
The other reason is that most Zimbabweans are now surviving on importing products for both consumption and resale and South Africa because of better efficiencies and the weakened rand against the US dollar has been a major source of imports.
On the other hand, Zimbabwean manufacturers, some of them still using archaic machinery are failing to meet demand and in cases where they can are too expensive resulting in Zimbabweans turning to South Africa for cheaper products. Restricting these cheap imports will mean most families will struggle to survive.
Why Musina is up in arms
On the South African side, Musina is arguably one of the busiest border towns in Africa. This border town has been booming for more than 10 years now as dozens of retailers jostle for the non-stop flow of Zimbabweans in search of food and other goods in Musina.
While Musina has always relied on cross-border trade the demand from shoppers swung sharply since 2005 as Zimbabweans sourced for goods that are either scarce or expensive in their own country.
Because of the challenges being faced in Zimbabwe, everybody in Musina is busy — even the women selling bananas in the street. The introduction of SI64 will thus result in loss of business for most operators, hence the demonstrations and the blocking of roads towards the Zimbabwean border last week – and threats for more.
Ban to affect other countries
What is also unfortunate about this crisis is that the Beitbridge border is also South Africa’s gateway to other countries like Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi.
South Africa’s International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has since said her government will continue to engage Zimbabwe for a solution that is mutually beneficial as Zimbabwe remains one of South Africa’s strategic partners in the region.