Zimbabweans incredulous over 'weave ban'
21 June 2016, 17:30
Harare - "Guys is Nivea banned also?" That was the question from one anxious Twitter user in Zimbabwe after news broke that the authorities were limiting imports of a vast range of goods - including beauty products.
Among the things Zimbabwean retailers will no longer be allowed to freely bring into the country are jam, mayonnaise, wardrobes and wheelbarrows.
But it was the restrictions on imported weaves and body lotions that really got tongues wagging on Monday.
"Synthetic hair products" are on a long list of goods that will now only be allowed into Zimbabwe upon production of a special permit that importers will have to apply for, according to state television.
Anger raged online for hours over what was widely seen as a "weave ban" with some suggesting (and this was not entirely tongue-in-cheek) that the move could bring down the government.
"The import ban on weaves, wigs & braids worries me a lot," said @Zimtweets.
Quipped well-known local journalist Nqaba Matshazi: "Quick question, if a Zimbabwean woman is seen with a weave in Zimbabwe, does that count as evidence of smuggling?"
Zimbabwe is believed to have at least one local firm producing weaves but the vast majority of those on sale in major supermarkets, stores and dedicated "hair" shops are imported. Weaves using Brazilian hair are expensive but sought after.
Unconfirmed reports say there were angry scenes at Beitbridge at the weekend as traders unaware of the new regulations tried to bring their goods into Zimbabwe. There were also claims that the state revenue authority ZIMRA had "suspended" the regulations at the border post, though the national broadcaster said the rules would only come into effect next month anyway.
This clampdown on foreign imports is officially meant to stimulate local production. But it is almost certainly linked to the authorities' desperation to conserve scarce foreign currency.
Shop shelves have been mostly full in Zimbabwe since the end of the last economic crisis in 2009, but much of what is on sale is imported from South Africa and Zambia.
Importers will now have to pay for their permits and set out the precise reasons the goods are needed in Zimbabwe.
Locals are grimly predicting that goods no longer allowed into Zimbabwe will reappear on the black market.
Tweeted @alistair_rob: "These things will all be there... but on the black market, we will be meeting cereal dealers @ 2am for our fix of cornflakes."
Cereal imports will now need a permit, as will imported "camphor creams, white petroleum jellies and body creams," according to a long list of affected products published in a government gazette on Friday.
Mugabe's government has already banned the import of secondhand clothes and shoes, which are very popular with Zimbabweans. Every so often the police seize a consignment of smuggled "bales" (huge sacks) of clothing.
The state-run Manica Post newspaper reported in its latest edition on the interception on a highway in eastern Zimbabwe of 112 bales of used clothes and shoes in the last week alone.
Zimbabwe is sinking back into economic crisis three years after Mugabe was re-elected to power. He still blames Western sanctions.