By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
28 June 2014
Zimbabwe’s textile industry has shrunk to below 10% capacity, in line with the general decline in economic activity across the country.
At its peak the textile industry employed more than 20,000 people and was one of the key employers in the country country’s second largest city of Bulawayo.
But since 2000 when the ruling ZANU PF abandoned sound economics for land grabs there has been an accelerated decline in the sector, which now employs only 4,000 people.
A Zim Textile Workers’ Union official told SW Radio Africa that in the last four years the group’s membership has dropped from 11,523 to just 1,600.
Reasons for the decline are rooted in the prevailing decade-long economic crisis and include finance shortages, company closures, disruptions in the farming sector, as well as the influx of cheap imports from the Far East.
Industry players also cite as challenges high input and utilities costs and the high duty levied on raw materials which makes their products more expensive than imports.
Bulawayo-based companies such as Cotton Printers, Silkwood Prints, Andys Suppliers, Coats Zimbabwe and Dreyton Textiles have folded, while a number of others are under judicial management.
Other firms like Zimbabwe Grain Bag, Pension Knitwear, International Screen Printers, Cotton Waste, Meville Knitwear, Helio Textile & Polypackaging, Miller and Thomson, Dian Holdings, Universal Bags now employ less than 100 workers.
Ex-listed textiles giant David Whitehead, which used to employ at least 3,000 workers, was forced to close in 2010, costing the jobs of thousands of other people in downstream industries.
One cotton farmer told the weekly Zimbabwe Independent newspaper that the lack of training for the ‘new’ farmers is compromising the quality and yield of the cotton being produced.
The training centres, just like the rest of education and economic infrastructure, were victims of the land seizures.
“The old farmers used to go for training at the cotton training centre in Domboshava and we need to have that because to say a new farmer means you have no knowledge,” the newspaper quoted Shephered Manonga as saying.
Silas Kuveya, general secretary of the Zim Textiles Workers’ Union, traced the problems facing the industry to the 1990s when cheap second-hand clothes imported from the Far East first appeared on the market.
Kuveya said the country’s political situation is also preventing keen foreign investors from rescuing the distressed sector.
“Our textiles industry has a huge potential to drive the economy if only it can be recapitalised. The obsolete machinery being used also affects the little activity happening in the sector.”
Kuveya said in the absence of foreign investors, it is the duty of the government to avail the money to revive the country’s industrial activity.
In 2011 the coalition government introduced the Distressed and Marginalised Areas Fund aimed at reviving the country’s ailing industries.
However the disbursement of the $40 million fund, partly sponsored by Old Mutual, has been hampered by bureaucracy and political interference.
In March this year, current Industry Minister Mike Bimha told Zimbabweans that the ZANU PF government has no money to contribute towards the fund.