By Andrew Mambondiyani
MUTARE – For as little as R5 bargain hunters can buy an item of clothing at a mega flea market outside Sakubva Stadium in Mutare.
These clothes, some still fairly new, are part of contraband second-hand clothes that are finding their way into the country on a daily basis from neighbouring Mozambique.
Despite a government ban on trade of second-hand under-garments these too are available in abundance.
Smuggling of clothing has become a multi-million dollar trade that is an albatross around the neck of those struggling to revive the clothing industry. Some clothing companies in Mutare have closed shop with one company that used to employ more than 1,800 workers now employing only one security guard to look after the obsolete machinery.
Investigations by this reporter over several months have revealed a network of smugglers including border security, locals and Mozambique nationals with a well-oiled transport set-up. Most bales coming into the country are being smuggled through the porous border area stretching from Sango in Chiredzi up to Nyamapanda in Mutoko, with hundreds of bales being smuggled daily.
100 bales a day
Each day around 1am trucks haul up to 100 bales of clothes from Himalaya area into Mutare. An empty truck normally follows the one carrying the loot in case of an accident.
When one of the trucks was involved in an accident along Himalaya road it only took a few minutes for the bales to be reloaded into the empty truck. The police arrived at the scene of the accident to find only an empty truck.
“These smugglers are organised and it will not be easy for the authorities to stop them. The smugglers are here to stay. This business is a life or death business,” said former smuggler Joe Murerwa, who is now a farmer.
Prices for the items are always ridiculously low as no duty has been paid. When I visited the border town of Manica in Mozambique I was accosted by Mozambican nationals a few kilometres from the border at a place popularly known as Pamumango. They offered to smuggle bales to my door step in Zimbabwe for $50 – $60 per bale.
A Zimbabwean national based in Manica, Chuck Mutereko, knows the business well. “These smugglers are trustworthy. You buy the bales and give them – you don’t have to go with them. They will bring the bales to your doorstep. Where else could you see such honesty?” he said with a chuckle.
In Mozambique a bale of clothes costs about $250 but the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) charges at least 40 percent in duty, forcing people to use illicit ways to bring the clothes into the country.
In a 2012 study titled Unraveling the Relationships between Used-Clothing Imports and the Decline of African Clothing Industries Dr Andrew Brooks of King’s College and Prof David Simon of University of London noted that African clothing industries had declined since the implementation of economic liberalisation policies in the early 1980s, which saw an increase in used clothing imports to the continent.
ZIMRA admitted that smugglers keep on devising new methods to try and beat the system but was quick to add that it was determined to curb this activity.
“On a positive note, ZIMRA has in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Republic Police put in place strategies that make smuggling a profitless enterprise,” ZIMRA said in a recent bulletin on its website.
But the business continues to grow daily. The Zimbabwean