Chinese imports, from second hand cars to fake designer ware and cheap smart phones, are currently the biggest hit in Botswana.
There was a time when the class structure in Botswana was clearly defined.
When only the elite could afford luxury vehicles, designer wear and expensive phones, cheap Chinese imports desecrated the rigid class structure and enabled even the lowest paid to be able to brandish their “expensive” items.
Nowadays, almost everyone can afford luxury items. Even the lowest paid can now proudly brandish iphones and blackberries. Almost everyone has an Armani, Burberry and lacoste item in his or her wardrobe.
Almost every household is decorated with big plasma screens and top of the range sound systems. Granted, some of the imports can clearly be discerned, even by the least informed, as true fakes. But the same cannot be said for designer wear, except maybe sportswear like Nike and Adidas.
With sportswear, Adidas may be labelled Adibas. Chinese manufactures survive on copycat names, like Pony for Sony, and these fake brands wreak havoc on established genuine brands.
At the time when the Chinese first came to our country, mostly contracted by Government to come and build schools, many Batswana had only seen Chinese on TV and in Kung Fu movies and people were falling over their shoes to get a glimpse of them with many believing that all Chinese were martial arts experts.
Slowly they started bringing in the Chinese products, starting with rubber shoes, commonly referred to as ‘Chinese’ and which became a hit amongst Batswana because of the cheap price tag.
Then came the infamous Chinese rubbing stuff known to many as ‘tshasa’ and Batswana were immediately caught in the rave. That was in the late 1980s.
During the early 1990’s more Chinese came, set up shop in Botswana, and before anyone knew it, the Chinese had taken over the local textile industry with their influx of cheap products, like clothing, electrical appliances, hardware, software and, of late, even trucks, busses and cars, mostly imitations.
This influx, of course, trashed the dreams of many people who had planned to invest in the textile industry.
Come Christmas holidays, most people leave towns to spend time and visit families in the rural villages. Unlike in the good old days, many yards are decorated with their own imported automobiles.
Owning a car is no longer a wealth status, so cheap have they become that even tertiary school students are buying cars.
Gone are the days when only the rich and middle class could afford to drive in luxury cars and wear international designer labels. These days even ordinary rural folk can be seen dressed to their numbers in their fake Levis, Gucci and Prada.
Many video rental outlets have been forced to close shop due to cheap movie imitations sold at giveaway prices and available at almost every mall in town. One can even buy hardcore porn films from these outlets, despite the fact that it is illegal in Botswana.
This has received mixed reactions from consumers, with some cursing the day these Chinese goods arrived, while others have received them with open arms, calling it a blessing in disguise for the many underprivileged.
“Now even the poor can afford to look good,” many believe.
In Gaborone, every shopping complex boasts a few Chinese outlets and they are always packed with customers.
One consumer, who did not wish to reveal his identity, said in an interview that he has stopped buying from the Chinese because they sell low quality rejects.
“No matter how good and cheap their products may seem, if it’s a garment that you buy all the excitement is lost after the first wash. The clothes loose shape and the colours come off. Even the phones, though cheap, cease to function properly after a few months. That’s why Chinese phones only have a three months warranty while other shops give up to one year; they know these things don’t last. The shoes are just as bad because after wearing them for a couple of times they start to smell bad even when worn with clean socks. And washing them is another problem because cardboard boxes are used as inner linings and once you wash them the paper comes off and you have to throw them away.
On a visit to the Oriental Plazza, a mall for Chinese wholesalers in Gaborone that sells anything and everything, one can’t help but notice the number of people that frequent this place to buy anything from household goods, cell phones, motor spares, furniture as well as pirated music and movie disks.