Francistown retailers, wholesalers and shopkeepers have welcomed the announcements that the Zimbabwean government has extended the waiver on import duty to December.
Prospects of loss of profitable business from the bulk purchasing Zimbabweans caused a lot of apprehension in the city’s business community after the Zimbabwean government’s suspension of import duty on basic commodities expired on August 12.
Political strife in Zimbabwe tore the country apart resulting in skyrocketing inflation and the collapse of the national economy. The collapse of the manufacturing and agriculture industries led to scarcity of basic commodities like cooking oil, sugar, soap, rice and flour, especially after a number of retailers closed shop, triggering massive food shortages throughout the country. Skyrocketing inflation and a general decline in the economy has crippled the Zimbabwean manufacturing sector and forced them to hike prices as production costs also increased.
Recently, the Zimbabwean government also banned food exports as a way of retaining foodstuffs within the country, a move that many have slammed as detrimental as it will result in Zimbabwean businesses losing out on lucrative export earnings.
The suspension of the import duty resulted in a massive influx of Zimbabweans into Botswana to purchase foodstuffs in large quantities; some for consumption while others bought to sell back home. Commentators have also dismissed the requirement by the Zimbabwean government that commercial importers should still pay duty, saying that it will prove to be difficult to monitor who buys for consumption and who buys to sell.
The extension of the waiver is expected to assist consumers to deal with high food prices and shortage of basic commodities. Recently, Francistowners started feeling the pinch of food shortages and haphazard price increases as retailers and wholesalers struggled to keep up with the incessant demand from the Zimbabwean nationals.
Residents started complaining that they are repeatedly met by empty supermarket shelves when they go shopping after Zimbabweans have cleaned out supermarkets and wholesalers.
Zimbabweans travel to Francistown on a daily basis to buy commodities like food, clothes and household equipment, like radios and home theater systems from Chinese shops. Wholesalers and retailers, like Shoprite, Score and Choppies have, over the years, made a roaring trade as Zimbabweans thronged the city from nearby Bulawayo to buy foodstuffs like sugar, mealie-meal, cooking oil, and flour.
However, the complaints are starting to become more frantic as it has emerged that local retailers and wholesalers are unable to keep up with the increased demand for foodstuffs that is said to have been caused by the political standoff in the neighbouring country.
However, retailers are relishing the moment as they have suddenly found themselves making a fortune and clearing off stock within very short periods of time. One local wholesaler told The Sunday Standard that they are grateful for the business that they get from the Zimbabweans. He also conceded that they are unable to keep up with the increased demands for mealie-meal, flour, and cooking oil and most of the time they are left with very little stock to satisfy the local market.
The demand for bread has also increased remarkably and a local baker also admitted that he has lately been unable to meet the demands of his local customers because of the increased demand from Zimbabweans.
“You must understand that we are doing great business here. Some of my local customers are complaining, but they forget that they buy on credit while Zimbabweans buy cash, and sometimes at increased prices,” he said.
On a daily basis, thousands of Zimbabweans descend on the city of Francistown from the Bulawayo-Francistown commuter train, private cars and the buses that ply the Francistown-Bulawayo route to buy all kinds of foodstuffs and electrical goods from retailers, wholesalers and Chinese shops. The Francistown-Bulawayo train and the buses that ply the route are, on a daily basis, filled beyond capacity as they return home overloaded with goods being exported to Zimbabwe.