Backyard industries thrive amid comatose economy in Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe – At his workshop in Mbare Township in Harare, hundreds of hand-made metal chairs pile up and are ready for the market as 43-year-old Jemitius Banda openly brags about his thriving backyard industry.

Next to Banda’s workshop in the capital city, stands rolls of barbed wire fence — all thanks to the handiwork of 40-year-old Mandla Msipa, who, with his team of nine employees who are donning blue overalls, have prepared the barbed wire for sale.

Meanwhile, customers swarm Banda’s and Msipa’s workshops leaving with metal chairs or rolls of barbed wire.

Cashing in

The customer traffic means that Banda and Msipa are having to pocket wads and wads of cash in US dollars every day they do business.

They are one of many emerging indigenous industrialists in this southern African nation even as the country’s economy tinkers on the brink of collapse.

Yet as the world celebrates Africa Industrialization Day, Banda and Msipa have become one of many self-made industrialists that have fought successfully against the tide of economic decay that has been gripping the nation for decades.

Backyard industries are on the rise, with indigenous entrepreneurs like Banda and Msipa setting up companies that have quenched local demand.

Indigenous employment

The backyard industries run by locals have become the biggest employers even as foreign-owned firms are closing

Commemorated on Nov. 20, Africa Industrialization Day has seen backyard industrialists upping their game, pushing production to fill the gaps left by the closed foreign-owned firms.

Within the framework of the Second Industrial Development Decade for Africa (1991-2000), the United Nations General Assembly, in 1989, proclaimed Nov. 20 Africa Industrialization Day.

Since then, the UN has held events on Africa Industrialization Day throughout the world, raising awareness about the importance of Africa’s industrialization and the challenges faced by the continent.

Stealing the thunder

This has not fallen on deaf ears as many backyard industrialists are stealing the thunder in Zimbabwe.

“Schools, hospitals, churches and clinics are coming in their numbers ordering the metal chairs I make here and every month I take home approximately $6,500 after selling the chairs,” Banda told Anadolu Agency.

Since 2018, Africa Industrialization Day has been commemorated with weeklong events. The African Union Commission is set to host this year’s Africa Industrialization Week celebrations from Nov. 20 – 24 under the theme: “Industrializing Africa: Renewed Commitment Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Industrialization and Economic Diversification.”

With his hand-made rolls of barbed wire fence, Msipa said each month he takes home more than $7,000 after meeting all obligations such as paying rent for his workspace.

In the past 20 years since the violent seizure of white-owned farms, thousands of foreign-owned industrial firms have been shut down, leaving millions without jobs.

Filling the gaps

But indigenous industrialists, like Kudakwashe Chivarange, have risen over the years to fill the gaps left by foreign firms.

Chivarange produces dozens of grinding mills, hammer mills and maize shellers every day at his Mbare-based Chivaz Grinding Mills Private Limited.

Like many other indigenous backyard firms emerging here, since 2009, Chivarange’s company has made headway despite Zimbabwe’s comatose economy.

With one grinding mill, Chivarange claimed that he fetches $1,200.

Low costs

Economists have premised the success enjoyed by backyard industrialists on the low costs associated with carrying out informal businesses.

“Backyard industries are way more convenient to operate and do drastically cut costs. They usually already have markets or are part of a supply chain. This is how the Asian economies have been organized and how they have operated,” Godfrey Kanyenze, economist and founding director of the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), told Anadolu Agency.

Food industry back

Yet even indigenous food processing firms have had to rise despite Zimbabwe’s economic upheavals, according to prominent economist John Robertson.

“More dependable volumes of food crops now coming from the farms have encouraged some of the processing companies to restart operations,” Robertson told Anadolu Agency.

But much more has to be done to make Zimbabwe less dependent on imported food.

“Hopefully we will have another good season and the local factories will build upon the successes achieved so far,” he said.

As backyard industries blossom across Zimbabwe, in 2018, in his national budget announcement, then-Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the government approved the Small to Medium Enterprises Infrastructural Development Policy compelling authorities to provide adequate infrastructure for budding indigenous firms.

Source: Anadolu Agency

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