Bulawayo firm closures thousands sent into destitution

BULWAYO - As the sun sets on Filabusi, Jabulani Moyo, 47, sits outside his mud hut, lets out a plume of smoke from a cigarette crudely fashioned out of an old newspaper and laments how little or no smoke can be seen above Bulawayo’s skyline, a sign of how the country’s industrial hub has declined.

As Moyo wonders, for yet another day, where his next meal will come from, he reflects on how he had lost all he earned during three decades of work in Bulawayo’s once thriving textile industry.

“Life is hard for me and my family and I feel as if my ancestors have turned their backs on this son of the soil,” he laments.

He is not alone.

An estimated 20 000 workers have lost their jobs as several companies in the city have either closed shop, down-sized or relocated to Harare, leaving thousands destitute as they struggle to eke out a living.

As many as 87 firms have closed shop in the city since 2010.

Once known as Kontuthuziyathunqa for the bellowing smoke over its industrial districts, Bulawayo at one point accounted for 75 percent of the country’s manufacturing output, but now it has been dubbed a sadza economy with restaurants and flea markets accounting for most businesses.

Bulawayo firms have borne the brunt of a decade-long economic contraction that Zimbabwe is only starting to recover from, with the textile sector in particular, being ravaged by the influx of cheap imports, mostly from China.

Many of the firms have failed to adjust to the adoption of multiple foreign currencies, while the high cost of borrowing has seen some companies sinking under debt.

Companies that have either closed down or scaled down operations in the textile and clothing sector include Harven, which had been in existence since 1952, Archer Clothing Company which left about 600 workers jobless, The Ready Wholesalers trading as Belmor Clothing Manufacturers which left about 300 workers jobless.

National Blankets, Cotton Printers, Security Mills, the country’s sole manufacturer of knitting yarn, Karina, David Whitehead as well as Continental Fashions, a textile giant that had been operating in Zimbabwe for more than 48 years, have not been spared.

The Distressed Industries and Marginalised Areas Fund (Dimaf) set up by the government in October 2011 to rescue the struggling Bulawayo industries, has so far failed to arrest the decline, mainly due to confusion over the allocation criteria and delays in disbursement.

As politicians bicker over Dimaf, the plight of workers who have gone for months without pay and those made redundant by company closures gets worse with each passing day.

The situation is so dire, that some have taken their lives as the stress mounts, marriages have been wrecked and the future looks bleak.

Moyo, who has been driven to hopelessness, wistfully narrates how he was left with no option but to go back to his rural home after losing his house in the high density suburb of Pumula to creditors as he struggled to make ends meet.

“Ours is a sad story indeed. From the tender age of 17, I worked in the textile and clothing industry,” he said.

“The money I earned from my job helped me buy a house and put my children through school but with the closure of the company I worked for, I could no longer pay my bills or buy food.

“The situation got so bad as my debts accumulated and I went for days without food in the house, forcing me to leave the city.”

Having left his rural home in the 1980s and worked in what was then a thriving textile company for over 30 years, Moyo is struggling to cope with life outside the factory and lacks the necessary skills to survive in rural dry Matabeleland, having spent most of his life in the mills.

Moyo is the “breadwinner” for a family of six and the stress of providing for this average family is visible on his gaunt looking face with an overgrown beard.

Matabeleland well known for its drought, does not spare Moyo as the few livestock he had has since succumbed to hunger or been sold off to try and pay school fees for his children.

“The government should look after the workers who lost their jobs during and after the economic meltdown as alone we cannot do it. We are not necessarily asking for handouts but we need to be empowered so that we can look after ourselves and families,” he said.

It is not only those who have been retrenched that are suffering but some who wake up every day and walk to work are also feeling the brunt of the demise of industries in Bulawayo.

In what has been coined modern day slavery, many workers have never been fully paid since dollarisation and as a result most of the employees have accrued huge debts that they are failing to honour.

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