Will ‘white gold’ ever regain its lustre?. . . as smuggled second-hand clothes invade Zim

Presenting his mid-term policy statement reviewing the 2015 National Budget in Parliament in July that year, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Honourable Patrick Chinamasa, said: “I move to remove second-hand clothing and shoes from the Open General Import Licence and any future importation of second-hand clothing and shoes will be liable to forfeiture and seizure.”

Whilst this ban on second-hand clothes and shoes is effective on paper, on the ground something else is prevailing as thousands of bales of such items find their way into the country on a daily basis, especially through the eastern border. Bales of second-hand clothes are openly sold in Mozambique.

Whilst the temptation, upon arriving in Beira – the capital of second-hand clothing in the region –  is to look for the popular Mercado Goto, or simply Goto Market, an inquiry within the market as to where one can buy the bales leads one to any of the several shops, literally a stone’s throw from the market, where the Chinese and Nigerians are making a killing.

And interestingly about three-quarters, if not all, of the customers crowded in these shops, will be Zimbabweans who most of the time, typical of Zimbabweans, will be looking for cut-price deals on most of the purchases.

Posing as a bewildered and first-time shopper who was not sure of how to get his bales across the border into Zimbabwe, introductions were made within a few minutes to “Mupositori” or Mashava, the transporter.

It was Monday afternoon.

“If you pay for your bale(s), we can load them now and by Wednesday you can collect them in Harare. If, for some reason, your finances are not adding up, we can carry your bale(s) and you will pay us on collection in Harare,” was the brief explanation from Mashava.

He was to add that it costs $35 to transport one bale into Harare. If there is any description that aptly captures someone who is economic with the truth, it should be the pedestrian explanation that was proffered by Mashava. He made it sound so simple.

But it isn’t. Transporting second-bales into Zimbabwe has, in actual fact, turned into a whole industry. Just a thumb-suck on his lorry that was loading outside the shop gave an estimate of between 75 and 100 bales.

But that is not where the intrigue lies. The intrigue is not about the killing that Mashava and many other transporters like him are making, trafficking this contraband into Zimbabwe. The intrigue is how do they do it, especially that on the Zimbabwean side there are as many roadblocks on the roads as there are kilometre signs.

Which leaves officials from the republic police and the revenue collection authority complicit in the smuggling rings – they form part of the “downstream” end of the smuggling industry.

Just outside Chimoio, say about five kilometres, is one of the several routes that these smugglers use to carry their contraband into Zimbabwe. This route passes through Sussundenga and enters Zimbabwe through the Cashel Valley area.

Whilst this is the more navigable route, it is by no means the only route, as between Chimoio and Machipanda there are several roads that lead off the highway and into the wilderness that takes one into Zimbabwe.

But for the small-time smuggler, one who thinks that their baggage is not big enough to warrant the thirty-five-dollar charge, or who, for want of convenience, need to travel within eyesight of their contraband, there is yet another option.

Dropping off in Machipanda, having been charged 150 meticais for transporting the bale from Chimoio, there is another support structure waiting to serve – for $20 a bale, there are runners who then carry the contraband through the border, using unofficial routes.

The owner of the contraband and the runner will meet up at an agreed place in Mutare, with the most common meeting places being bus ranks, where, because of the busy nature of life there, no one lifts an eyelid as to who will be doing what.

Whilst getting the second-hand bales across forms one part of the equation, the other part, especially for the first-time “shopper”, read smuggler, is the language barrier.

Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony and whilst Portuguese is its official and main language, over 40 languages are indigenous to the country.

Ruvimbo, not her real name, whom we met in Chimoio and was buying shoes for resale in Zimbabwe, said her trip had been made easier because she was in the company of a seasoned smuggler who knew all the tricks.

She said customers at her flea market in Kadoma were no longer buying because her flea market was stocked with the usual stuff from South Africa or Zambia, hence she made the trip to Mozambique, to try new frontiers.

On the other hand, because of the influx of Zimbabwean shoppers to Beira and Chimoio, the two popular Mozambican shopping destinations, the more enterprising Mozambicans have taken to grasping working knowledge of Shona.

Batista, a stall-holder at Goto, said he has had to learn a few words in Shona as now and then he has to interact with Zimbabwean shoppers. And he seemed not only knowledgeable in the language but in the taste of Zimbabwean shoppers as well.

“My friend, what are you looking for? If you want sealed bales, let me take you there, just across the road.”

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