The Sunday Mail
That really defines a product? Or what is the essence of a product’s brand? Well, daring bootleggers in most parts of the country, especially in Mbare, are rewriting the rulebook — a product or its brand is that they tell you it is; not what you think it is. While bootlegging, which involves making, distributing and selling goods illegally, has been in existence since time immemorial, the practice is now on steroids.
It has noticeably gone a notch higher.
In fact, it has spiralled out of control, from the production and sale of counterfeit products to the outright con of unsuspecting consumers through fake products. Unsurprisingly, there have been rising cases of consumers being duped into purchasing boiled dregs of soap packaged as liquid soap.
It gets worse!
Potatoes are being expertly crafted from mud and sold as the real thing by itinerant con-artists. Also, many a whisky lover have been left with a sour taste in the mouth, literally, after being sold pure ethanol mixed with water, some tint (for colour) and generous doses of flavouring.
But how are these daring traders pulling off this stunt?
Genuine packaging materials such as stickers, containers and wrapping paper are apparently being sourced from the same suppliers used by big manufacturers, both local and foreign. And it is this packaging material that makes consumers swallow hook, line and sinker. Naturally, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) has been inundated by complaints from aggrieved victims.
“We have received reports of counterfeit products on the market in the past but we could not act since there was no supporting legislation. However, the recently enacted Consumer Protection Act (CPA) has empowered us. We urge the public to report to us or the police any cases so that culprits are brought to book,” said CCZ deputy executive director Mrs Rosemary Mpofu.
The consumer protection body has since roped in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to clamp down on counterfeit products.
“Our officials are moving around confiscating products, including foodstuffs, which are not suitable for the market. The public needs to understand that not only unlicensed traders sell knock-offs, thus they need to be cautious every time,” warned Mrs Mpofu.
A recent victim of this devious craft, who called herself Mai Panashe from Hatfield, parted with her hard-earned cash after she purchased a “contaminated” sack of potatoes.
“I was driving past Mbare from Budiriro. I then stopped at an open ground just behind Rufaro Stadium where some vendors were selling potatoes. I bought two large bags at ‘bargain’ price. However, I got the shock of my life when I reached home. The upper and lower part of the sack had a couple of real potatoes while the rest contained mud moulded as potatoes,” she narrated her ordeal.
Her case is not isolated.
A young couple was duped into purchasing boiled soap residues packaged and presented as Ingram’s camphor cream.
Yeukai Mapira also faced similar agony when she purchased a fake 2kg pack of washing powder at a place called kwaTsiga in Mbare.
Apparently, the supposed washing powder pack contained a mixture of fine sand particles and residue from ground maize kernels.
Like all the other victims, she was reeled in by the seemingly discounted price and the “genuine” packaging.
“I often buy products from South Africa here, but I have never been swindled. There was no reason for me to suspect foul play. After all, the product looked real,” she said.
She, however, is too embarrassed to report her case to the police.
Some vainly attempt to recover their money by tracking down the cheats.
But rarely are they lucky to bump into the fraudster as the latter have the uncanny ability of vanishing as quickly as they emerge.
Not all the traders resort to outrightly conning consumers.
There is a group that specialises in producing counterfeit products.
They manufacture mock-ups of popular products and sell them to unsuspecting consumers, packed in genuine product containers or packs. The illegal packaging is mostly done in makeshift structures in Magaba and areas surrounding OK Supermarket, close to the bus terminus. The daring ones conduct their activities in full glare of the public, especially in cases involving illicit brew.
A visit by this publication to Mbare led us to a gentleman called Alimando.
We linked with him via our Mbare contact, who presented us to him as “potential investors” in his operations.
“There are a lot of enterprising youths in this area. They manufacture products like washing powder, floor/shoe polish liquid soap and so on. The products are effective and affordable to many.
“It is easy to sell the products not just because of our low prices, but also because we often make use of original product packaging. By the way, we rarely get returns or complaints from consumers as our products are as effective as or even better than the original ones,” boasted Alimando, as he revealed the trade secret in his Mozambican accent.
Alimando specialises in illicit brew and a couple of domestic products.
We quizzed him on the source of the packaging.
“We get our supplies mainly from South Africa, though some of the packaging is locally sourced. Our colleagues in South Africa collect rejects (of packages) from reputable companies that have products in our local shops and send them to us,” he revealed. The local sources of unmarked whiskey containers are found in Southerton and Msasa industrial areas.
While chatting with our potential “partner”, a guy in a shipping container that has since been converted into an office was busy repacking rice from an unbranded 25kg sack into smaller 2kg Mahatma rice packs. Shepherd Mutize, a gap-toothed fake whiskey manufacturer, who had been keenly following our conversation, chipped in with a proposal. “This is one of the easiest trades this side. You get quick returns instantly. This whiskey (showing us 20-litre containers of ethanol) comes from our sources in Southerton and at times from Manicaland. “The product is in demand. Inodiwa, especially nema ghetto youths (It is loved mostly by youths in the ghetto). We also provide packaging in the form of containers and stickers,” said Mutize. The fake whiskey is being distributed to individuals, bars and some retail shops. Initially, the ethanol is a colourless liquid but can be turned into any colour with a tint and flavoured to taste.
Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) executive director Dr Eve Gadzikwa said such activities, if unchecked, compromise the overall business of established retailers.
“SAZ is completely against this unethical behaviour. It is our hope that companies whose brands are being compromised by such conduct take the culprits to task. We urge the police to be vigilant and arrest these culprits. I am glad we now have the CPA (Consumer Protection Act), which addresses some of these challenges,” she said. Mr Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR), urged consumers to rely on reputable retailers. “The rise of the informal sector has created this fake product crisis. Law enforcement agencies need to constantly inspect shops and raid unscrupulous traders. Genuine products go through SAZ and have clear bar codes,” said Mr Mutashu. Terence Yeatman, a Spar Zimbabwe top official and member of the Retailers Associations of Zimbabwe, adds: “We keep counterfeitsproducts at bay by only dealing with reputable dealers and not giving room to fly-by-night suppliers.”