Who wrecked our industry?

Do you remember when we could easily buy any number of nuts and/or bolts of any size?

I’m not talking about shopping around Siya-So, though even there you may have to search further and longer than we used to, and with less hope of finding what you need. That was always best if your requirement wasn’t too unusual, and it probably still is.

For the less usual things, it used to be easy to take a sample of what you needed, or a nut to fit a missing bolt, or vice versa, to a place on Takawira Street, wait a few minutes and as many as you wanted, imperial or metric measure, would be provided. The price wasn’t excessive.

That sounds like another world now. I recently went there looking for a couple of nuts for one of those not-quite-any-standard bolts you get at strategic points on a bicycle. I’d tried the cycle shops first, but even the most helpful of them could only sell the whole assembly for which I wanted to replace the smallest part. No problem – but it would have to be made of brass. And I’d have to buy a thousand and wait a week for them to arrive from Bulawayo.

But thread cutters aren’t difficult to find, and they used to have them, in all likely and some less likely sizes. You never knew when some factory might need just a few for a vital machine, something much more important to the national economy than my bicycle. They don’t have them now. This means a lot of manufacturing equipment is much more difficult to maintain, so we manufacture much less of anything than we used to. When did the rot start? It is not a result of independence, and the people who would have made that claim have long gone.

You can’t put all the blame on the excessive payments to “war veterans” in the late 1990s either. The ruin of our industry was, according to rumour, planned in a confidential World Bank paper on “de-industrialising” Zimbabwe about 1990. The decline of our industry in the decade following that lends a lot of credibility to the rumour.

Our manufacturing industry was one of the unsung success stories of the 1980s. Manufacturing employment grew faster than population during that decade, average wages kept abreast of inflation and output rose considerably, so that manufacturing accounted for 27% of GDP in 1989. ESAP changed all that.

By 2000, industry’s share of GDP had dropped to 14% and employment had dropped in a similar proportion. The decline has continued since then, so that all the shouting about indigenisation only sounds like a cover-up for the vultures stripping the bones of what was once our pride – and then selling the bones to their new patrons at bargain basement prices.

ESAP made greed respectable among the top people so they didn’t need to pretend to be socialists any more.Producing goods that helped raise the living standards of our people used to be important. But with ESAP all that mattered was short-term profit. The quickest short-term profit, as Maggie Thatcher showed in Britain, comes, not from selling things you produce, but selling the machinery that produces them. That means you’ll have to look for new machinery to sell next year, but next year can look after itself. That sounds just like what happens when a chef gets his or her grubby paws on a farm, doesn’t it? So the decline continues and when we hear people claiming that our industrial plant is now working at 30% of capacity as compared with 10% in 2008 and well over 50% in 1999, we need to remind ourselves that we have a lot less industrial plant than we had in 1999. Yes, we have recovered a bit since 2008 but our present capacity is less than 50% of our 1999 capacity. If we want to return to even 1999 output levels we will need major re-tooling.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *