Manufacturing in Colonial Zimbabwe,

by Victor Muchineripi Gwande

Welcome to the African Griot! How did you find the inspiration for this book? How did your research process begin?

Thank you for the opportunity to share with your platform, the journey and the experiences in researching and writing this book. The makings of this book started during my days as a trade unionist in Zimbabwe. I had the opportunity to participate in meetings and engagements with government and business as I represented labour. It became apparent to me at the time, how in many a times business was able to prevail over government in most of our engagements. This also gave me an insight into the processes of government policy-formulation and making. It is from these experiences that when I pursued my academic career, I deliberately decided to study government-business relations. The other option would have been to examine government-labour relations (I was active in the latter) but this area had received considerable scholarly attention. At the same time, as I read about the economic history of the country (the interest of which started during my undergraduate years at the University of Zimbabwe), it also became clear how the state had been given a prominent role in influencing the economic trajectory of the country. Prominent scholars who had examined the different sectors of the economy (mining, agriculture, commerce and industry) had all advanced the centrality of the state. While this was correct, the state was not a monolithic institution. There were competing interests, especially given that the colonial governments drew their officials from organised economic interest groups in the country. Furthermore, during the twilight of the colonial rule, the manufacturing industry had become the backbone of Colonial Zimbabwe’s economy. In fact, by the time of independence in 1980, Zimbabwe was described as the ‘jewel of Africa’ and the second-most industrialised country on the continent after South Africa. This consolidated my interest to want to learn more about this history of that development. Finally in 2016 when the S.I. 64 was gazetted and the responses it drew, especially from South African businesses in the border town of Messina who threatened border closure in protest of the instrument banning imports into Zimbabwe, I became even more curious to understand the historical development of the country’s industrial policy. All these factors culminated in my doctoral research on relations between industrialists and the government which I then improved into this book. I then started reading around the government’s industrial policy. In most of those papers, the government acknowledged and conceded that industrialists had played a significant role in leading industrialisation. In fact, the government was clear that industrial development was for private enterprise to develop. Yet, existing scholarship had valorised the state in kick-starting and leading the process. I therefore sought to reconcile these views. The more I visited archives and read industrialists papers and parliamentary debates, the incessant fights between the government and industrialists revealed how industrial development was a contested affair, a phenomenon that unpacked and demonstrated in the book.

What was the biggest product Zimbabwe manufactured during this time period?

There was no one specific product that dominated but the textile, clothing, footwear, radio, food and beverage factories were prominent and actually became the biggest exports from the manufacturing sector. The country produced a wide range of products. Some of the products are as follows: 

Textiles, Clothing and Footwear: Canvas, canvas and hessian products, clothing, cotton wool, furs, footwear, grain bags, hats, printing, sanitary towels, twine and cordage, woven and knitted products.

Chemicals: Arsenic, chemicals, dips, disinfectants, insecticides, fertilisers, gases, pharmaceuticals, sulphuric acid and water softeners, soap, polish, candles, perfumery, toilet preparations, soap powders and pastes.

Iron and Steel and Metals: Agricultural implements and equipment, coach building, bolts, nuts and washers, brick molds, buckets, cable and wire, crown corks, cutlery, dies, electric heaters, electroplating, enamelware and hollowware, fencing material, nails, pipes, staircases, tanks, tins and drums, trunks and suitcases, wheelbarrows, windows and doors, venetian blinds. 

Paper and Printing: Cardboard boxes, corrugated cardboard containers, multi-walled sacks, paper bags, paper and cardboard, printing and lithographing, stationery, toilet rolls, waterproof paper. 

Furniture, Brooms and Brushes: Brooms, brushes, handles, wooden and metal furniture, upholstery and mattresses. 

Bricks and Tiles, Cement and Cement Products: Bricks, tiles, cement and cement products, pre-cast concrete, pipes, glassed earthenware, and asbestos. 

Animal and Vegetable Products, Food, Drink, and Tobacco: Animal foodstuffs, bacon and ham, biscuits, bone meal, meat meal, and blood meal, bread cakes, beer, cigarettes and tobacco, confectionery, dehydrated foods, dairy products, edible oils and fats, canned fruits, ice cream, jams and marmalade, jelly, custard and pudding powders, macaroni, margarine, tinned meats, flour, sugar, syrup, salt, tea and coffee, vinegar, yeast, sauces and chutneys.

Was Statutory Instrument 64 a success?

This had mixed results. The industrialists’ association, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), reported that there was marked jump in local industries’ capacity utilisation on the strength of the SI 64. Within three months of the introduction of SI, the CZI said capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector grew by between 30 and 50 % driven by a restriction on imports. The country’s statistical body, the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency also reported from the survey during the same period that it recorded a decrease in imports level for products such as coffee creamers, cooking oil and body creams, among others and a corresponding increase in sales for the local brands of the same products. Viewed from these perspectives, the SI was driving the intended objectives. It must be borne in mind that the SI was not a total ban on imports but only limited the importation of particular products which now required license or permits. Even more, it was a temporary measure. Therefore, whatever benefits should be understood in this context. Local industries still remained exposed to competition from other products not subject to the SI. Even more, some companies reported that the SI 64 adversely affected their operations since the import restrictions encompassed some products which they used as raw materials in their production. Yet, local producers failed to supply those products in the desired quantities and quality. At the same time, there were objections from Zimbabwe’s neighbours such as South Africa and Zambia, who questioned the legitimacy of the import restrictions viz a viz Zimbabwe’s obligations under various trade protocols in the region and globally. Cross border traders in Zimbabwe and businesses in South Africa’s Messina town protested at the South Africa-Zimbabwe’s border over the implementation of the SI, which happened with immediate effect and without notice. The targeted products formed the core of cross-border trade and Messina businesses. Therefore, by the time the SI was repealed in October 2017, there were these two contrasting views on the impact of the restrictions.  

What is the current state of regional trade in Zimbabwe?

For the most part but especially since 2000s, Zimbabwe has had a negative trade flow within the SADC, except for 2006. This has been a result of what is now known as the Zimbabwean Crisis, underpinned by a massive de-industrialisation and informalisation of the economy, culminating in the country being a net importer of most of the manufactured products. The country, at the same time, experienced a huge decline in exports. Only raw materials such as precious minerals (gold, diamond, platinum and chrome) and tobacco were the main exports. Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner is South Africa. The manufacturing sector remains depressed and imports continue to dominate the local market. However, despite its low performance, the manufacturing sector is much diversified. The only challenge is that of utilisation capacity, hence its inability to produce sufficiently for both the local and export market.

How is your book useful when considering trading relationships today?

One of the main points this book seeks to advance is the significance of a closer working relationship between the government and business in policy formulation and implementation. Policies adopted and implemented without consultation often are resisted and ultimately fail. In the case of Zimbabwe, one of the persistent challenges has been policy inconsistency and over-regulation which business have found detestable. They have argued that the inconsistencies muddy the policy and business environment thereby dampening investment opportunities. In particular, never-ending currency reforms have resulted in serious shortages of foreign exchanges which is necessary for the operations of industries. Since the times of Industrial Revolution, the manufacturing sector has always expanded on the basis of a secure and guaranteed home or domestic market. Therefore, a close relationship between the government and business is crucial. This is likely to be a twin solution to address adverse balance of trade while offering a springboard from which local industries could expand. The logic here is that a greater local sale would in the end mean larger production, greater efficiency and lower production costs. The greater the local demand for local goods, the better able will manufactures be to compete in the export market. The largest manufacturing exporters in the world had their industries built up, initially, on local demand. That likelihood happens on the strength of closer ties between government and business.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

For long the African continent has always been described as an ‘emerging force’ or a ‘potential industrial powerhouse’ on the strength of its natural resources and growing population (factor endowments), yet this has not been fully realised and may even take longer. Part of the problem has been the continent’s role and position in global trade. The ethos of free trade and liberalisation which international financial institutions and the World Trade Organisation, I suggest, have been harmful to the industrial potential of the continent. As Joseph Stieglitz commented in a foreword to Karl Polanyi’s book, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2001, edition ‘there never was a truly free, self-regulating market system. In their transformations, the governments of today’s industrialized countries took an active role, not only in protecting their industries through tariffs, but also in promoting new technologies. In the United States, the first telegraph line was financed by the federal government in 1842, and the burst of productivity in agriculture that provided the basis of industrialization rested on the government’s research, teaching, and extension services. Western Europe maintained capital restrictions until quite recently. Even today, protectionism and government interventions are alive and well: the U.S. government threatens Europe with trade sanctions unless it opens up its markets to bananas owned by American corporations in the Caribbean. While sometimes these interventions are justified as necessary to countervail other governments’ interventions, there are numerous instances of truly unabashed protectionism and subsidization, such as those in agriculture.’ Similarly, Africa should not shy away from adopting similar approaches for its industries. The adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area could not have been so timely. They must implement the agreement with zeal and vigour to achieve industrialization. And in doing so, they must not ignore the private enterprise in their respective countries as these will be crucial in the attainment of the objectives of the AfCFTA.

Manufacturing in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1890-1979

Interest Group Politics, Protectionism & the State

by Victor Muchineripi Gwande

£65.00 / $95.00
Hardback, 9781847013330
252pp, 2 b/w illus.
November 2022

James Currey


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VICTOR MUCHINERIPI GWANDE is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Africa Studies, International Studies Group, University of the Free State. He also holds Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University and an alumni of the African Humanities Fellowship Programme Program established by the American Council of Learned Societies.