ZCIEA secretary general Wisborn Malaya last week said cross- border traders were against stringent duty regulations as they do not only affect their businesses but also every citizen’s personal life.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) late last year scrapped the US$300 rebate on some goods which are popular with cross-border traders and introduced duty on them.
Importers of blankets, footwear, refrigerators, stoves and other electrical gadgets now pay 40% of the purchasing price plus a flat rate of US$5 per unit as duty. Government is also now charging between 10% and 25% duty on basic commodities such as maize meal, cooking oil, potato chips, baked beans and mixed fruit jam.
Importation of undergarments has been banned completely. “We have started mobilising members of the general public to join us in contesting these unfair charges which are affecting not only the cross borders’ livelihood but all citizens’ personal lives,” Malaya said.
“If a Zimbabwean visits another country they can’t buy shoes for their family members anymore as they will have to pay duty for these and this is not right.
Apart from being an infringement of citizens’ rights, said Malaya, the charges were too high considering that duty would end up being higher than the purchasing price as some of the products would have cost less than the US$5 flat rate.
“There are some like the Chinese who can afford to import in bulk for resale locally but what is the government doing condemning all of us to cheap Chinese shoes which wear out in no time,” he said.
Malaya said some cross-border traders preferred buying fridges, stoves and other goods after selling their merchandise in other countries as a way of ensuring that they do not lose their money to thieves.
“They would resell the goods on arrival in Zimbabwe and get their money and a little profit but the duty now makes that impossible,” he said.
Malaya said his organisation, which aims to improve conditions for more than two million informal economy workers, will soon hold a meeting to discuss the recently introduced requirement for travellers to declare their goods to Zimra at least three hours before arrival at the port of entry.
“That is not realistic,” he said. “What type of mindset is that which does not even consider where one will be during those three hours?
“I have travelled to many countries and never heard of that before unless in relation to commercial goods which go through agents.”
Sceptics said new regulation would inconvenience Zimbabweans who cross the borders for a few hours’ shopping in Botswana’s Francistown, South Africa’s Musina and in Lusaka, Zambia.
But Cross-Border Traders Association president Killer Zivhu said declaring goods in advance would reduce the time they spend on the borders.
He however, criticised the ban imposed on importation of undergarments saying there was no local company manufacturing them. Those that are sold at big clothing stores, said Zivhu, were not affordable to many.
Finance minister Tendai Biti last year said men who buy second-hand underwear for their wives are failures. His comments were followed by the banning of importation of undergarments.
Biti’s remarks an insult
Zivhu said Biti’s remarks were an insult to poor people, the graduate with no job and the cross-border, who is trying to make ends meet.
“The minister is among those in the MDC advocating for the creation of employment but people have resorted to cross-border trading because there are no jobs,” said Zivhu.
“We are also against the US$5 flat rate and the 40% duty on goods which are not manufactured locally like 2-in-1 blankets and tackies.”