BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
ZIMBABWE Stock Exchange-listed Pan-African fast foods chain Simbisa Brands Limited says it is set to roll out an aggressive expansion programme on the domestic market this year, defying a sea of headwinds that have been provoked by the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
Zimbabwean firms are going through one of their toughest times this year, with the economy almost grounded by a lockdown effected two weeks ago to stem the pandemic.
In an exclusive interview with Standardbusiness, Simbisa managing director Warren Meares acknowledged that the pandemic was threatening the economy but said his expansion targets would be achieved.
Under the programme, Simbisa plans to establish footprints in Chirundu, Chegutu, Kadoma and Rusape and unlock 500 job opportunities, Meares told Standardbusiness, noting that for now, it’s been a total bloodbath on the job market.
“One thing we want to always do is keep our staff going because one thing we are doing this year is that we want to aggressively open 25 or 30 stores,” the Simbisa MD said.
“We want to open as many stores as we can this year because I truly believe that Zimbabwe is on the up and when that happens we need to be up there too. We want to make sure that we have our stores in all areas that we have always wanted to be. These are areas like Chitungwiza, Bulawayo Road in Harare towards N Richards, Chegutu, Kadoma, Rusape and Chirundu. We want everyone to be able to access our stores. This is definitely a year of growth, aggressive growth. We are looking at employing between 400 and 500 new staff members,” he said.
However, Zimbabwe is battling to stem a deadly surge in Covid-19 cases, which exploded before Christmas when government
The scourge was compounded by the reopening of borders, which sparked an influx of Zimbabweans living in regional Covid-19 hotspots, including South Africa.
Terrified, authorities decided to enforce another lockdown two weeks ago, which will run until the end of this month.
But already, the tourism industry, the sector in which Simbisa operates, has raised the red flag.
Executives last week said a ban on intercity travel during the tenure of the shutdown would further inflict harm on a sector that lost US$1 billion during the first phase of blanket lockdowns last year, trimming jobs by 25%.
The Simbisa MD told Standardbusiness that he was aware of the ongoing industrial carnage.
He said he had responded by reviewing cost structures.
“Let’s say you are running your father’s business. Then suddenly, your business drops to say 20% or 25% of what it was. You used to generate $100 a day but now you are generating $25. If you have casual workers, would you keep them sitting there doing nothing? You would say: ‘Guys, you see that things are tight. We are no longer doing the shifts that we used to do. When things get better don’t worry you will come back.’ Every single business has done that. I am on the retailers association, the Minister of industry and hotels and catering WhatsApp groups (and I am well informed). Did you know that just one hotel has retrenched over 150 permanent workers? We have actually not cut our staffing levels. We have placed everyone on 15 days on and 15 days off. Every company that I know has asked their casuals workers to stop reporting for duty because they have no work for them,” he said.
“We operate exactly like supermarkets. We close at three o’clock. It is only our deliveries that we can do after three o’clock. Otherwise all shops close at three o’ clock for now. We will see if we can talk to the Ministry of industry to get more hours. That is what we are trying to do. We are trying to work around the whole situation. Let us hope it (the lockdown) doesn’t continue past 30 days. But one thing that you must understand is that this Covid-19 is quite bad. If you guys are on the ground as journalists, you will see that your Nyaradzos, your Doves (funeral assurance firms) and hospitals are overwhelmed,” said Meares.
Simbisa Brands is a fast food outlet company in Africa with its roots in Zimbabwe.