Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
WET Blue Industries, once the country’s biggest tannery, is expected to resume full operation next month after completing a care and maintenance exercise at its Bulawayo factory.
The company was placed under provisional judicial management in September 2014 after business went down following shortage of inputs after the major supplier, Cold Storage Company started experiencing problems. This led to the closure of the company.
However, although the company later re-opened, business has been sluggish but management has indicated that full production might resume next month after tying up loose ends to a lucrative export deal with two foreign companies.
Wet Blue Industries judicial manager Mr Crispen Mwete said in an interview that they will send a sample of their products to the companies before full exports begin.
“We are looking at exporting our finished products to a South African company, African Hide Trading and an Italian company, which has even said we should ship a container so that it takes a look at our quality. Once it agrees we will supply them and we even anticipate struggling to meet their demand.
“At the moment the hides industry is experiencing a slump thus we expect to use the exports to cushion ourselves and to remain with surplus to put back into the company’s operations as well as to pay our creditors,” said Mr Mwete.
He said the banning of all raw hides exports somehow led to the slump of the company’s business, which had appeared to be on the rebound.
The Government, through the Finance Ministry in 2014, banned raw hide exports, a move that was expected to boost value addition in the leather industry, as well as curtail the export of raw hides by local abattoirs.
“When Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced the total ban of raw hides exports it baffled us as our clients stopped bringing their hides while others withdrew their products for processing. We decided to get our own hides to process.
“We have since communicated with the Hides and Skins Merchants Association of Zimbabwe and chemical companies with the hope of coming up with a tripartite negotiation where all the parties will benefit. We are actually waiting for a container with 1 000 hides to be delivered, thereafter we start processing,” Mr Mwete said.
The company owes its creditors about $1,5 million with its biggest creditor being its workforce which it owes over $250 000 in salary arrears.
“The workers in general have been reasonable saying they are willing to negotiate seeing where we are coming from. I have since invited a human resources expert and done a report and I am now engaging their NEC (National Employment Council) to see how we can justify the situation in terms of reducing their labour bill,” Mr Mwete said.
He said the banning of raw hides exportation would not succeed due to the rampant leakages at the country’s border posts and policy inconsistency.
“Government must have a policy which must make people accountable when it comes to value addition and we need all line ministries to have one goal with each ministry coming up and agreeing on how it should be done.
“We did put an input as Wet Blue where we suggested how it should be done but when the policy came out it was never considered and we ended up thinking on our own ways to survive,” Mr Mwete said.
At its peak, the tannery used to process 1 200 hides using 18 tannery drums and employed over 230 workers.
However, last year it was processing 700 with only nine tannery drums operational and has a workforce of just over 50.