The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
PRODUCTION of leather shoes in the country has been on a free fall for close to two decades as the sector continues to reel under a myriad of challenges, most of which are economically related.
According to information obtained from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce the country’s registered footwear manufacturers produced 1 012 million pairs of leather shoes in 2011 and just above 200 000 pairs last year, a drastic drop of about 80 percent.
At its peak in the 1990s the sector used to produce 8 million pairs of leather shoes. Leather Institute of Zimbabwe executive chairperson Mr Cornelio Sunduza said most shoe manufacturing factories in the country have over the years shut down due to economic challenges.
“The capacity utilisation in the leather industry is now at about five percent. Most of the factories that used to manufacture footwear have closed down. Our capacity utilisation just dwindled over the years. If we take a look at Bulawayo right now those who can do 50 to 100 pairs a day are only about two and these are small factories because there are no longer large factories here in the Matabeleland region,” he said.
To date Bulawayo has three footwear manufacturers, which are operating and these are namely Courteney Boot Company, Shoe Pack, Millennium Footwear and Bulawayo Leather Cluster. Others such as G&D Shoes, Cathula Sandals, Salelani Shoe Company and Pathfinder closed shop and recently Footwear and Rubber folded.
In Harare Superior Shoes, Triple Tee Footwear and Dos Santos Sons Footwear are still operating together with Eagle Italian Leather & Shoes (Marondera) and Bata Shoe (Gweru).
During its peak Bulawayo’s beef to leather products value chain was fully integrated from cattle farmers in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Midlands provinces, Cold Storage Company to tanneries such as Prestige Leather Tanneries, Wet Blue Industries and Zambezi Tanneries.
Products produced by the value-chain were beef, raw hides, processed leather and leather products. The by- products from the value chain include tallow, green bars, candles, floor polish, shoe brushes, blood meal for the production of stock feeds and pharmaceutical products. Mr Sunduza said the leather industry started catching the cold at the turn of the new millennium, which saw the closure of the second largest shoe manufacturer after Bata, G&D Shoes.
“G&D Shoes used to employ about 1 500 to 2 000 workers and Bata the same. Most shoe manufacturers who are operating on the streets of Bulawayo are the ones that were employed at G&D. These individuals have got potential but don’t have the capacity to produce 100 pairs a day and only produce enough to earn a living using material, which they scavenge for,” he said.
Mr Sunduza said in the wake of the closure of most of the shoe manufacturing firms, there was a need for Government to promote Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to guard against the demise of the sector. Mr Sunduza said capacitating SMEs would enable them to grow their enterprises while also increasing their contribution to the growth of the country’s economy.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce is implementing the Leather Sector Strategy which has seen many clusters involving SMEs in Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru. The Bulawayo cluster has received equipment and training under funding provided by the European Union. Part of the Leather Sector Strategy’s achievement was initiating the setting up of Bulawayo Leather Cluster shoe factory last year. The factory has capacity to produce about 158 400 pairs of shoes annually.
However, Mr Sunduza said much was needed to ensure the success of the Leather Sector Strategy.
“The first phase of the leather strategy failed and we agreed all of us (in the leather sector) but the challenge that we have is that we are not honest with ourselves. It failed to address what it was supposed to because we failed to implement the validation report. We have the Zimbabwe Leather Development Council (ZLDC) for some reason it’s struggling to play its role and gradually if something struggles for too long it just disappears. The second leather strategy is being crafted but I am not convinced it will be a success because of the approach, which is being used,” he said.
ZLDC is an apex body, which is expected to champion the revival of the leather industry in the country.
Millennium Footwear managing director Mr Stuart Simali attributed the demise of the leather sector and the low production by footwear manufacturers to the meltdown of the country’s economy.