The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
COLD Storage Company (CSC) Boustead Zimbabwe’s subsidiary, Boustead Leather formerly Wet Blue Industries is envisaging starting the manufacturing of leather products before the end of the year, targeting the export market as part of its value-addition thrust aimed at increasing its revenue base.
In an interview with Sunday News Business after a tour of the Wet Blue Industries plant at the Donnington Industrial area in Bulawayo last Thursday, the company’s managing director, Mr Sibusiso Sibanda, said plans were underway to open a leather products manufacturing unit.
“In the next coming six months we are opening another department, which will be doing exotic leather furniture mostly for exports and we will be getting the hides locally. We are in the process of securing a trophy dealer’s licence from Zimparks (Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority), which will allow us to trade in game products. We are also looking at producing fur tan coats, which are also in huge demand on the international market. Already we have started doing leather hats known as Newsboy caps, which are mostly famous in England and are sold for over US$100 each,” he said.
Wet Blue Industries was weaned off judiciary management last year after it was successfully taken over by its new strategic partner, Boustead Beef Zimbabwe. The company was placed under provisional judicial management in September 2014 after business went down following shortage of inputs after the major supplier, CSC started experiencing viability challenges. Wet Blue Industries is one of the biggest tanneries in the country.
“When we started, we only found two (leather liming and tannery) drums working, now we have eight drums working. In the past six weeks we have serviced seven and in the next two weeks we will have four drums in the line of production, which will give us a capacity of processing 450 hides per week. We have a good working relationship with the other tanneries such as Zambezi Tannery, Prestige Leathers and Belmont Leather since we are the ones that do the first stage of processing leather. We didn’t hire any expatriate to service our drums because we have our own competent fitter and turners as well as carpenters in the country thus, we sought expertise locally,” said Mr Sibanda.
The company, which is the sole wet bluing tannery in the country is looking forward to processing about 3 000 tonnes of hides a day using 18 tannery drums when it resumes fully-fledged production. At its peak, the tannery used to process 1 200 hides a day using 18 tannery drums and employed over 230 workers.
Wet Blue refers to moist chrome-tanned leather. At this stage, the leather is tanned, but neither dried nor finished. The bluish colouring is produced by the chrome tanning agent, which is blue and is contained in the leather after tanning.
CSC-Boustead Zimbabwe managing director Mr Nick Havercroft also concurred with Mr Sibanda’s sentiments.
“We expect full-fledged production to start within the next six months. Our business model is such that we put our own machinery and do our own value addition (for leather products) from here. I have already secured exclusive contracts for our beef and the hides will come out from there. We are doing things the different way from other investors. We believe in first of all fixing the engine and painting the outside later,” he said.
Zambezi Tannery manager Mr Arnold Britten confirmed that his company was working hand in glove with Boustead Leather.
“We are working together in trying to help them with some of our technical staff, helping them to repair their drums and other components. They are trying to work on a programme to resuscitate the industry through working on their tannery in a bid to make it work again. We are also working on a joint venture with them so that they do a portion of the work that we do and we do another section, so that we can support each other in the industry,” he said.
Boustead Leather production manager Mr Carlington Maravanyika said during the period when the company was under judiciary management its going concern status was severely under threat with most of the machinery being stripped.
“We were under judiciary management since 2014 and during that period production drastically went down and most of the equipment was sold, of note being the tractor and forklift and workers weren’t getting their salaries. But since Boustead Leather took over in October and started operations in mid-January, we have managed to process over 50 tonnes of hides in two weeks, more than we have managed to do in six years. The new investor also managed to get us new and full safety clothing, something which we didn’t have during the judiciary management era,” he said.
However, the company’s former judicial manager, Mr Crispen Mwete of C Mwete and Company Public Accountants refuted the claims, citing that it was smear campaign targeted at tarnishing the image of his firm, further hinting that the allegations and utterances were coming from individuals that were ignorant of the role that was meant to be carried out by a judicial manager.
“Part of the money that paid legal fees came from operations. We had two contracts running with 33 employees. When they took over the place was already operational, my feeling is that they are trying to portray a picture of having done something. When we took the company under judiciary management it had stopped operating for about three years,” he said.