Second hand clothes business (KoKhothama) booms in Bulawayo

The past few months has witnessed the emergence and boom of the “Second hand clothes business enterprise” popularly known as KoKhothama in Bulawayo. This reminds me of one catchy headline that appeared in one local IsiNdebele weekly newspaper about the open market “Isitho vuvukiyani, ngamaphenti aKoKhothama” meaning “One buyer`s private parts got swollen due the underwear they bought at Khothama”. The selling of second hand clothes that Zimbabweans order they from countries such as Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo has increased tremendously in last few months. It seems many Zimbabweans are taking solace in this emerging business venture notwithstanding the fact that a number of people have been trading in this business overtime. A visit to 8th avenue and Josiah Tongogara Street greets one with a surge in numbers of people displaying their wares on makeshift stalls. Reverberating noise inviting customers to purchase wares is the order of the day.
This growing business venture has become a source of income for many people under the declining economy environment. I carried out some interviews around the open market; I was informed that people make significant income from the sales.
I wonder what the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises is doing to help business players formalize their businesses. If these businesses are formalized, no doubt it could generate significant revenue inflows to the government. Lessons I drew from my visit in some European countries is that selling of second hand goods is part of the economy, people have formalized shops where they employ people and properly remit taxes to the government. This also enhances the growth of the economy as the government is then able to fund infrastructural development projects and also support businesses by providing opportunities for diversifying and expansion. Some people I interviewed confessed that they have been vending for over 10 years and they have not realized any meaningful growth.
In a human rights perspective the trading of second hand clothes is a very good initiative as it reduces the number of sweat shops especially in some Asian countries like China where under age children and adults work in very squalid conditions synonymous to slavery, lack of benefits for workers, working very long 8 hours in poorly ventilated factories producing cheap clothes and products that are then shipped to the developing countries. According to Green America statistics, in developing countries, an estimated 250 million children aged 5 to 14 years are forced to work in these sweat shops. Women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers; employers force them to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing appropriate health benefits.
However questions now linger on the impact of the selling of second hands clothes to the textile industry in the country. For example in Bulawayo almost all renowned companies that produced high quality clothes have either relocated to Harare or closed shop. The government must find ways to protect the local industry otherwise the whole country will be flooded with cheap second clothes that create menial jobs and without any meaningful contribution to the economy.
By Michael Mdladla Ndiweni


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