By Sij Ncube
THE 56TH edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) roared into life on Tuesday with national, regional and international attention temporarily turning into Bulawayo, the country’s second capital, but analysts maintain collapsed industries will remain shut due to the prevailing harsh economic environment.
Critics say while the week-long business jamboree provides rich-pickings for hoteliers, night-clubs and the food sector, the financial benefits were too short-term to contribute towards the much-taunted revival of the dead city, which during colonial era was known as the Manchester of Rhodesia because of its then heavy industry.
Nearly 100 firms have closed in Bulawayo in the past five years but President Robert Mugabe’s administration is seen as clueless in reviving the industries and other closed businesses.
Zambia president Edgar Lungu would officially open ZITF 2015 on Thursday but critics doubt the choice of the newly elected Zambian leader would inspire the speedy rejuvenation of Bulawayo industries.
While Zambia has emerged as one of the few countries in southern African to register a grain surplus, observers claim Lusaka has little economic insight or prospects to offer beleaguered Mugabe.
ZITF 2015 is seen as an annual talk-shop which since 2000 has been reduced to a big flea, resulting in little economic benefits for Bulawayo and the rest of the country.
It also comes at a time an increasing number of companies have retrenched staff while others are making a beeline to the government seeking to lay-off staff as part of saving their tottering businesses.
Seventeen countries — Botswana, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Germany, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Cyprus, Namibia, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, the United States and Zambia — are participating this year.
Last year, 19 countries, including the US, which had not taken part at ZITF for 10 years, and close to 400 firms, participated in the business jamboree.
Harare companies are again dominating this year’s event, accounting for 55% of exhibitors at the premier event.
Last year, Harare companies constituted 57% while Bulawayo had 35%. This year again, only 37% are from Bulawayo while 8% will be coming from other cities and towns.
But despite the visible economic gloomy in and around Bulawayo and its hinterlands, local business players are nonetheless pinning their hopes on the week-long business jamboree due to the presence of a few foreign nations.
South Africa, which has in the previous years’ brought a huge contingent of investors, this year drastically, reduced its participation at ZITF 2015. The reduction in South African exhibitors is partly attributed to the xenophobia crisis presently ravaging the country in which several foreigners have been killed and their businesses looted.
Lucky Mlilo, the chief executive of the Association for Business in Zimbabwe, says hopefully ZITF 2015 will bring “something” to local industries.
“Exhibiting at trade fair is a great opportunity for companies, especially, for marketing themselves. Local companies can clinch deals with foreign companies,” said Mlilo.
However, Mlilo bemoaned that there are few South African companies showcasing at this year’s trade fair compared to last year.
“It’s sad that there are few South African companies that are going to exhibit at this year’s trade fair. It’s a lost opportunity for local firms,” he said.
Mlilo noted that local companies were reeling under a severe liquidity crisis and some have closed down.
The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Matabeleland chapter, Busisa Moyo, who doubles-up as the chief executive of Bulawayo-based United Refineries, urged ZITF management to focus in future on technological automation, pointing out that most local companies are using obsolete machinery.
“There is much that needs to be done. I think the focus should be on the technological automation as well as investment. We are also looking forward for financial services to take part,” Moyo said.
He added that due to the harsh economic climate companies have introduced cost cutting measures to remain afloat hence the absence at ZITF of most local firms.
“Some of our local companies are finding it hard to showcase their products at the ZITF. ZITF sometime doesn’t offer direct benefit, so it is very difficult to convince directors that it will benefit them. Some of the companies might have failed to realise any benefit from the previous fair and now think its waste of resources,” Moyo said.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Matabeleland chapter chairman Crispen Mugova encouraged Bulawayo companies to participate at the trade fair to market their products.
“We are encouraging Bulawayo companies to participate without fail. Those who are facing financial challenges can share stands with others,” said Mugova.
He said they are getting a lot of enquiries from South African companies as such their expectations for this year’s trade fair are high.