WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2013 —
Thomas Bata, Bata Shoe Company chairman who is visiting Zimbabwe this week, urged school children in Gweru to value their education, saying it gives them the opportunity to have a better life and a chance to contribute to the development of their country.
But the future for most people in the Midlands provincial capital is uncertain, as job opportunities and the economy overall dwindle. Bata Shoe Company manufacturing was once one of the area’s biggest employers, but is scaling down its operations. This reminder of the country’s deindustrialization has Gweru residents concerned about their economic future.
Mr. Bata, the son of the founder of the global shoe manufacturing company, was warmly welcomed on Tuesday by hundreds of school children and teachers at a local school, which is named after the company.
Bata said children should always strive to “reach the top” in order to transform their lives.
He congratulated teachers and pupils at Bata Primary School for consistently being among the top primary schools in the country.
After being given a tour of the school premises, Bata also toured the shoe company factory. Earlier in the week, he officiated at the reopening of the company’s refurbished flagship retail outlet in Harare.
He is expected to visit other company outlets in other parts of the country during his visit.
A workers’ representative, who requested anonymity, said the significance of Bata’s visit was not clear to the workers, since they did not get a chance to speak to him.
But the representative hoped that Bata’s visit will help revamp the company that used to employ thousands of people nationwide. Today, there are only 1,000 workers at the Bata Shoe Company factory in Gweru with hundreds more employed at retail outlets throughout Zimbabwe.
Mr. Bata’s visit comes at a time when the company, one of the few major firms still operating in the city, is facing viability problems owing to a depressed economy.
Other big companies have shut down in the Midlands capital, including Caridorn Abrasives, Kariba Battery Manufacturers, and Zimbabwe Castings.
Although official unemployment figures from the Zimbabwe government paint a generally rosy picture, the closure of so many companies around the nation leave many Zimbabweans jobless and left with few alternatives.
Nigel Phiri, who once worked at Caridorn, says management blamed the closure of the company to cheap imports from countries like China. Phiri said he believes government should block the importation of cheap goods to product local manufacturing.
But Gweru resident Lovemore Zigara says government should craft and implement clear, business-friendly investment policies if it hopes to resuscitate the industrial sector.
Since returning to power after the July 31st elections, Zanu-PF has promised to create about three million jobs over the next five years. Critics question how the government will achieve this, as there is has been no significant foreign direct investment recorded since the formation and end of the unity government.
Critics of Zimbabwe’s business climate say the country’s black economic empowerment programme, which compels foreign-owned companies to transfer majority shares to indigenous blacks, discourages investment.