Local manufacturers cry foul over illegal imports

Bame Piet
SCHOOL UNIFORM SCANDAL: Local uniform producers cry foul over smuggling

An estimated 25,000 students will be joining their older brothers and sisters at Senior Secondary schools across the country flowing the release of 2023 Junior Certificate results on Monday.

This is yet another big catch for uniform manufacturers who are waiting to dress the new learners from to toe.

However almost a year after the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry imposed a ban on importation of school uniform, local uniform manufacturers are still frustrated as the that was meant to empower them continues to deliver any meaningful benefits.

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Some local manufacturers that The Voice interviewed this week alleged that despite all evidence that this is a multi-million Pula industry that has potential to create jobs and wealth for Batswana, financial institutions are not forthcoming with their assistance.

Managing Director of Mantlha Sankoloba,Sthandiwe Madolo pointed out that another problem faced by local manufacturers involves big companies that were initially focusing on production of Personal Protection Equipment that have now flexed their finical muscle and shifted to school uniform production, kicking out small ones in the process.

In addition, there are allegations that Asian owned companies have found a way to go around the import ban with the assistance of some Batswana who either front for them or aid them to import.

“Rural people should be allowed to produce for their localities. There is a lot of collusion between big companies who are driving us out of business. It seems the only way to access big markets is when you work with a foreigner,” she said.

Meanwhile one of the business owners who pivoted from PPE production to include uniform production has expressed frustration that contrary to popular perception, they too were not raking in profits from school uniforms.

Chamati Lekwapa is the owner of Nitaz Collection (PTY) Ltd,based in Selibe Phikwe. She started her operations in June 2018 with PPE production before introducing corporate wear in 2021.

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“When the statutory instrument was announced in 2022 we introduced school uniforms, but it was minimal. In 2023 we went into full production of school uniform after we heard the public outcry that there’s shortage of school uniforms across the country. We advertised on social media and other platforms that we deliver countrywide, but we are still stuck with the uniforms,” she said

Faced with stiff competition from multinational chain stores, where their products are rejected, over 70 small and Micro producers have come together in a bid to create a market similar to horticultural producers.

They are hoping to speak with one voice and be able to persuade financial institutions to see potential in the sector and avail funds to them.

Rise Botswana Limited spokesperson, Thabiso Dibeela revealed that some financing institutions are frustrating their efforts since they have long said they were conducting some research on whether uniform production is bankable business that can be assisted with funding.

“We are still waiting for their research findings. Meanwhile, other competitors are taking over the market,” she said. The company has brought together around 73 manufacturers.

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Dibeela mentioned the names of several companies that have now shifted their focus from production of Personal Protective Equipment and overalls to production of school uniform whilst some Batswana are fronting for some Asian companies.

She said they will soon be engaging the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry on the matter.

There is also a pending judgment at the Court of Appeal between the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry and Pep Stores Botswana over uniform import ban.

Meanwhile, the Botswana Unified Revenue Service has stated that despite allegations of illegal school uniform imports, BURS has never recorded any unlawful imports of uniforms.

BURS spokesperson Mable Bolele said they have not impounded any container or consignment into the country with school uniform contents.

FULL UNIFORM & AVERAGE PRICE

Female student
Dress, Shirt, tie, socks, PE shorts, tracksuit, Jersey, spotty, socks TOTAL P760.00

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Male student
Grey/Khakhi trousers, long sleeved shirt, jersey, tie, tracksuit, socks TOTAL P890.00

25000 students multiplied by the price = P20 million to be spent on uniforms in the coming weeks.

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