AMH is an independent media house free from political ties or outside influence. We have four newspapers: The Zimbabwe Independent, a business weekly published every Friday, The Standard, a weekly published every Sunday, and Southern and NewsDay, our daily newspapers. Each has an online edition.

  • Marketing
  • Digital Marketing Manager: tmutambara@alphamedia.co.zw
  • Tel: (04) 771722/3
  • Online Advertising
  • Digital@alphamedia.co.zw
  • Web Development
  • jmanyenyere@alphamedia.co.zw

Interview: ‘It’s time to scale up SMEs’

Industry and Commerce minister Sithembiso Nyoni

ZIMBABWE’S industry has been facing several challenges, leading to the closure of several large firms in recent years. Manufacturing capacity has stubbornly been stuck at around 52% for a few years now, with many companies facing challenges to retool. Senior Business Reporter Freeman Makopa (FM) caught up with the recently-appointed Industry and Commerce minister Sithembiso Nyoni (SN) to discuss strategies to turnaround the sector. Below are excerpts of the interview:

FM: Congratulations for being appointed Industry and Commerce minister. Tell us your vision about this ministry?

SN: I would like to lead this ministry differently. I would like to see industry connecting to the government because it is our duty to facilitate that. Therefore, we should not be parallel to each other; we should not be enemies but friends.

Their role as industry is to make money and our role is to facilitate them and to make sure that taxes are paid and so forth. But any nation must be concerned and take interest in the happiness of their people.

We would want business to create wealth for the nation so that when we create wealth, we create business; we create jobs, which mean that people will then go to school and are able to buy their own food.

As a minister of Industry and Commerce, I would like to have a close relationship with the industry and the commercial side so that whenever there are challenges we try and solve them together.

FM: What have you done so far?

SN: I had a meeting in Harare and Bulawayo and I came out feeling that we have to get rid of the silo mentality so that we work as a team. A lot of people think that if you develop openly, participate and love your country, they think you are doing it for the government. No, you are doing it for yourself.

No government grows the economy; the economy is grown by industrialists and those that are in commerce and business.

We need to make sure that they do just that and we can’t all be in business and we can’t all be in government but this division of labour is to work together so that we create wealth that reaches even the poorest of our people.

FM: According to a report released by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR), small businesses are evading tax. As such, CZR is calling for the government to introduce an annualised presumptive tax. What is your view on that?

SN: One of my dreams is that we really don’t want a dual economy. We want an economy that is a Zimbabwean economy, not an economy for the informal sector or formal sector.

Let’s have an economy that flows from the top to the bottom, from the bottom to the top and very soon I think there will be a move of engaging those stakeholders so that we speak the same language and we move together.

The interest of business is my interest and I hope that my interests are also the interests of business and we are really tired of these negative energies among ourselves. They are not necessary and not important. What is important is that we need to work together happily.

On the tax issue, I was the minister of SMEs for many years. SMEs are not refusing to pay tax, they would like to pay tax but we need an approach that makes them understand why.

We need to include them in whatever we do. We want to make them a part of the national economy because before they were made to feel they were a subsector.

SMEs are not a sub-sector. In fact, they are the economy because according to statistics they produce a big chunk of about 60% of gross domestic product.

So, that is not small and you can’t write those people off. For them not to pay tax it is not because they don’t want to but it is because we have not found ways of including them in our tax regime. But I think we need to have that dialogue with the Ministry of Finance and just have a whole government approach.

We are going to include them and this country has a lot to offer.

FM: Over the years, we have seen an influx of cheap imported products occupying our shelves, superseding local products. Any strategies to promote local products?

SN: We have a Buy Zimbabwe campaign but apart from that, if you go to our supermarkets, 85% of the shelves are Zimbabwean products and most of the imported products are found maybe in the streets.

I want to really applaud our commerce and retailers for their consistent support in purchasing and selling within Zimbabwe  and we want to go that way and as a Ministry, we want to encourage that. We are going to support the industry to produce quality goods.

Like His Excellency (President Emmerson Mnangagwa) said that we must not produce sub-standard goods.

We must always produce top quality goods so that our people can be comfortable buying them and can be happy buying our goods.

When you produce sub-standard goods, you are lowering the value of those that consume your product, so we must raise the bar.

FM: You have been in government for a long time and have been appointed to different portfolios. What is your secret?

SN: All I know is that when I am given a task, I do it with all my heart and I put my all to it and I do it as unto the Lord. So, I think that it is my secret that I don’t double dip.

I do my work as is expected and where I don’t know what to do, I ask. When I am directed and advised appropriately by my principles, I commit myself to the task and I think that has really paid dividends.

I am result-oriented like I have given you the figures. One of the things that I want to work on at this position is, where I came from, only 15% of women own their corporates.

I would like to promote businesswomen to move from small-to-medium to corporates and I want to receive them here and to make sure that they are part of the corporate world.

So, I am very committed to that and I don’t believe that if men can be corporates, women cannot. In fact, some women can be better corporates than men.

FM: Part of your mandate is to resuscitate closed or ailing companies. How do you intend to achieve that?

SN: I think the first thing that we want to do is to find out why they closed and try to correct that. I believe that the key to anything is relationship.

We must create relationships with industry that makes industry want to be part of us not as a government but as a nation. I have visited some industries and there is growth in our industries.

Our industrialists are doing a good job but very quietly.

They feel there is a future, they feel confident and that confidence is what we need and we need to deal with obstacles that create doubt and any obstacles that frustrates business and we need to deal with that together so that businesses feel comfortable to work for their country, to make money and to also grow their businesses.

FM: In the wake of the power crisis, there have been fears that raw materials may be a problem. Are you looking forward to pushing industrialists to go green and put up solar plants? What is your strategy?

SN: What I have discovered is that businesses do not need to be pushed or persuaded but they do what makes business sense and some have already seen that.

That what makes business sense is that they go green but I have had conversations with some of the business people who have done a cost build-up or study to say ‘if I buy solar panels for so much and I buy a diesel for so much and how much do I spend per month on diesel to do my operations and compared to how much I have invested on solar.’

So, every businessperson will do what makes business sense for them. As a ministry, we cannot say go green or go this way. They always do what makes business sense because their objective in business is to make profit.

So as a ministry, we do not know which sector would make more money through solar and which one would make more money through diesel engines. But I know that the Ministry of Energy is doing their best to correct the current situation.

FM: Are there plans to capacitate Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe Limited?

SN: I am still new but very soon I will go there and find out how they are doing. I will be able to see how we will help each other and that is a very good vehicle for growing the industry and I am very interested in it.

Related Topics