THE Southern African region has abundant mineral resources, making mining activities some of the largest economic drivers across the countries.
Zambia, one of Zimbabwe’s key trading partners is big on copper and is the second largest copper producer in Africa after another SADC country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The mining industry in Zambia is an important pillar to its economy, also supported by cobalt and emerald mining activities.
Botswana is the largest producer of diamonds in Africa and the second in the world after Russia.
Gold, diamonds, platinum, and coal are the most well-known among the minerals and metals mined in South Africa, which is Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner.
Mozambique holds some of the world’s largest untapped coal deposits and the recent gas discoveries are expected to increase the contribution of mining activities to the nation’s economy.
In Angola, mining activities are concentrated around oil and diamonds.
This small scan of the mining sector in southern Africa demonstrates export potential for Zimbabwean companies to supply a wide range of support products and services to the mining companies.
Evidence shows that local companies are still to unlock opportunities in production and supply of protective clothing to mining companies spread across the Southern African region.
Apart from the mining sector, sectors such as agriculture, health and construction offer untapped opportunities for local companies to supply a wide range of protective clothing.
Protective clothing falls under the broad category of personal protective equipment (PPEs), which now includes overalls, safety boots, gloves, helmets, and eye protection equipment such as safety goggles.
Zimbabwean companies are already producing competitive and quality PPEs in the form of overalls, gloves, masks, aprons, dust coats and reflective clothing.
By comparison to products coming from other countries, the quality of Zimbabwe-produced protective clothing is high and preferred by most companies.
What is important now is getting the price right and to penetrate markets that are located around mining towns in the region.
Factors driving demand for protective clothing
In all countries in the region, it is a requirement for companies in the mining sector to provide their employees in certain sectors with protective clothing for their day-to-day operations.
Employers in sectors such as agriculture, mining, engineering, hospitality industry, health services, building and construction cannot afford to do without protective clothing.
This requirement is seeing the demand for PPEs going up in the region, thus unlocking export opportunities for local producers.
With most countries in the region focusing on increasing production in the mining sector and improved value addition and beneficiation, it is projected that more jobs will be created which in turn will increase demand for PPE.
Since 2014, the entire Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been pushing the idea that value addition and beneficiation of raw materials from the region should form the basis for industrial development, economic diversification and creating stronger linkages in the regional value chains.
This drive is therefore expected to see increased job creation and production along mining value chains, which in turn will increase demand for PPE.
Global prices of copper and cobalt have firmed up and this has bought good tidings to resource-rich countries like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The increase in the mining activities and the downstream effect that the mining sector has in these countries present market opportunities for local companies in the clothing sector.
Given the reputation Zimbabwe holds as the home to quality and reliable PPE products, some countries in the region are already looking at local manufacturers to satisfy anticipated growth and demand.
Currently, ZimTrade — the country’s trade development and promotion organisation — is working with some distributing companies in Zambia, Mozambique and DRC who are looking to import from Zimbabwe to meet demand coming from mining companies.
ZimTrade is planning an Outward Seller Mission to DRC in May this year to improve linkages between Zimbabwean producers of protective clothing and buyers in the market.
Apart from the changing dynamics from the mining sector driving demand of PPEs, the infrastructure development in most countries in the SADC region has seen an increase in demand for protective clothing.
In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the demand for PPE across all sectors of the economies in the region.
People are now required to wear masks when going about their day-to-day activities, hospital staff has been beefed up to cope with the numbers of infected patients, further increasing the demand for medical coats, gloves and aprons, among other apparel.
Further to this, the region received good rainfall and farmers in countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Malawi are forecasting bumper harvests.
The harvest will inject more life into industries down the value chain that is expected to employ more people in areas such as harvesting, milling, packing, sales, and distribution.
All these numbers will need to be provided with work suits, overalls, masks, gloves, and safety shoes.
Growing exports to meet growing demand
Zimbabwe is already exporting clothing products, including protective clothing and there is potential to do more.
According to Trade Map, Zimbabwe’s exports of clothing items increased by 77, 1 percent from US$6, 7 million in 2015 to US$12 million in 2019.
The major market remained South Africa accounting for more than 70 percent of total export throughout the entire period.
Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also importing locally manufactured clothing items.
There is a need to leverage on existing trade agreements to diversify our exports into the region.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to bilateral and multilateral trade agreements which allow local companies to
export clothing articles duty-free and quota-free.
There are bilateral trade agreements with Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique.
The country is also a signatory to the multi-lateral trade protocols of SADC and COMESA, which target to improve access to markets in the region.
To improve access to markets, clothing manufacturers should also invest in understanding their markets and come up with products that meet their requirements.
For example, companies that operate in a hot climate require protective clothing made of cotton, which is cooler, absorbs sweat and is quite comfortable to wear in summer.
Companies in countries with cold winter periods usually require protective clothing that provides warmth in addition to protection for their employees.