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Zimbabwe's Manufacturing Sector Continues to Produce at Fraction of Former Capacity

Zimbabwe's once-empty shop shelves are now packed with goods. But, unlike the days when the country's economy was doing well and Zimbabwe was almost self-sufficient, most of the goods in the shops are now imported.

This time last year, Zimbabwean shops were literally empty. Manufacturing had all but ground to a halt and enterprising Zimbabweans crossed the country's borders and brought back basics that they sold on the black market at exorbitant prices.

Towards the end of last year, the government authorized some shops to trade in American dollars. Suddenly, those shops' shelves started filling up. In January, the government decided to abandon the Zimbabwe dollar and authorized the use of foreign currencies as the mediums of exchange.

Shops are now brimming with South African soaps, detergents, breakfast cereals, candy, toothpaste and a host of other goods which used to be produced here.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries President Kumbirai Katsande told VOA the coming into power of the unity government and the change to hard currencies has helped. But he cautions that it is going to take some time to get Zimbabwe's once-robust manufacturing sector producing as it did before.

"The recovery unfortunately has not been as fast as we had anticipated," said Katsande. "I think there was an expectation that we'd get out of the blocks faster. As it is, there are still some instability factors or blockages such that manufacturing is not able to move as fast as it should."

Katsande explained that, although Zimbabwe has the infrastructure, it is hardly operational because of the country's long-running economic woes. He says roads are badly in need of repair, adding that the erratic power and water supplies do not help. Katsande says, above all, the country needs a huge injection of money to fix its broken infrastructure and to boost the spending power of consumers. Because most of the goods in the shops are imported, Zimbabweans are paying more for them.

CZI's Katsande says, for Zimbabwean industry to produce at the pre-crisis levels, political stability is essential.

"As long as we do not have some movement, more healing, more common language and more actions and less hysteria on the political front; as long as we don't have stability there, I think the economy and all other aspects of our lives will continue to be hostage to the politics," he said.

Zimbabwe formerly had the second-strongest economy in the region, after South Africa. Critics of President Robert Mugabe blame the country's economic crisis on mismanagement and the land-reform program which saw mostly white commercial farmers losing their land for the resettlement of landless blacks.

Production on those farms has also plummeted and Zimbabwe now imports products such as milk, butter and some fruit, which it used to produce and export. Mr. Mugabe blames sanctions imposed by the West for Zimbabwe's problems, which he says are punishment for the land reform program.

But the sanctions only target Mr Mugabe, senior officials of his party and close associates by freezing their assets held in western countries and restricting their travel to those countries.