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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Made in Zimbabwe with Mediocrity?

Interesting blog contribution by a Zimbabwean living in Zimbabwe who is disappointed by the quality of the workmanship at a low income furniture complex in one of Harare's high density suburbs. It gives a glimpse of one aspect of Zimbabwean life. This blog story is taken from Kubatana (note that spellings are UK English).  The book The End of Poverty (on the left) is a fantastic read in our opinon, and our motivation for adding this blog article today:

When a friend suggested that I should go and check out the home furniture industry located in the teeming high density suburb of Glen View 3, approximately eight kilometers out of the city centre, little did I know I was in for a quick lesson on Zimbabwean mediocrity at its most basic level. First things first: I firmly support local entrepreneurship but only if it adheres to high levels of excellence at every step of execution. Suffice to state that my story began after I complained that the prices of furniture in the city centre were simply too exorbitant for the quality of the items on offer.

My friend told me that many of the furniture items being showcased in the city shops were actually originating from Glen View 3. I immediately became curious to check out this goldmine of furniture. So, I jumped on a Kombi (public transport) at Market Square and headed out to Glen View 3 keen to strike a furniture deal that would not damage my pocket yet beautify my apartment.

Because I wasn’t sure about the location of the place, I constantly reminded the Kombi’s conductor that I wanted to drop off at the furniture joint. The complex, he retorted, to my amazement. Complex is actually what the furniture joint is called by the locals, I discovered later. In recent years, the place where the furniture is being made has grown so much to deserve being referred to as a complex.

Granted, it is a home industry which is providing employment for hundreds of people that may otherwise be out of jobs in today’s precarious economic environment. I could only premise that many of the people that are working at the complex could otherwise be criminals or beer drinking and dagga smoking ghetto thugs. So it is great that such an alternative exists.

The first thing that greeted me when I arrived at the so-called complex was dust. There were dirty plastics strewn all over, and particles of dust swirled in the air. Blades of grass and plants were covered in dust. My concern with the dust was quickly swept away when I looked around and saw magnificent furniture items on display on dusty ground.

There were quite a number of stands, each guarded by salespeople who as was to be expected hassled and harassed me to buy some of their wares. The furniture items looked exactly as what I had seen in the furniture shops in the city. In spite of the bits of dust that constantly wafted into my nostrils, I decided to purchase a bed and a set of sofas.

After the transaction, the salesman commandeered me to a workshop area as he ran around to make transport arrangements at my request. And then there it hit me. In front of me, I saw one young man working on the framework of a sofa. He punched nails mercilessly into the wood. I saw him picking rusty nails and just punching them into the wood as if he was demon-possessed or as if the wood had cursed his mother. After a while, he turned to me sweating profusely and requested my opinion on whether the frame of the sofa was proportional. Not quite sure how to respond, I made no comment, and the next thing, I saw him pick up a piece of wood from the ground and attach it to the frame with a bent nail.

After witnessing this ordeal, I left the complex quite disappointed at the level of workmanship. I wasn’t surprised when the bed I bought broke three weeks later. The stuffing in the sofa was so hard and crooked that my wife and me had to furiously apologize to our visitors to take care when sitting on them. Because I had settled for mediocrity I was going to pay for it. And as the saying goes, cheap is indeed expensive. I felt cheated by my support to my own countrymen’s entrepreneurial capabilities that I regretted having gone to the complex in the first place. After much reflection, I realized that while the spirit of Glen View furniture complex is quite entrepreneurial, the problem is that it is tainted with mediocrity.

As I see it, mediocrity is indeed the bane of Zimbabwe’s progress and development. It’s so apparent in everything we do, the idea of cutting corners, so to speak. The end result is always shoddy, not up to standard products. From our music to our politics, mediocrity always rears its ugly head. Unless we shake off this deep seated mediocrity, we will continue to speak big of ourselves and have little to show for it, at least at a global level. Zimbabweans need to commit to high levels of excellence in all spheres of their lives as part of the rebranding process.

Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

July 22, 2010

Mediocrity is definitely an issue when it comes to certain Zimbabwean products, especially those made by the informal sector.  Not sure why this is the case although potentially it could be due to the need to make money as quickly as possible and the failure to look to the future.  The man who purchased the broken bed is hardly going to return to buy another one.  I wonder what it takes to instill excellence as a way of life in a people?