10 January 2012

The War on Chuddies

Today's Guardian reports reports that the importation of "articles of second-hand undergarments of any type, form or description, whether purchased, donated or procured in any other manner", is now forbidden, according to statutory instrument 150 of 2011.

The measure is apparently the brainchild of finance minister Tendai Biti of the rival Movement for Democratic Change. Biti was shocked to discover many Zimbabweans bought used underwear from flea markets or stalls.

"I am told we are now even importing women's underwear in this country," he was quoted saying recently. "How does that happen? If you are a husband and you see your wife buying underwear from the flea market, you would have failed... If I was your in-law, I would take my daughter and urge you to first put your house in order if you still want her back."

Zimbabwe has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, estimated at more than 90%. Poverty has driven many to buy secondhand underwear from markets which are supplied with used stock or donations from the west.
The ban, which became effective on 30 December, has reportedly triggered protests from traders who say it will push them out of business.

But there are hopes the change will help protect Zimbabwe's struggling domestic textiles industry. Local media also suggested that it would improve public hygiene and self-esteem.

In an editorial, NewsDay argued: "One of the best laws that our country has put in place in recent years is the total ban on the importation of secondhand underwear. "Wearing used underwear is most dehumanising and no government worth its salt should allow its citizens to be abused to this extent. It is a fact that our flea markets receive bales of clothing, some of which is exclusively used underwear, some of which is soiled. What nation have we become that knowingly subjects its people to humiliation and disease? It is inconceivable for a country to open its borders for the importation of used underwear – to allow our women to wear undergarments that other women in other countries have used and discarded."

Under the new legislation the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority will charge 40% duty and 15% VAT on all underwear imports and apply a US$3 levy on every kilogram of underwear entering the country.

What to say? I know I would not be keen on second hand underwear but perhaps there are a few other things for the Zimbabwean government to concentrate on... just a thought...

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