In 1968, exactly four years after independence and at a time Copper was enjoying good prices, a thought dropped in the minds of some government officials that there was need to add value to the red metal and manufacture from it products for local consumption.
Endless meetings followed at the ministry of finance between government and representatives from key mine owners then, Anglo American Corporation (AAC) and the Roan Selection Trust (RST).
According to John Mwanakatwe, Minister of Finance at the time, it emerged during the meetings that it was an oversight that at independence there was no metal fabricating industry in Zambia.
“No serious thought was given before independence to the use of copper as an input for domestic industries. In subsequent meetings it was agreed that the formulation of a metal fabricating company to produce electrical wire in Zambia was desirable,” notes the former minister in his autobiography, John Mwanakatwe, Teacher, Politician, Lawyer.
That is how in later years Metal Fabricators of Zambia (ZAMEFA) of Luanshya was established and still stands today, though wading through muddy waters discharged by unfair competition brought about by the country’s liberalized economy.
Alongside ZAMEFA, the country especially the Copperbelt saw the emergence of factories manufacturing goods from nontraditional products and earned foreign exchange as well.
For example Luanshya was host to perhaps one of the most successful clothing factories in Africa specialised in men’s suits, Serioes International. The firm enjoyed exports throughout Africa, Europe particulary Germany and the United Kingdom.
The Company became a major supplier of army and police uniforms at home and outside in retrospect supporting Zambia’s copper-dependent economy to bring in the much needed foreign exchange.
Whatever happened to Serioes, only policy makers can answer? But the above illustration supports recent remarks by President Edgar Lungu on the need to revitalize the manufacturing industry in Ndola that once enjoyed the tag of Zambia commercial capital.
“Manufacturing is a lifelong activity for job and wealth creation and this is why our target is to ensure that the industry is running and promoting value addition,|” he said during of his visits to Ndola on the Copperbelt.
He agreed ZAMEFA and Luena farm bloc in Luapula province were playing a critical role in the transformation of raw mineral and agricultural produce respectively, into finished products.
He assured residents, “we are working to revive the manufacturing sector in Ndola to enhance value addition to products such as maize and minerals.”
Though Ndola was privy to the copper refinery, the Bwana mkubwa mine, Chilanga cement and other related mining activities, the city was well famed for a thriving manufacturing sector.
Many can remember, Swarp spinning mills, Colwyn Low and Bonar, Menco, Concrete pipes, Vitretex, Colgate Palmolive, Rop Zambia limited, Furniture Corporation of Zambia (furncoz) Norgroup Plastics, the list is endless.
Some companies may have withered by loss of business from the mines others simply went down as the country pursued blind liberal policies which saw a flood of imports, some of them completely useless. The upsurge of secondhand clothes in Zambia completely wiped the city’s and even the country’s manufacturing sector.
As industries wound down hundreds lost jobs reducing the buying power and people could not afford getting new clothes and thus became adherents of second hand clothes popularly known as salaula.
Outside the Copperbelt, the country still commanded a good following of manufacturing industries too numerous to list. But among them were Kafue textiles, Mulungushi textiles and Livingstone textiles.
Chitenge material from Mulungushi was very popular among women in South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia. That it became a norm for those travelling to the above countries to smuggle a number of them as a way to go make up for the shortage of foreign currency at home.
Though the Democratic Republic of the Congo is source of some of the favoured chitenge materials in the continent and beyond, women from the DRC were overly in love with chitenge pieces from Zambia’s own Kafue textiles.
Other than a litany of clothing factories, there was the Mwinilunga canneries in the North western province, the mango canning plant in Mongu western province or Zamhort in other parts of the country which did not only create good jobs for lo cals but supported farmers and at their own level earned foreign exchange.
Today some of Africa’s good mangoes and pine apples rot and go to waste and yet here is a country crying for jobs and foreign exchange earnings. One can imagine the amount of business Mwinilunga canneries would have marshalled with the end of the war in Angola.
The resurgence therefore of the manufacturing sector will be a good approach and the right route to supplement foreign earnings from copper. But those measures will require policies to support the industry.
For example, Zambia used to have a fiat assembly plant in Livingstone another for land rovers in Ndola the third for Toyota trucks in Kasama.
If the country intends to revive assembly motor plants again there would be need to regulate the importation of Japanese second hand motor vehicles to promote the local industries. While South Africa does not allow the motor imports, Kenya only allows importation of vehicles of a much later period.
Similarly if we are to revive the clothe manufacturing industry, surely we have to do something about salaula whose exports here only strengthens economies of India, China, Europe and other countries sending sub standard clothes here.
With Zambia’s construction upsurge by now the country should have been talking of a third or fourth ZAMEFA plant or a related one, but that is not possible because of cheap imports that have posed unfair competition.
Other than that, the country will have to realign policies and ensure that it encourages partnerships in investment. That means if someone intends to open up a manufacturing outlet here, it should be mandatory to co-run the company with local investors.
It will also be critical to scruitnise some investments, for example some so called investors came in the country to import and trade in secondhand clothes? Really what value is being added to the economy other than killing the local manufacturing industry?
Zambia should learn from mistakes made on the sale of mining companies, some of them are completely owned by outsiders without a single government share in the firms. That is why today they can afford to toss the country like a yoyo even threaten to leave over tax which Zambia badly needs and has the right to.
After 52 years of political independence, Zambians should seriously be thinking that one day the country will have to do without copper thus other activities such as manufacturing, and agriculture will have to be promoted to take over. And the time to move is now not tomorrow.