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Chinese shops a relief, but they must behave

Government's decision to close foreign owned clothing shops looks set to negatively affect the ordinary Motswana, especially those grappling with the cruel hand of poverty.

They used to struggle trying to make ends meet, especially when it came to buying household goods and clothes. However, when the Chinese and other foreign nationals opened clothing shops they were happy that finally they too, would be in a position to afford clothes at a reasonable price.

One can by a pair of slippers for as little as P10, a large travelling bag for P100 and a puffed up jacket for P90.

At the cattle posts, farmers buy herdsmen clothes - trousers, shoes and jackets - at affordable prices.

In the Western Sadndveldt, Bathusi Letlhare, who owns Xaro Jenaa Farm says that he sometimes buys clothes for his farmhands. They used to spend most of their pay drinking alcohol, but "nowadays they even ask me to take them to Letlhakane to buy clothes and shoes for themselves and their kids," he says.In Jamataka, a livestock owner in his mid-fifties says he has been able to increase the number of his livestock.

He bartered clothes for goats with Basarwa farmers. He buys a lot of clothes and goes around the cattle posts exchanging them for goats and sheep.

He says that he is shocked that government intends to close down Chinese owned shops. He says he wonders what will become of poor people who depend on these cheap clothes.

"Before the advent of Chinese shops in Botswana, life was quite a challenge. As a parent, I had a tough time especially during the festive season, where I had to buy clothes for my five children.

I would spend up to P2,000 and eat into my husband's salary in a big way. So when they came with their low prices, I was happy that we would save our money, buying cheaper clothes. It has been good buying their clothes, as some of them are of high quality.

But now I hear through the media that government is closing them. It would hit us hard," says Magaret Keromilwe in Francistown.

Most workers in Botswana are low-income earners who bring home barely enough cash to buy bread and pay rent.

They are not in a position to afford clothes, as their meagre pay dries out quickly after paying the rent and grocery bills.

To buy clothes, Richard Mogomotsi says, "I have to save for two months or three. I really have to plan before buying. I earn P600 and the rent is P350, whilst I have to buy food with P200.

This means I don't even have money for transport. I have to walk to work. But because the clothes from Chinese shops are not that expensive I am able to either save or just lay-by something which costs say P100 and pay it in three months.

I think government should think about us before closing these shops because they are really helping us," he said.

Letlhare, who says though he is impressed by the effect that the cheap clothes has had on his farmhands who now spend the better part of their wages buying clothes instead of alcohol, he is supportive of government's move to close these shops to create space for Batswana clothing shop owners.

"I appreciate these people are selling at affordable prices, but they have the advantage of the fact that their merchandise is made in China where the textile is also produced at cheaper prices.Even the labour there is cheaper. "Unfortunately for Batswana traders, they buy the material from China and transport them here at a huge cost.

The other thing is that the labour used for manufacturing the clothes is expensive here, hence Batswana clothes shops are expensive.

But if government were to ensure only Batswana trade in clothing, we would see a surge in Batswana owned shops and consequently competition which would see their prices also going down and everyone would be able to afford them," he observed.

Kgalalelo Mosimanegape, who works in a Gaborone clothing shop owned by a Chinese businessman says there is total disregard for labour laws by some foreign business owners.

She says that at the workplace they are not allowed to go on leave or off.

They are expected to work from eight o'clock to half past seven at night, from Sunday to Sunday."When you complain or go on and take leave, even for a day, the next day you come you might find someone new hired in your position," she said.

Molebi Keaketswe, who has been working in a Chinese clothing shop for a year, is concerned that though they are sometimes ill treated by their employers, the possibility of being jobless is scary.

The fact that people are Batswana, she argues, does not mean that they do not subject workers to "unfair labour treatment. For people like me who are uneducated, it can be terrible working for a Motswana.

Stories are often told by Zimbabweans of how their Batswana employers treat them like filth. I don't see any need to close Chinese shops," she said.

(Mmegi, 30 Jan 2009)

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