THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

"We don't assert our rights enough" - Interview with Rosemary Siyachitema
Upenyu Makoni Muchemwa,
January 12, 2012

Read Inside/Out with Rosemary Siyahitema

View audio file details

Rosemary SiyachitemaExecutive Director of the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, Rosemary Siyachitema, has served in administrative functions with such organisations as the YMCA and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. She is an exuberant and vocal advocate for the right of all people to live in dignity. Ms Siyachitema also serves as the Board Chairperson for the Non-State Actors Forum.

What do you think informs the decision by retailers and service providers to increase their prices?
I think there are various things. The first is that we are still in the inflationary mode. I don't think many people have shifted from that. During that time there are a number of people who benefited, and enjoyed that time. They never changed much going into the US dollar era, and some of them are retailers and have known the benefits of getting these super profits. There is nowhere else in the world where a dollar is as cheaply regarded as in Zimbabwe. Where else do you buy bread for a dollar? There are also a lot of excuses such as the return of duty or high overheads. To some extent these things are true, but this is not accurately reflected in the price increases. Listen

The other issue is one of business ethics. We cut corners. We give people the wrong product. One thing we see is that there are specials. I've had to take some people to task when you find meat or milk products; you know those things that would have a negative impact on the consumer being put on special. What do we call that? That's morally wrong. I also think that we people who receive goods and services are not loud enough in complaining about these things. Look at how we've had to deal with the issue of change. They say the money is there but they are quibbling over the exchange rate. Yet there are exchange rates already in place, and then you get little tokens, people getting sweets. I think the problem is them and also us, we don't assert our rights enough.

I read on your site that you are involved in drafting a consumer protection act. What exactly will it do?
It will lay down the law. The act will look at things like advertising, how we determine quality, the small print and that kind of thing. We have put in our two cents worth as regards what we think should be in it, but we are yet to see the final product. The law will then allow the commission to take people to court and effect class action suites. They will also go into the medical field, I don't know if you know how people are being treated ... or not treated in hospitals. It will look at unethical business practices. Now all things can be scrutinised under law, which we could not do before. In the past we have been using persuasion and sometimes threatening with exposure.

Is the lack of legislation that regulates or protects the consumer the reason why the Consumer Council appears to have its hands tied when disagreements arise?
Yes certainly. That is our biggest challenge. There is no legal instrument that compels someone to follow the judgement of our arbitration. A law will be able to do that. At the end of the day even with a law, what also needs to be done is to change people's thinking. So that we are always considering the well- being of the consumer. The law should be the last resort. We want to make people considerate about the way they practise on the market. Then it becomes a way of life rather than a stick to hit people on the head. Listen

What do you think about the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign?
I think it's a very noble thing. It can only work if other fundamentals [are in place]. You can't talk about buy Zimbabwe without addressing the issue of capacity utilisation. It won't work if our capacity utilisation can't hit 80. I say it is good, it can work but there are a lot of things that have to be sorted out. What I despair most is when I hear about funding going towards the economy, but capacity utilisation creeps! Listen

How can the consumer meet you halfway?
I think before consumers can meet halfway we at the CCZ have a big job that we need to do and that is consumer education. We just don't have the capacity, especially when talking about the financial ability to be able to reach as many people as we can. Currently we work with urban and maybe peri-urban people. Yet we have a big rural consumer base out there who is meeting even more problems. Countrywide we've got 19 staff and some of them are service staff like secretaries. There is a bigger job to be done in addition to what we are doing. Listen

Visit the fact sheet

Audio File

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.