Zimbabwe's atrocious consumer rights

Zimbabwe's atrocious consumer rights
Published: 04 July 2013
Queuing seems to be a national pass time, while getting anything done on time and right the first time is inconcievable.

From studying the MDC's Agenda for Real Transformation (ART), I was quite surprised that the subject matter of consumer rights was not given the attention that it deserves.

Because we are all coming from an abusive and dictatorial political culture, Zimbabweans in general, no longer respect each other. We treat each other as we have been treated by our politicians in the last 33 years. This applies to both individuals and companies, including of course, the notorious state enterprises and the city councils.

It is astounding to experience the attitude of those that are selling or providing services or products in Zimbabwe, whether they are in the public or private sector.

The recent voter registration exercise has proved to me that we have a long way to go with regard to a culture of service. ZEC employees actually think that they are doing us a huge favor and yet, firstly they are getting paid for their work (I hope) and secondly, a successful free and fair election is in their personal interest and yet, they behave as if they are visitors to Zimbabwe.

At CJ in Highfield, for example, a friend of mine was asked to produce a birth certificate after giving them a valid genuine Zimbabwean ID that states that he is a citizen. Because his surname in English, they could not accept his ID and wanted further proof. Duhh....in order to get an ID it means that you have a birth certificate doesn't it?

I also heard that some old ladies saying that, the police at the venue would not allow them to sit down and rest, after waiting in the queue for a couple of hours! Can you believe such stupidity? Add on top of that, was the inability of ZEC to service everyone who queued, especially the born frees who were frustrated left, right and centre. People were told to go to Glen Norah to register after five days at CJ. Can the opposition parties address this issue please?

There seems to be this collusive agenda by government departments and state enterprises where they just have to make life difficult for us. Try getting any government document; it is like their core business is to piss every customer off. Our city councils and police are also guilty. For example, why is it okay for them to smash windscreens of taxi and kombi drivers?

Queuing seems a national pass time, while getting anything done on time and right the first time is fiction.

The private sector is not innocent?

The cell phone companies are guilty of serious customer abuse. A colleague of mine sent money via a leading money transfer service. Unfortunately, the recipient had deregistered, meaning that the funds were never cashed; they were sitting with the company.

He then tried to get that transaction reversed to get his money back, something that should be done immediately. But no, he had to call a number that was never answered and only got his money back two weeks later. Now this is a company with a large market share and of course that's how they behave, they have a monopoly.

I will not even talk about the promotional sms's that are pushed to us by these cell phone companies. I got one at 3.00 in the morning!

We can talk about the banks, our retail companies, the transport industry, health companies, insurance; basically every sector where customers are treated as if the company is doing them a big favor.

For example, my mother is now 84, and she has been paying her funeral policy for close to20 years. She was recently informed she must top it up or lose the benefit. That is daylight robbery and its common practice in Zimbabwe.

All these issues affect the competitive pricing of our goods, locally and internationally. It will have a direct impact on our ability to trade as a country. Shoddy service creates inefficiencies, increases the cost of sales, and has a direct impact on the quality and pricing of products and services this country produces.

We must address the monopolies that we have and create a competitive environment in all sectors. Customers that have rights are your best mechanism to ensure that public and private products and services are up to standard.

Our consumer council seems very weak while our competition board is sleeping, as monopolies gain market share through bullying customers.

I also learnt that Zimbabwe has industry cartels especially in agriculture and that, some directors of super markets, are the sole suppliers of fresh produce to those companies which they are directors. That's totally unacceptable.

The saddest stories I have heard, is the tomfoolery at Chitungwiza town council where, a politically connected individual is “buying” land all over and on selling it to unsuspecting customers. Apparently some of the land is unsuitable for building houses.

I agree that that our politicians must be blamed for promoting corruption, greed conflict of interest and shoddy government service. However, let us remember that, even our private sector is complicit by offering customers sub standard over priced products and services.

Zimbabweans must now wake up and realize that they have every right to demand world class service when they spend their hard earned dollars. It's a matter of access to new information and education I guess. That is critical if we are to create a participative democracy.

If we do not address these issues, the cancer of bullying, greed, corruption will remain with us, regardless of political changes in the country.

Vince Musewe is an economist based in Harare; you may contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com

- Vince Musewe
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