You just need to look at the ease of doing business rankings to understand the huge gap that exists between Zimbabwe and South Africa when it comes to doing business. In 2017, the World Bank Doing Business Report ranked Zimbabwe 159 while South Africa was ranked 82. South Africa has maintained the same ranking in 2018 and Zimbabwe has moved to 155. This is out of 190 countries. This reports uses pointers such as getting electricity, getting credit, registering property, and trading across borders (among others) to come up with overall rankings across the 190 economies. While Zimbabwe’s ranking has improved in 2018, the point is clear. We still have a lot to learn from our South African counterparts.
A lot of Zimbabwean businesses are let down by poor marketing. There are very few businesses which have websites as compared to those in South Africa. In addition, social media in Zimbabwe is underutilised as a marketing tool. Many companies do not have Facebook or Twitter pages and those that have them do not bother to update them regularly. It is a fact that social media is a cheap marketing tool which businesses should exploit. It can reach millions of customers in a small time. No wonder even South African television advertisements are more appealing than our local ones. In the real estate industry, property buyers and sellers in South Africa meet online whilst in Zimbabwe there is not enough happening on the internet. It is not a surprise that in the tourism sector, many locals do not know half our tourist attractions. This is because not much is being done to market these areas.
It looks like the business environment is not conducive for innovation in Zimbabwe. It is a fact that a lot of old and new businesses are continuously innovating and recreating themselves in order to stay relevant and profitable across our borders. A number of new applications are being developed in South Africa but Zimbabwe is slow in this regard. Take for example Uber in South Africa. It is disheartening to note that we are only having the equivalent of Uber now in Zimbabwe, perhaps more than five years after such an innovation hit the streets of South Africa.
The customer experience is a very important facet of South African businesses. The saying that “the customer is king” aptly describes the scenario in South Africa. Unfortunately for the Zimbabwean customer, once you have made a payment, you are immediately confronted with delay after delay, excuse after excuse. If the delay is not attributed to the foreign currency shortages, it must be due to the fuel shortages or something else. Emails are rarely responded to. Promises are not kept. Our businesses need to repent from this. Customer retention strategies need to be ramped up.
Zimbabwe has the second largest Platinum Group Metals deposits in the world. For years now, platinum from Zimbabwe’s three mines has had to be transported to South Africa for processing. The value addition for Platinum Group Metals includes mining, concentration, smelting, converting and the converter matte which is exported to South Africa. Of the three firms which process Platinum Group Metals in Zimbabwe, two process up to froth floatation concentrate and that concentrate is exported to South Africa for smelting and refining. The third firm processes up to converter matte after the froth floatation concentrate and exports to South Africa. It is clear that all three companies do not cover all functions of the value chain. Imagine if Zimbabwean businesses could process the Platinum Group Metals and only export the finished product. This is the same for other minerals like gold and diamonds.
In terms of an enabling business environment, our infrastructure in Zimbabwe is still lagging behind. Mobile phone connectivity is erratic in rural areas. Buildings are dilapidated and uninspiring in cities and towns. Transport is unreliable with the national carrier Air Zimbabwe being the chief culprit when it comes to cancellations and delays. For a country on a drive to attract foreign direct investment, this is worrisome. In South Africa, one flight cancellation makes news headlines and may result in an expensive lawsuit. It is easy to blame the government for poor roads but one needs to note that even roads leading to major mining companies and private farms in the country are inaccessible. Those companies are responsible for developing such infrastructure.
The comparisons with South Africa can go on and on. Healthy businesses are ones that solve the needs of their customers sustainably, effectively and efficiently while making a profit for themselves and their shareholders. As it stands, South African businesses are miles ahead.