Second-hand trade

Reselling imported used couches and sofas in Zimbabwe

Sofas and couches unwanted in the UK are creating small fortunes in Zimbabwe, 5,500 miles away. However, local traders worry that uncontrolled dumping of UK used furniture will hurt the local furniture industry in the country.

In the past, the Zimbabwe diaspora in the UK used to send back cash remittances. As the UK economy wobbles under record inflation, and disposable incomes are under strain, some Zimbabweans living in the UK are changing tactics – collecting and shipping to Zimbabwe old sofas which are held in high esteem in Zimbabwe, restored and sold for a small fortune. 

Danmore Sinyama, 39, a carpenter in Mbare, the largest township of Harare has recently changed his trade. “I stopped carpentry and now sell used sofas and couches shipped from the UK. They are a hit here. An eight-year-old set of sofas from London can fetch $ 700, and the most expensive ones can be sold for $ 1400 here in Zimbabwe,” he says.

Sinyama’s fortune has all to do with emigres like Reward Chinoza, a Zimbabwean who has been living in London for 20 years now. “I used to ship cars from London to Zimbabwe for resale. The process is complex – I have switched to collecting old, unwanted and discounted couches and sofas in London, shipping them to Zimbabwe to sell for a hefty markup,” he says.

Paidamoyo Bengu, a sociologist who grew up in Zimbabwe but now lives in Kent, believes there is a reason why UK products have appeal and prestige in Zimbabwe whatever the condition of the merchandise. “It’s cultural. Any product marked UK, however old and tattered, is seen as prestigious and superior here in Zimbabwe – hence, the infatuation with unwanted sofas from London. Somehow that’s a commercial legacy of British colonialism,” he says.

This new trend is good for a sustainable use of resources, but bad news for local entrepreneurs. Carpenters like Fineas Moyo, who makes beds, couches, cabinets and wardrobes in Gazaland, the largest informal workers market in Harare, are worried that their trade will be rendered unprofitable. 

“This is not good. Old couches and sofas from the UK will finish what’s left of the domestic furniture industry here in Zimbabwe. First, it was cheap-material sofas from China – now the UK is flooding our domestic market,” Moyo says. He implores Zimbabwe’s finance minister to impose punitive taxes on used merchandise from Europe. 

Audrey Simango is a freelancer working in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

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