BULAWAYO-based tannery Boustead Leather (formerly Wet Blue Industries) is back on its feet with operations now anchored towards tapping into opportunities in the wider leather value chain.
Since coming out of judicial management sometime in 2019, the business has been focused on a retooling exercise as part of efforts to improve its operational efficiency.
This has resulted in the acquisition of additional equipment and spare parts to upgrade old machinery, which has given the company a new lease of life, Boustead Leather managing director, Mr Sibusiso Sibanda, said in interview at the factory.
"This is our 18th month since we took over operations as Boustead Leather and we are in a progressive position. There is enthusiasm from the team that we have built, which is made up of experienced staff and the youth," said Mr Sibanda.
"When we came here, this place was dead literally and we dedicated ourselves to reviving it. We started by reconnecting power supplies, fixing water and sewer system and sprucing up the premises. Initially we had wanted to take about two to do repairs only but realising the need to retain skilled personnel we had to start producing so that the young staff could be imparted with knowledge faster.
"Our drive is now on building a complete value chain. We are saying instead of relying on contracts for tannery only, we now produce our own leather products. There is a huge capacity here and opportunity abounds."
This news crew was taken through the tannery factory processes where different teams were seen at work including units involved in production of value-added items such as belts as well as leather furniture repairs.
Mr Sibanda said the revival of Boustead Leather was strategic for the economy as the company operations have impact on the entire beef and leather sector in the country. He said the business was already servicing orders for other tanneries in the country and for exports. Out of the 14 tannery drums at the factor, Mr Sibanda said 11 have been repaired and were now operating with the remaining three set to be functional by the end of the year.
"Due to Covid-19 restrictions we had to fix the equipment using local engineers and locally sourced materials. We have hired a few youths that we are training and would further capacitate," said Mr Sibanda.
"Production is shaping up well and the feedback we get from clients is encouraging. We are keen to further build a strong team of artisans and increase our staff numbers from the current 50 as we go."
The anticipated revival of the giant CSC-Boustead Beef Zimbabwe abattoir, which is under corporate rescue scheme, is expected to add impetus to Boustead Leather operations in terms of supply of hides, he said.
In the meantime, Mr Sibanda said the tannery factory has a huge stockpile of hides to work on while also servicing contracts from other local players.
"We are producing both bovine and exotic leather. The market appetite is big, including the rich clients. As we speak, we are already getting orders for next year," said Mr Sibanda.
"In line with Government's vision, as Boustead our target is to ensure every Zimbabwean has a genuine leather belt by 2030 and there is no reason for this product to be expensive when we have abundant livestock.
"We want to help the Government achieve local content policy on leather and create more job opportunities."
Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister, Raj Modi, has also commended the revival of Boustead Leather as a positive story for Bulawayo.
"Yes, the tannery side is now working and there is positive progress there, they are creating employment. I have visited the factory and they are doing some good," he said.
CSC-Boustead Beef Zimbabwe corporate rescue officer, Mr Vonani Majoko, was not reachable on his mobile phone for comment. However, company consultant, Mr Reginald Shoko, said the revival of the leather company was critical as Zimbabwe angles for expanded trade opportunities under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
"Our business model is anchored on producing genuine leather at the right price. We want to achieve price competitiveness just like Zupco is doing in the transport sector," he said.
Once Zimbabwe's largest tannery, Wet Blue Industries, which used to have about 300 plus workers, used to process between 18 and 25 tonnes of leather a month for export on behalf of CSC, which was also the country's biggest abattoir.