Zimbabwe minister gets his knickers in a twist over undergarment imports

  • @AlexDuvalsmith

Zimbabwe has banned the import and sale of second-hand underwear after the Finance Minister said women should not suffer the indignity of wearing hand-me-down lingerie.

But the minister, Tendai Biti, has been accused of getting his knickers in a twist, with critics saying the ban will cause job losses among market traders and boost sales of new clothes from China rather than helping the once-vibrant Zimbabwean textile industry, as he intended.

In an outburst last month, Mr Biti said husbands who bought their wives undergarments at flea markets were failures. "I am told we are now even importing women's underwear in this country. How does that happen? If you are a husband and you see your wife buying underwear from the flea market, you would have failed," he said. "If I was your in-law I would take my daughter and urge you to first put your house in order if you still want her back."

Donated clothes from Europe and the US are sold by Western charities across Africa to traders who are the lifeblood of markets on the continent. But new clothes and shoes from China are increasingly within the reach of ordinary people.

Zimbabwe's legal amendment came into force on 30 December and was published last week. Ghana banned the sale of second-hand underwear in 2010.

The Daily News reports that most of the second-hand clothes sold at Mupedzanhamo Market in the capital, Harare, are smuggled from Mozambique. One trader told the newspaper: "Second-hand underwear and other clothes we sell here are of better quality than new items in the stores. Zimbabweans are very selective and they choose the best in the bales. We wash the stained ones."