As the Christmas shopping season begins in earnest and the public scouts for the best bargains, there is need to be on the lookout for fake products.
Investigations carried out by The Sunday Mail Extra revealed that there is an increase in fake products that are being sold to unsuspecting consumers.
These products range from fake seed maize, medical drugs, among them anti-retroviral drugs, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, sex-enhancing pills and skin-lightening lotions.
But the agro-chemical industry is one of the hardest hit, with fake herbicides being sold to farmers.
Some of the herbicides are diluted with watered, thereby making them ineffective.
Fake seed retailers dye maize seed to imitate genuine seed varieties like Pannar and Seed-co, among others.
Investigations further revealed that most of the fake products are being made in Mbare.
The popular Mbare Musika, the biggest fruit and vegetable market in the country, serves as a major distribution point.
Though the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) has tried to come up with stamps to separate genuine products from the fakes, their efforts are in vain.
Technological advances are making it possible for unscrupulous retailers to imitate certification marks.
A visit to Mbare Musika revealed that the fake products are being sold in tuck shops and on market stalls.
The majority of the people buying the products are those travelling to rural areas and other towns and cities.
In this economic climate, buying cheap products is a trend among most consumers.
This has exposed consumers to the counterfeit products that are often sold cheaply.
Sadly, the counterfeit products compromise consumers’ health.
Some of the vendors professed ignorance on the possible health effects associated with fake products.
In a lame attempt to justify their actions, the vendors have said they are forced by circumstances to fleece consumers.
“I know that the products that I am selling are fake but I don’t have a choice. I am looking at ways of putting bread on the table. As long as the fake products are on the market, I will not stop selling them,” said a vendor who identified himself as Mike.
Mike’s roadside stall was well-stocked with counterfeit alcoholic beverages.
According to the vendors, some Mbare residents are in the business of producing illegal illicit brews. These are then packaged in genuine whisky containers.
But some of the vendors clearly do not care about the consumers’ health.
“My customers are buying and I sell what people like to buy. Whether the products are banned or not, that is not my worry. The Harare City police has never bothered us and as such I will continue selling,” said one of the vendors who requested anonymity.
Although the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) is aware of the presence of fake products on the market, the consumer watchdog’s executive director, Ms Roselyne Siyachitema says her organisation can only assume an advisory role since it not does not have a policing arm.
“We know that there are fake products out there. The CCZ does not, however, have a policing arm. What we simply do is alert the relevant agencies and they are the ones that will take action. As for the consumers, we can only advice them to stop using the fake products,” Ms Siyachitema said.
She, however blamed consumers for buying counterfeit products knowingly.
“Consumers have their rights and responsibilities. If indeed they are consuming fake products, then they are also equally to blame. I advise consumers not to buy such products since they will be exposing their health to great risk,” Ms Siyachitema said.
With the counterfeit product trend growing by the day, the CCZ helped in crafting the proposed Consumer Protection Act.
The Consumer Protection Bill is currently being scrutinised by the Attorney General’s office and is likely to be debated in parliament soon
If passed into law, the Act, which seeks to deal with consumer complaints and cases will go a long way in safeguarding the interests of the consumers.
Consumer watchdogs are confident that the Act will provide a consistent and efficient regulatory framework which will foster consumer confidence.
According to Ms Siyachitema, the Act will enforce mandatory standards for products such that those that are unsafe are banned.
Currently, the SAZ is struggling to monitor goods that get into the country to ensure that they are in line with consumer expectations and set standards.
Some of the challenges that the enforcing agencies are facing are related to a lack of funding.
Just like the CCZ, the Harare City Council also said they do not have policing powers to deal with those selling fake products.
“Once we find out that some fake and banned goods are on the streets, we confiscate them. The police will then deal with the culprits,” said Mr Michael Chideme, the city’s spokesperson.
On the other hand, the Government Analyst Laboratory, which is mandated with ensuring the safety of the public health system through testing of food products, is under-capitalised and lack of modern equipment has seen the laboratory failing to perform to its capacity.
Government Analyst Director, Mr Munyaradzi Musiyambiri, is on record saying that staff is working under difficult circumstances