What man would buy his wife secondhand underwear? The question, attributed to a government minister, has reportedly led to a ban on the import or sale of used knickers in Zimbabwe, a country that has suffered indignities enough.
The importation of “articles of second-hand undergarments of any type, form or description, whether purchased, donated or procured in any other manner”, is now forbidden, according to statutory instrument 150 of 2011.
This is one lost freedom not being blamed on President Robert Mugabe. Instead, the measure is apparently the brainchild of finance minister Tendai Biti of the rival Movement for Democratic Change.
Biti was shocked to discover many Zimbabweans bought used underwear from flea markets or stalls.
“I am told we are now even importing women’s underwear in this country,” he was quoted saying recently. “How does that happen? If you are a husband and you see your wife buying underwear from the flea market, you would have failed.”
The minister added: “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.”
Zimbabwe has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, estimated at more than 90%. Poverty has driven many to buy secondhand underwear from markets which are supplied with used stock or donations from the west.
The ban was introduced in a government shakeup which became effective on 30 December, NewsDay said. It has reportedly triggered protests from traders who say it will push them out of business.
But there are hopes the change will help protect Zimbabwe’s struggling domestic textiles industry.
Local media also suggested that it would improve public hygiene and self-esteem.