Indigenous refrigerator makers strike gold in Zimbabwe

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Indigenous small-scale backyard refrigerator makers are striking gold in the Southern African country of Zimbabwe, giving stiff competition to global brands.

Jacob Saungweme, 30, began making refrigerators when he was in college and claims to have single-handedly made and sold 300 commercial cooling machines to bar owners, butchers, and those in icemaking business.

A graduate of Speciss College, he started his career by fixing refrigerators in 2014.

“I started as a trainee with my uncle Samuel Munanzvu who did metal fabrication and refrigeration. He is the one who inspired me to manufacture something so grand from the scratch,” he told Anadolu Agency.

While the country has been reeling under economic crises even before the COVID-19, Saugweme who has teamed up with his 45-year-old uncle Wadzanai Gowere to set up a company called Jackfreeze Refrigeration, is providing jobs.

“We have too much work. I have made sure to contract part-time workers,” said Saungweme.

His wife Tafadzwa, 28, a degree holder in sociology, is taking care of the administrative needs of the startup.

Last year, President Emerson Mnangagwa in an address to the nation had urged citizens to buy locally manufactured goods. Riding on the sentiments to buy Zimbabwean manufactured products, Saungweme’s refrigerators have replaced brands in the markets.

With the help of his uncle Gowere, and at times his wife, Saungweme said in a good month they manufacture five refrigerators, often deep freezers that cost anything between $800 to $1,100 each.

Experts say backyard refrigerator manufacturing has turned into a major source for employing young people in a country witnessing large-scale unemployment and economic slump.

Chido Machongwe, 31, has also found a way in making refrigerators at his small workshop.

Holding a diploma in refrigeration and air conditioning from Speciss College like Saungweme in the capital Harare, he started his refrigerator manufacturing unit in 2018.

Both the young men started from a humble background, working as technicians in 2013 and gaining the expertise to make commercial refrigerators that can compete with global brands.

“From the start of my career to date, l guess l have made more than 800 refrigerators,” Machongwe said.

Now a proud proprietor of Coolant Refrigeration, the name of his company, Machongwe said he has employed eight people to roll out 10 refrigerators every month from his workshop.

The pandemic, like other sectors, also affected the indigenous refrigeration manufacturers. “Since the start of this year, I have so far made and sold just five refrigerators,” he said.

Both young men, however, hope that the sales will pick up soon.

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