David Whitehead roars back to life

Martin Kadzere THE revival of David Whitehead’s Chegutu and Kadoma factories is set to give a major boost to Zimbabwe’s textile industry, which has been struggling in recent years, with the facilities expected to directly and indirectly create thousands of jobs. After nearly two decades of dormancy, with only occasional periods of operations, DW is […]

May 19, 2024 - 09:43
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David Whitehead roars back to life

Martin Kadzere

THE revival of David Whitehead’s Chegutu and Kadoma factories is set to give a major boost to Zimbabwe’s textile industry, which has been struggling in recent years, with the facilities expected to directly and indirectly create thousands of jobs.

After nearly two decades of dormancy, with only occasional periods of operations, DW is poised for full-scale production after the new investor, Agric Value Chain Zimbabwe, invested in cutting-edge technology to establish state-of-the-art plants.

During a recent tour of the plants by this publication, it was clear that the gleaming new machines would result in a new era of efficiency and productivity.

What was undertaken at the David Whitehead factories was more than a mere upgrade; the facilities were completely transformed. The modern machinery is expertly run by trained technicians.

In Kadoma, the technicians could be seen using the new equipment with ease, which will ensure a smooth transition to full-scale production in the near future.

Those who followed the decline of the company first-hand might be surprised by its comeback. The firm’s revival stands in stark contrast to earlier recommendations. A former judicial manager had previously suggested liquidation, citing lack of viable assets beyond the real estate.

Back then, the factory floors resembled a graveyard, filled with rusting hulks of old machinery, some beyond repair and others better suited for the museum.

That, however, has since changed dramatically.

The Kadoma spinning plant acts as the first link in the production chain, transforming cotton lint into high-quality yarn.

The yarn then serves as the feedstock of the Chegutu factory, where it is weaved into a variety of textiles.

“This state-of-the-art machinery you see before you will efficiently produce the materials, yarn and knitted fabric for the Chegutu factory,” DW chief engineer Mr Mukut Singh said at the Kadoma plant recently.

“We are very pleased with the progress that we have made and we are close to full-scale production,” he added.

The Kadoma plant will be producing nine tonnes of yarn and two tonnes of knitted fabric per day. It employs around 300 people, including those who worked for the company before its closure.

“This David Whitehead project will be for import substitution and value addition to revive the entire textile industry value chain. The major focus is to be a supplier of raw materials to the local clothing companies and create jobs,” he said.

The Chegutu plant’s machinery is currently undergoing commissioning.

The weaving department has begun trial runs, while the looms are being connected to the necessary utilities.

“We anticipate completing the commissioning process at Chegutu very soon, paving the way for full-scale production. This is especially exciting since the Kadoma plant is already producing the raw materials we need,” operations manager Mr Tendai Chetse said in an interview on Friday.

“This factory used to be the heart of Chegutu, and for years, it felt like a ghost town. Now, with all the new machinery and the talk of jobs, there is a real buzz of excitement in the community. Hopefully, this revival will bring back some of the prosperity we used to have,” said Mr Joshua Muzambi, a Chegutu resident.

This significant development is expected to spark a wave of positive changes, including increased production of domestic textiles, the creation of much-needed jobs and the revitalisation of the country’s clothing manufacturing sector.

Furthermore, it is anticipated to have a ripple effect throughout the economy, benefiting cotton farmers with a reliable domestic market for their crops and aligning with the Government’s goal of promoting local value addition.

With its textile industry in decline, Zimbabwe currently exports nearly 90 percent of its cotton lint. This represents a missed opportunity for value addition and job creation within the country.

Despite being a major cotton producer, exporting to international markets like China, Zimbabwe’s textile industry has languished since the turn of the millennium, displacing countless workers.

A confluence of factors, including a surge in cheap, imported second-hand clothing, apparel smuggling and a weakened economy, has crippled both formal clothing retailers and manufacturers.

Local producers struggle to compete on price with retailers who import garments.

David Whitehead boasts a long history dating back to 1951, when it was incorporated as David Whitehead & Sons (Rhodesia). The company thrived, registering on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) in 1971, and operating under the name David Whitehead Textiles Limited since 1979. However, the early 2000s marked a period of decline.

The majority shareholder, Lonrho Africa, disinvested in 2002, leading to a management consortium taking over.

Financial difficulties arose, resulting in suspension from the ZSE in 2005 and placement under judicial management from 2006 to 2008.

Despite a temporary reprieve and a change in ownership, DW faced further challenges.

A second stint under judicial management began in 2010, with recommendations for liquidation arising in 2013. The High Court finalised judicial management in 2014.

A turning point came in April 2019 when the High Court forfeited the shares of Elgate Holdings, a significant stakeholder.

These shares were subsequently sold to Agri Value Chain Zimbabwe, marking a new chapter for the company.

Judicial management was finally cancelled in June 2022, paving the way for full revival.

A resuscitation programme launched in September 2022 signified DW’s return as a key player in Zimbabwe’s textile industry.

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David Lee Munemo David Lee Munemo is a rising Zimbabwean journalist with a passion for making complex news discoveries accessible to the public. Driven by a belief in the importance of information communication, David's work tackles a variety of news fields, from groundbreaking entertainment research to the latest political news.