OVER the years a lot has been said about the deindustrialisation of the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo. It has been reported that nearly 100 companies closed in Bulawayo causing the loss of more than 20 000 jobs.
This was a city which, at its peak had large industries such as Merlin Textiles, Zimbabwe Engineering Company (Zeco), Hubert Davies, Radar Metal Industries, National Blankets, G and D Shoes, Tregers Group, Stewarts and Lloyds, Hunyani Holdings, Cold Storage Commission having their headquarters in the city, with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) also establishing its headquarters in the city after noting the presence of theses heavy duty industries.
According to the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) manufacturing sector survey, at the peak of the city’s deindustrialisation, industry reduced its capacity utilisation to below 30 percent as it continued to face a myriad of challenges including subdued foreign direct investments, limited long-term loans and huge energy deficit, among other things.
As the situation in the city continued to take a downward spiral, in May 2011 the then Inclusive Government intervened coming up with a possible intervention measure, this being the Distressed Industries and Marginalised Areas Fund (Dimaf), under the “Let Bulawayo Survive” campaign set to provide working capital to ailing companies but still the industrial sector continued to be in the red.
However, ever since the New Year a new trend has been realised in the city. Several companies have begun renewing interest in the city.
The few existing firms are establishing new branches, those that had closed shop are reopening while others are commissioning new plants in the city.
Various surveys conducted by the Industry and Commerce Ministry and CZI, point to the second largest city slowly crawling back towards revival, with some key sectors making positive strides in servicing both the local and export markets.
Among the many companies that have shown a positive growth and attitude in the city include; Motovac, Monarch Steel, a division of Treger Group of Companies, United Refineries Limited, Blue Ribbon Foods, Pharmaceutical giant Datlabs Limited, Meprin Founders, Arenel and bread manufacturers, Baker’s Inn and Proton Bread.
This has led to a revived zeal within the city on the route the city’s industrial sector is taking and with the right attitude applied surely the revival of the city’s industrial sector is not a long shot.
The revived interest in the city shown by capital breathes an air of hope to unemployed youths whose circumstances may have forced them to unorthodox means survival.
For long our universities have been producing graduates year in year out but these have failed to get any employment largely due to these shut down industries but with the renewed zeal in the opening of these industries, now they can get an opportunity to practice what they were taught and contribute to the re-establishment of the city as the country’s industrial hub.
Speaking during a recent tour of the city’s industries Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce Cde Chiratidzo Mabuwa reiterated the need to prioritise the revival of Bulawayo’s industires as this is the city which for long had been considered the country’s industrial hub.
“As we speak right now, there are certain companies that are there in Bulawayo that have been revived. I can give you an example such as Datlabs. In 2013, when we inaugurated our focus on Bulawayo, Datlabs was operating at 18 percent, but at present, they are now operating at 78 percent.
“Let me say that it is important that the country should know that yes, we are not just looking at Bulawayo, but the entire country. What is important is that Bulawayo, as we know, is the industrial hub of Zimbabwe. What we are doing is to ensure that we see investors focus on Bulawayo,” Deputy Minister Mabuwa is quoted as saying.
To further prove the possibility of reviving the city’s industries, the Government has also championed policy support measures such as Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 among a host of ease of doing business reforms that have catalysed industry revival through attracting investment.
One main advantage of this Statutory Instrument is that goods listed under SI 64/2016 can only be imported when the local manufacturing sector is not able to meet demand at a particular time.
SI 64/2016, among other positives, has breathed life into some existing manufacturing firms as they now have a huger market share for their goods.
Further to the hope given to the city’s industries, Bulawayo has been declared a leather and textile Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a move that economic experts say would add impetus to revival task.
The SEZ model is expected to boost local beneficiation and enhance value addition.
According to a survey by the Leather Institute of Zimbabwe, the country could have lost up to $77 million through exporting raw hides in the third quarter of 2016 due to lack of capacity to beneficiate the raw material.
The model is also expected to strengthen synergy with livestock producers and meat processing firms and tanneries such as the Cold Storage Company (CSC).
On a positive, since January 2017 capacity utilisation in Bulawayo’s manufacturing sector has improved to 47,4 percent from 34,3 percent.
Therefore as we slowly move towards the end of the year and hope is quite high, the people of Bulawayo will continue smiling as the city’s industrial sector continues to be on a steady rise.