|Feature - Bulawayo — The city that once was|
|Monday, 09 July 2012 13:29|
SINCE the 1840s when King Lobengula Khumalo founded Bulawayo, the city has gradually grown from a small kingdom to the second largest city in the country.
One of its greatest attributes during its steady development was the fact that it was becoming a favoured location for most heavy industries. This saw it being largely considered as the country’s industrial hub.
During its heyday, it had a large manufacturing presence, and large industries such as Merlin Textiles, Zimbabwe Engineering Company (Zeco), Hubert Davies, Radar Metal Industries, National Blankets, G & D Shoes, Merlin, Tregers Group, Stewarts and Lloyds, Hunyani Holdings, Cold Storage Company had their headquaters in the city as they mainly preferred it due to its proximity to South Africa and Botswana.
Even the National Railways of Zimbabwe established its headquarters in the city after noting the presence of the heavy industries in the city.
It also became widely regarded as the City of Kings mainly because of it being a multicultural hub in the country. It was also dubbed the cleanest city in the region, a status it held for many years.
Great names have emerged from the city from the political, sport, entertainment and economic spheres, these ranging from the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, football legend Peter Ndlovu, arts guru Cont Mhlanga and economic expert Dr Eric Bloch.
However, the past 10 years have seen the city’s status gradually decline from being a hub to one that has seen most large businesses and industries that had previously flocked the city either close down or relocate to the country’s capital, Harare. This has subsequently seen the city’s economy literally crippled.
Once a thriving city, Bulawayo has experienced a sharp decline in living standards and infrastructure over the past decade.
The industries are deserted and the infrastructure has since been left to deteriorate, further deterring investors from coming to the city.
The reason for the city’s de-industrialisation has been heralded to be lack of infrastructure to support the size of the city and its operations and an unreliable source of water and the collapse of the rail infrastructure which was the core reason of attracting industry to Bulawayo to begin with.
This has seen over 87 companies in the city closing down and more than 20 000 jobs being lost. the city has steadily headed down the road of deindustrialisation and instead of developing it has been doing the exact opposite.
Government tried to intervene with the hope of navigating the city to reindustrialisation and help revive its status as the industrial hub, this by establishing the Ditressed Industries and Marginalised Areas Fund (Dimaf).
This saw Finance Minister Tendai Biti availing a US$40 million grant to the city’s industries.
This noble gesture was met by a political battle as various political parties competed against each other to hijack the process by developing parallel bodies tasked with the same mandate, all in a bid to gain political mileage.
As the city’s captains of industry and the general public continue to keep their fingers crossed over the road map to be taken in the route towards the possible revival of the city’s industries, there is a growing fear that the whole process will again be turned into a political playing field and further be abused by being exploited by undeserving companies and individuals whose sole purpose will be to misappropriate the fund and at the end of the day become a mere pie in the sky.
Sunday News this week took the opportunity to interview key stakeholders on what exactly has to be done to revive the city’s status as the country’s industrial hub and being the second capital of the nation.
Addressing a Press conference last Saturday Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai expressed concern over the delay in the release of the Dimaf saying there was a need for the responsible authorities to commit themselves to the immediate release of the fund so as to help revive Bulawayo industries.
“When that fund was initially tendered it was primarily for Bulawayo industries as we had noted that so many companies had either closed or relocated, therefore, there was a need for us to intervene and provide funds that will help the city regain its status as the country’s industrial hub,” said PM Tsvangirai.
He, however, noted that the fund was not sufficient as the situation at the city’s industries was extremely critical.
Veteran economist, Dr Eric Bloch, said his main worry was that the fund was inadequate thus at the end it would come up with a “half-baked cake” that would not effectively solve the problems faced by the city’s industrial sector.
“While I strongly appreciate the Government injection, my feeling is that it should have been enough from the onset because such issues need to be addressed wholesomely, honestly the problems faced by the city are bigger than most people think they are,” said Dr Bloch.
He said there was a need for the Government to put in place a conducive operating environment so as to create a situation where industry could get back to levels where they once were.
“Honestly at the moment adequate services are needed to complement government’s effort, this including issues like electricity, water, the National Railways of Zimbabwe and Air Zimbabwe. all these are services that are key to the operations of any industry so there is a need for them to be looked into because at the end of the day, yes funds could be there but they could be useless as the services to do that business won’t be there,” said Dr Bloch.
In an interview, Industry and Commerce Minister Professor Welshman Ncube said it was disappointing that the fund was taking too long to be disbursed while the city’s overall standing continued to nosedive.
“Nothing has changed from where we were in April when the Government released the $10 million, through my interactions with Finance Minister Biti I can tell you that nothing has been given to companies and honestly all things being equal this is just not okay and has to rectified as a matter of urgency,” said Prof Ncube.
Affirmative Action Group (AAG) Matabeleland regional president, Mr Roy Sibanda said the problem was now on the implementation side of Dimaf, which he said was not clear.
“When you look at it, all major committees are based in Harare, even the ministerial taskforce spend most of its time there, so how do you honestly have money meant for Bulawayo being monitored in Harare, this alone leaves a lot to reckon with.
“Besides we feel there is a need for them to lay clear monitoring mechanisms that will see to it that this fund is put to good use and the fund should be released as soon possible and everything should be as transparent as can be,” said Mr Sibanda.
He also noted that Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) should not be ignored because they could play a major role in ensuring that the city’s industrial sector is effectively revived.
“That US$40 million is just a lot of money, just imagine if you can give a SME just US$50 000 and tell them to at least strive to create 10 or more jobs, the whole process will be made easier as a lot of people will benefit thereby meaning our mandate to revive the industries is achieved,” said the AAG president.
In terms of service delivery Bulawayo mayor, Councillor Thaba Moyo, said there was a need for the city’s residents to be a united force in terms boosting the local authority’s move to improve service delivery.
“As you might be aware the city is owed a lot of money in terms of unpaid rates and that in itself is really worrying especially considering that we need that revenue for us to provide services.
“Yes, we want a situation where this city regains its status as one of the cleanest in the region. actually we are fully working towards that, but we really need all our debtors to be sincere and pay what they owe us, as that will certainly go a long way in ensuring that we achieve that status,” said the mayor.
BCC is owed closed to US$60 million with domestic debotrs owing US$35 055 264, industrial and commercial debtors owing US$23 484 012 while government departments owe US$4 455 609.
He further noted that it was vital for the city’s industries to be revived as most of the its residents relied on these industries to earm a living, therefore without these industries they remained unemployed and thus unable to pay rates as they did not have the income.
“To be frank with those industries closed we suffer the worst as our residents also have to get an income for them to be in a position to pay their rates. however everything aside we are trying our level best under difficult circumstances.
“It is also our wish that in the near future we reclaim the noble status of being the cleanest city in the region, especially considering that we are surrounded by a number of tourism destinations. this will mean if we clean our overall image more tourists will be passing through our city,” said Clr Moyo.
He said the goal of reviving the overall status of the city was meant to be a collective effort from all key stakeholders — the local authority, Government, business community and the residents themselves.
Veteran playwright Continueloving Mhlanga said the main issue was for everyone to take a unified approach to solving the problems being faced by the city.
“Everyone needs to join hands and ensure that we are a unified force during this revival route, if we are a unified force anything is possible,” said Mr Mhlanga.
So as the nation ponders on whether future generations will get the opportunity to see Bulawayo as the true City of Kings, the nation’s industrial hub, the true cultural centre and one of the most prominent cities in the Southern African region, there is need for everyone to play a leading role, and positive commitment is expected from all stakeholders to ensure this noble goal is achieved.