|Feature - Bulawayo — The city that once was|
|Monday, 09 July 2012 13:29|
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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.