Civil Society have called on the government to formulate a policy aimed at reviving industries in Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe’s second largest city used to be an industrial hub before a combination of maladministration and corruption during the late former President Robert Mugabe’s reign brought it to its knees.
Church and Civic Society Joint Forum (CCJF) national chairman Anglistone Sibanda said it was embarrassing that Bulawayo’s industries were in ruins.
“The city has been having acute water challenges owing to hydro politics engraved in the governance system. Because Bulawayo was anti-Zanu since 1980, Mugabe developed a policy of what I call stratified systematic marginalisation by creating policies and systems that result in underdevelopment,” Sibanda said.
“Bulawayo is a direct victim of Mugabe’s punitive and vindictive policies. In fact the death of Bulawayo is an economic version of Gukurahundi; it is structural violence against the people of Bulawayo who have over the years rejected Zanu policies. These policies deliberately sought to turn Bulawayo into a consumer city, a market for Harare’ goods and services in order to systematically under develop Matabeleland.”
Sibanda said the death of Bulawayo can be attributed to centralisation of governance in Harare making the capital a strategic city for business due to proximity to decision-makers.
“The fall of the National Railways of Zimbabwe raised the cost of transportation of goods to and from Bulawayo, thereby raising production costs,” he said.
Over 20 000 jobs were lost in Bulawayo during the 2008 hyperinflationary period.
“De-industrialisation saw a huge increase in unemployment, exacerbated poverty and inequality, reduced the general standards of living and quality of life,” Sibanda said.
He said Bulawayo City Council suffers a huge burden of unproductive citizens who are failing to meet their obligations regarding payment of rates, resulting in the collapse of service delivery and dilapidation of basic infrastructure.
ibanda said the collapse of Bulawayo also resulted in a brain-drain to the neighbouring countries.
“Government needs to devolve power and invest in the water provisions for the city to expedite the completion of the Gwayi-Shangani project which will create an active agrarian sector in Matabeleland North, this will create agro-processing and refinery industries in Bulawayo,” he said.
“The diaspora participation is also critical. Bulawayo-born people who have made it in other countries should be motivated to invest in their home city and create employment. With the mining industry booming around the city, there are so many opportunities to invest in, the real estate sector is wide open. It will take the Bulawayo citizens to lead and champion the revival of their city in a devolved government setup.”
Sibanda urged the government to make a deliberate effort to engage the people of Bulawayo to unlock local potential.
Bulawayo Water Action Group Coordinator Khumbulani Maphosa said: “The city is not manufacturing anything but importing everything and anything including toothpicks and that is very worrying and embarrassing to say the least. If it was inflation and poor economic status of the country, why were some companies who only had branches here in Bulawayo relocating and opening somewhere in the country.”
Maphosa added that Zimbabwe is run on unjust systems of marginalisation and subjugation, which is why it can’t be explained why the Cold Storage Company (CSC), G&D, Timber Industries, NRZ were run down.
He described the whole scenario as a psychological warfare waged against the region.
“We need political will to convert these abandoned and derelict buildings into hubs for new industries. We are in the 4th industrial revolution of digital economies, nanotechnologies and the internet. Our thinking should also transform and see such economies being the new economies of Bulawayo,” Maphosa said.
“Yes, we still need other critical industries being revived but it doesn’t mean we need to make them in the same model of 1990. The government is to blame for the collapse of Bulawayo. We should have refused to accept decay. We should have withdrawn our loyalty to the Mugabe regime but we were too afraid.”
Maphosa said the government must stop controlling business but play a facilitator regulatory role.
“So we have government officials who are on a self-serving spree and will do anything to frustrate other business players,” he said.
It is estimated that between 40% and 45% of companies relocated from Bulawayo and about 75% of workers lost their jobs through retrenchment, company closures, relocations or downsizing.
Last week, the Bulawayo Special Economic Zone (SEZ) coordinator Kholisani Moyo said the scaling down on production in the city gave rise to the influx of imported products from China, further shrinking the chances of industries to be revived.
The closure of European market especially for beef products worsened the situation in Matabeleland — which is a rich cattle ranching area.