Election a boon for Matabeleland?

Loughty Dube/Ray Matikinye

THE ruling Zanu PF party has shown a sudden spurt of interest in the industrial revival of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, disbursing billions of dollars from the c

entral bank ahead of next month’s election to prove that it has never been selective in its development thrust.


“This goes to prove government critics wrong. The region has never been a forgotten part of Zimbabwe as some people thought, judging by the amounts that government has provided to this part of the country although it is true that Bulawayo experienced the worst economic distress,” Bulawayo metropolitan governor, Cain Mathema says.


Recently Zanu PF deployed top banker Gideon Gono, ostensibly to audit progress in industrial revival under the Distressed Companies Facility to add weight to its fresh posture of concern for development in the Matabeleland region where the populace had resigned itself to years of neglect.


A bakery in the city received $14 billion to revamp its operations after it had floundered due to economic stress while a woodworking firm got a shot in the arm for its export-oriented products.


But Bulawayo executive mayor Japheth Ndabeni Ncube is not impressed by the sudden interest in the industrial revival of the city although this could help it regain its status as the nation’s industrial hub. He says the Central Statistical Office (CSO) has been deliberately understating the city’s population and its growth rate over the years, thus denying it adequate funding from central government for social services.


“Our population has remained at between 600 000 and 800 000, according to the CSO, but we know the figure is way above that from records of individual homeowners. We know we serve more than 1,5 million residents in this city and dispute the CSO figures,” Ncube says, noting that the city would always get the resources that do not reflect its true population from government unless the CSO revises its figures.


Gono, the central bank governor, says his approach to development stagnation in the region is unique. “You cannot drive an economic turnaround programme sitting on the 23rd floor of the central bank. One has to adopt unorthodox ways of dealing with unorthodox problems,” he says in justifying his involvement in the ruling party’s bid to endear itself with voters in the region.


Bulawayo, which used to be the country’s industrial hub, has suffered a deliberate de-industrialisation process with major companies relocating to Harare over the years despite having operated in the city because of comparative advantages. Major companies such as Dairibord relocated to the capital while the Cold Storage Company moved its prime operations from the city to Marondera.


Zanu PF’s trump card in wooing the electorate that overwhelmingly rejected it in the 2000 and 2002 elections has been the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project — a multibillion pipeline scheme meant to solve the city and most of the arid rural Matabeleland’s perennial water problems. The project, starting off with construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, has remained stalled in the planning stages since 1997, close to 85 years after initial project blueprints were unveiled.


Last year the central bank released $25 billion to the MZWT but the money was exhausted in setting up infrastructure and on the initial excavation work on the dam. Last week, Gono who toured the site of the dam, promised to release a further $65 billion to fund work to be done in the first half of the year.


The first phase of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) is now expected to cost a whopping $310 billion as delays in implementing the three-phased project have nudged the total construction bill into trillions of dollars.


Revelations this week indicate that the first stage of the project, which is the construction of the dam, is set to cost US$50 million ($310 billion at the diaspora rate of US$1: $6 200) while the cost of the second phase has not yet been quantified.


The second phase of the project entails the construction of a pipeline from the dam along the railway line to Bulawayo, while the final stage will involve laying a pipeline from the confluence of Mlibizi and Zambezi Rivers to reticulate water into the dam.


Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT) chairman Dumiso Dabengwa confirmed the new cost of the first phase and said excavation on the dam is expected to be complete by the end of the year. “In two years we expect to ‘break a bottle of champagne’ to commission the dam wall,” he says. “The total cost of the Gwayi/Shangani dam is expected to be US$50 million but we can not make estimation for the cost of the whole project at the moment.”


Huge sums are required to finance the laying of the pipeline from the Zambezi River to the Gwayi-Shangani dam and ultimately to Bulawayo. Funding controversies and control problems that led the city council to withdraw from the project have dogged the project.


Bulawayo executive mayor Japheth Ncube distanced himself from the project saying his council has shed all responsibility.


“We have absolutely nothing to do with the project now. We know that the

water is meant to benefit Bulawayo residents and we wonder how MZWT will sell the water to council when they do not want to involve us,” said Ncube.

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