POLITICIANS, industrialists and the Zimbabwean population in general often claim Bulawayo is dying. They resolutely assume so due to the number of industries that have shut down, the even greater number that have downsized thus substantially reducing the scale of operations and the rate of unemployment in the city. Most of all, the claim arises from the tendency to accept any negative rumour as fact, whilst cavalierly dismissing positive contentions as being spurious rumours devoid of fact.
But the reality is, the doom and gloom projections and claims are devoid of fact, and to cite Oscar Wilde, the rumours of the demise of Bulawayo are premature (and, in fact, will never become fact). It cannot be denied that Bulawayo is currently the victim of many economic ills, but in the main this is common to all of Zimbabwe. The country’s economy continues to be emaciated notwithstanding some marginal recovery since 2009, and the economic ills are entirely attributable to dogmatic, ill-conceived and politically motivated policies of the country’s political leadership.
Those who contend Bulawayo is dying found and justify their contention on the substantial contraction of the city’s manufacturing sector — including the relocation of some industries to Harare — and the almost total absence of governmental and private sector devolution from Harare. Most of all, they justify their misguided beliefs by citing the water shortage in Bulawayo. They claim that Bulawayo cannot and will not survive because of water shortages.
It must be conceded that serious water shortages do exist, and that for many decades there has been stubborn disregard for the worsening water shortages. However, there is an almost as great myopia in recognising that although belatedly substantive action is now being taken to redress the problem.
In the short-term, three measures are now being taken to improve water availability. The Mtshabezi Dam, sited near Gwanda, has a water capacity substantially greater than required to service that town and the surrounding districts’ agricultural needs. A pipeline from the dam to the city has been completed, and all that is now required is completion of the requisite pumping stations. The Minister of Water Resources Development and Management, Sipepa Nkomo, said that completion of the dam will be fairly soon, with water flowing to Bulawayo within a few months to supplement water available from the city’s established supply dams.
Secondly, although many of the boreholes at the Nyamandlovu acquifer still require refurbishment, approximately a third of the refurbishment of boreholes has been completed by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), enabling a somewhat greater offtake of water by the city from the acquifer. Concurrently with these two water-supply sources, the municipal authorities are resorting to water cuts for eight hours, two days per week.
However, the most momentous development to assure Bulawayo of adequate water supplies after 100 years since its proposal, is that of the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (NMZWP). The first phase of that project is the construction of a dam at the confluence of the Gwayi and Shangani rivers, to be known as the Gwayi-Shangani dam.
Work on the construction has at last begun, and an authoritative study undertaken by a leading Swedish company in 1993 asserts that, when the dam is completed it will contain sufficient water to meet the needs of the City of Bulawayo for four years. Moreover, as the Gwayi and Shangani rivers rise in Angola and Zambia, who generally have very substantive rainfalls and rarely experience drought, the dam should be assured of more than satisfactory inflow of water to fulfill its capacity at all times.
Also of great significance is that Nkomo has intimated that loan funding of US$864 million has been obtained for construction of the pipeline from the Gwayi-Shangani dam to Bulawayo, inclusive of the requisite pumping stations. He has projected that the construction of the dam, the pipeline and the pumping stations will be completed within three years. Thereafter, a second phase will start, being the construction of a pipeline from the Zambezi River to the Gwayi-Shangani dam.
This will ensure that should inflows to the dam via the two rivers ever be severely constricted bydroughts in Angola and Zambia, such inflows can be supplemented by an intake of water from the Zambezi. An authoritative study in 1993 established the maximum quantity of water to be sourced from the Zambezi would have no significant or dilatory effects on the Zambezi and its downstream, the quantities which would be required to feed the Gwayi-Shangani dam being minimal as compared to the capacity of the Zambezi.
Although a key factor of the NMZWP is the assurance that Bulawayo’s chronic water scarcity will be history, the project will also generate immense benefits to others. It will facilitate substantial agricultural development in Matabeleland North and in Matabeleland West, not only beneficiating the population, but also contribute to the national economy.
The Gwayi-Shangani dam enhances Zimbabwe’s already considerable tourist attractions, attributable to not only the scenic beauty of what will be Zimbabwe’s third largest expanse of water, but also to the dam’s close proximity to Hwange National Park and to Victoria Falls and the Zambezi valley. Hotels and casinos will undoubtedly be developed on the dam shores, as well as many other tourist facilities and attractions. In addition, a substantive fishing industry can be established, supplementing output from Lake Kariba.
Water from the project will not only assure the well-being of Bulawayo and of all Matabeleland, but will also service the needs of the mining sector, thereby enhancing mineral production and downstream economy. The assured water availability will be a major boost to industrial operations in Bulawayo, and a key factor to the city being the hub of Zimbabwean industry, with concomitant benefits to the Zimbabwean economy and fiscus.
The project is thus a national one despite its regional locality. However, attainment of the projected completion within approximately three years is contingent upon government ensuring funding for the dam, the pipelines and the pumping stations, in part from governmental resources and in the main from the negotiated loan funds. If so, water will endlessly flow to Bulawayo, and all of Zimbabwe will also be project beneficiaries.