WHENEVER general elections are looming, Zanu PF usually embarks on a campaign to pull the wool over people’s eyes by making promises of development and uplifting citizens’ lives.
Report by Brian Chitemba
While this applies to the rest of the country, Matabeleland regions –– which have always rejected Zanu PF since 1980 except for the period between 1987 and 2000 after the Unity Accord between Zanu PF and PF Zapu –– are especially targeted for development promises due to their marginalisation and underdevelopment.
Despite being endowed with vast natural resources such as gold, coal, methane gas, wildlife and forests, Matabeleland provinces are among the least developed regions in Zimbabwe and this has always stirred political trouble, especially during elections.
Most capital projects in the country have missed set targets several times and Matabeleland is no exception. Government usually cites lack of funds for its failure to implement developmental programmes but there is also an apparent lack of political will and commitment.
A case in point is the renovation of Bulawayo’s Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport which has been on-going for 10 years, despite lack of meaningful progress. The project began in 2003 and was supposed to have been completed by 2009.
Many other projects, including the oft touted Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project and the Bulawayo-Nkayi road remain a pie in the sky as government dithers over their completion. A 10km stretch of road on the Bulawayo-Beitbridge highway near the border town took 10 years to repair after it was washed away by rains.
Bulawayo-based economist Morgan Mthunzi said there was lack of political will by government to improve the living standards of people in Matabeleland despite the same authorities successfully changing the face of Victoria Falls within a short period of time to pave way for hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly in August.
“Although there are delays in preparations for the UNTWO, work underway demonstrates that government has the capacity to complete critical projects if it wants,” Mthunzi said.
While the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo airport project may be considered as not essential, the proposed massive Gwayi-Shangani Dam, crucial to securing Bulawayo’s water needs, has been on the cards since 1912 and remains in its initial stages.
The dam, which requires US$1 billion, will be an oasis to the arid Matabeleland region, which desperately needs water. The dam is a component of the project expected to solve water problems in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Bulawayo.
Other stunted development programmes in Matabeleland include the construction of the Nkayi-Bulawayo Road, which has taken decades to complete, while the Bulawayo-Kezi Road remains in a deplorable state.
In Matabeleland North, the provincial capital Lupane is underdeveloped and a number of capital projects remain on hold.
But now that elections’ season is upon us, talk of resuscitating these projects has been growing louder by the day.
“Voters should be wary of Zanu PF tendencies of masterminding fake activity and a semblance of progress around capital projects before elections,” Mthunzi said. “It is high time the electorate reject the resurrection of false promises on projects and other things just before elections.”
Perhaps what could sway the vote is if the US$2 billion Lupane methane gas project, which is expected to create more than 4 500 jobs, was to be implemented. But the project has merely received a nod from government, like many others, and thus just remains on paper. There have been projections that by 2015, Gwayi and Lupane could be developed into significant industrial zones stemming from exploitation of the large coal deposits and gas in the area.
However, political commentator Melusi Nyathi dismissed the projections and associated promises as mere electioneering.
“That is a Zanu PF trend to appease voters before elections because we have been given heavenly promises over the years without corresponding action on the ground; they are just electioneering,” Nyathi said.
He said people “must forget about those promises and keep on not only rejecting Zanu PF, but doing so massively so that change can be delivered”.
The Matabeleland vote is crucial in determining the national outcome of elections and political parties always scramble to win the hearts and minds of the electorate there by promising development in the marginalised region.
Political analyst Chamu Mutasa said the new government after elections should turn around underdevelopment in Matabeleland to end the region’s marginalisation.
He said government must come up with action plans to address the needs of the masses whether there are elections or not. In Bulawayo nearly 100 companies have closed, leaving 20 000 people jobless.
“With companies closing down in Bulawayo, Matabeleland requires a development strategy, not talk shows and empty promises. The time for electioneering is no more and voters should not entertain it during this year’s elections,” said Mutasa.
It is not only Zanu PF that has been grandstanding over Matabeleland capital projects ahead of polls. The MDC-T, through the Water Resources minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, has done little more than lip service on the Gwayi-Shangani Dam.
Another development project which remains on paper is the Trans-Limpopo Spatial Development Initiative which was agreed to in 2002 by Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North governors, the mayor of Bulawayo and the premier of Limpopo province in South Africa. The project aims to create an economic development corridor from Limpopo to Victoria Falls.
Overall, Matabeleland has been flooded with promises of development each time there are elections on the horizon, although that seems to be the case all over the country.