Finance minister Tendai Biti has conceded Matabeleland lagged behind other regions in development and pledged to push for the completion of all stalled development projects in the region.
He said the region was a victim of “uneven and unequal development”.
Biti’s sentiments bring another twist to the debate on the Matabeleland question where certain senior Zanu PF officials from the region claim Matabeleland was not segregated in terms of development and that there was no such thing as marginalisation in the region.
Vice-President John Nkomo said the term marginalisation should be “consigned and put in history” while Bulawayo Resident minister Cain Mathema accused people from the region of being “crybabies”.
Zanu PF chairman Simon Khaya Moyo is also on record as saying there was no marginalisation of Matabeleland.
The three’s sentiments drew criticism from other political parties and civic society organisations in the region which accuse the Zanu PF bigwigs of being divorced from issues that affect ordinary people in the region.
However, speaking after a tour of Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo (JMN) Airport in Bulawayo on Thursday, Biti said: “I think that is a very exciting project and, as I said a few minutes ago, this region needs development. This region needs capital projects.
“We need to stop being victims of uneven and unequal development,” he said. “All regions have to develop equally and evenly and this airport is a statement that the whole country is the same whether in Bambazonke (as Harare is referred to in the perception that it gets the lion’s share of everything) or you are here in the City of Kings. The exciting thing about Bulawayo is that this international airport is 100 years ahead of Harare.”
Biti — who is also the MDC–T secretary-general — said in the current budget government had spent an allocated $500 million on public sector capital investment, “and a lot of that money is coming to this region, the airport which we were talking about and, most importantly, the rehabilitation of the Hwange Power Station number one to six units as well as the completion of Lupane State University, Mtshabezi and the Gwayi-Shangani dams which are projects hopefully next week I will be able to visit.”
The refurbishment of the JMN Airport was initially meant to take eight months, but has taken more than eight years to complete, while the 46km Mtshabezi–Umzingwane pipeline is still to be finished eight years on. Construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, on the other hand, is the first phase of the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project mooted 100 years ago.
Biti said he was looking forward to the implementation of various capital projects “that will happen in this region, the railways, the different dams and so forth”.
He said work on the JMN Airport “is just the first phase. The second phase, I think, is to construct the new control tower and the administration block. The third phase is to redo the runway and taxing area as we are doing at Harare International Airport. “So this will totally be a true modern international airport that ubaba wethu (our father) uJoshua Nkomo wherever he is will be proud of.”