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Shopping malls turned into ‘white elephants’


High Glen, Westgate and Chitungwiza Town Centre, all constructed in the late ’90s, gave a facelift to the suburbs in which they were built amid pomp and fanfare, but have now been virtually reduced into white elephants, having failed to live up to their billing.

High Glen is now a pale figure of itself with many shops having closed down, leaving just a few still operational.

Westgate has also witnessed a huge decline in business while Chitungwiza Town Centre has been literally overtaken by informal businesses in the surrounding areas.

Once celebrated to be an alternative shopping destination for residents in Budiriro, Glen View, Glen Norah, Highfield and Mufakose, High Glen has fallen on hard times.

The same fate seems to have befallen other shopping malls in Dangamvura, Mutare, Nkulumane and Entumbane in Bulawayo.

High Glen complex, which was opened in 1999, has lost its glitter amid mass relocation of shops elsewhere. The mall, located 14 kilometres south of Harare, has failed to lure giant retail businesses and, subsequently, customers.

“We are now guarding empty buildings. Big companies which used to operate here have since located elsewhere. One hardly sees any customers here as most shops have since relocated,” said a security guard manning one of the premises.

A survey conducted by this reporter showed most of the companies which used to operate at the mall had since disappeared. These included banks, furniture shops and supermarkets. While the mall accommodated 72 businesses at its peak, now there are less than 20.

A bar, private clinic and a few clothing shops still operate and the gigantic water pond which used to be a marvel to watch has since run dry, with most shop owners citing water availability as a major push factor from the mall.

“We are also contemplating relocating because business here is so bad yet the charges are so high. We can’t continue to operate under these conditions because it is no longer viable,” said the proprietor of the sole butchery at the mall.

Residents in the surrounding areas said High Glen shopping mall was a forgotten giant and was fast becoming a white elephant.

“I would spend months without setting my foot in the CBD (central business district), because the mall used to be my shopping destination, but now most of the shops are closed and we have no choice but to travel into town to get our essentials,” said Thandiwe Mutumbi, a Budiriro resident.

The mall, which had a large catchment area of 100 000 families, and a strong industrial base in Southerton and Willowvale industrial areas, used to service more than 3 000 customers a day, but according to a shop owner at the premises, less than 100 customers are served these days.

Westgate shopping mall is facing the same problem as most shops in the upper level have been closed. A bank official who has been working at the mall for more than eight years said the situation was fast becoming a catastrophe.

“Most shops have closed here due to high rentals and a plunge in business. Traditional customers have since ceased doing their shopping here and this has indirectly affected us too.

“Customers would withdraw their money from the banks and spend it on groceries and clothing items, but the one-stop-mall status has since vanished. People are opting to travel to the city centre instead,” said the bank official.

Urban planning expert Mike Vareta said the collapse of most shopping malls could be attributed to location.

“Shopping malls should be within walking distance, like in South Africa. High Glen was supposed to serve the poor in high-density suburbs like Glen Norah, Mufakose and Highfield, but these residents have to commute at the same fare they use to get into town, so naturally people would opt to get into town where there is variety of products,” said Vareta.

Economics lecturer Alfred Zvauya said malls suffered because of years of economic meltdown.

“Most of the malls are still reeling from a decade-long economic crisis and most have not recovered. As of now business people are jostling to have space in busy areas like the CBD and once these places are fully occupied, they will look elsewhere and the malls will once again recover because of their good infrastructure,” said Zvauya.

The economist said the rentals regime by owners of malls was generally high and unreasonable hence companies shunned them.

“There is a lot of bureaucracy in getting to rent the shops and the price is very high. The owners charge a lot before they let a tenant in and they do not allow change in line of business,” said Zvauya.

However, an official from Old Mutual, the company which owns most of the shopping malls and buildings in the city centre, downplayed the effects, expressing optimism the business will peak.

“It happens in business, but soon there would be a boom. Remember we are coming from a dark period as a country and most businesses were affected,” said the official.

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