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Save Bulawayo from collapse

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Last week I found myself in Bulawayo after a long time, but what I observed left me sad.

Opinion by Mernat Mafirakureva

It was far from the Bulawayo that I had come to know in all the years I had lived there before relocating to Harare.

Once a renowned vibrant industrial hub, the city has now been literally reduced into a white elephant.

What made my sadness more poignant was the government’s deafening silence and inaction despite the heart-breaking situation in which companies operating there have found themselves trapped.

The coalition government doesn’t seem to understand the extent of damage and that explains the lackadaisical approach it has adopted in solving the issue.

It has been all talk, but little action, no delivery.

Maybe only now that the election season is upon us, politicians will see reason why they should rekindle promises that they made to the country’s second largest city.

Once a vibrant industrial engine, the City of Kings and Queens is by far now just a pale shadow of its former self, with little, if no, activity going on in the city’s industrial area.

So quiet is the city that you can hear birds chirping all day long as though it has become some kind of sanctuary; all peace and tranquility.

The gravity of the situation is demonstrated by the fact that week in, week out, the Government Gazette publishes details of a Bulawayo-based company being placed under provisional liquidation or winding up operations.

The challenges this city faces are well documented — from water shortages and company relocations, to outright lack of investment.

But it is the manner in which solutions that have been proffered has been handled that leaves a lot to be desired.

Just last month, the BUSCOD Group of Supermarkets shut down two of its seven branches only days after another once vibrant supermarket, Tashas, was placed under judicial management.

Tashas ran aground after failing to finance debts amounting to $3 million owed to different local banks.

The struggling supermarket had in June closed four of its branches, joining other companies into the doldrums, including MedTech, National, Belmor Manufacturers, Merspin, National Railways of Zimbabwe, Cold Storage Company and Archer Clothing.

Now, one of the very few remaining operational companies in the city, Hunyani, has also indicated that it is on the verge of relocating its operations as it has increasingly become almost impossible to do business in Bulawayo.

While industry at large is bearing the brunt of a challenging operating environment, the problems facing Bulawayo are outstanding in that they have been compounded by a crippling water crisis.

The creation of the Distressed Industries and Marginalised Fund last year was a noble idea.

However, progress on the $40 million fund has been painfully slow, to say the least.

It is sad to note that since the launch of the fund that project approvals amount to $16,2 million with disbursements just above a quarter at $12,2 million.

The government is yet to honour its side of the bargain in a clear indication that it is really not serious about these issues of life and death for the people of Bulawayo.

However, tribute must go to Old Mutual, through CABS, for treating the revival of industry with the urgency it deserves by quickly availing funds.

With the snail’s pace rate at which government is moving, one wonders how many companies in dire need of these funds would still be operational when the government finally avails its second tranche of $10 million in 2013.

Like previous years, the government is good at promising, but poor at execution.

While the first tranche of funds is yet to be exhausted, government is already promising a second round of the facility after the first half of next year.

With December annual shut down fast approaching, one wonders whether the remaining few factories would open next January. Surely, the government can ignore the situation at its own peril, given that thousands of jobs are being left every year.

I implore the powers-that-be to ensure that Bulawayo is kept alive

  • For views and comments email: mmafirakurewa@newsday.co.zw follow me on twitter @mmafira

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