SLEEPY Rutenga business centre, located 155km north of Beitbridge town, is a giant waiting to be awoken. It stands to earn a big following a decision by the government to establish a dry port at the settlement.
BY OWN CORRESPONDENT
Currently Rutenga, with a population below 13 000 according to the 2012 national census, is dormant in almost every aspect. It has nothing to show for being the capital of the vast Mwenezi district of 170 000 people.
Poor planning prior to independence saw the district administrator’s office and most service ministries located some 20km away south from Rutenga.
Rural District Council offices were also placed on the other side at Neshuro business centre, denying residents a one stop service centre Rutenga could have provided.
To date, Rutenga has remained an underutilised transport junction despite being strategically linked by road and rail to major towns such as Beitbridge, Chiredzi, Zvishavane, Mberengwa, Harare via Masvingo and Bulawayo.
It is also directly linked by road and rail to Mozambique’s Xai Xai sea-port via Sango Border Post, known as Chicualacuala on the Mozambican side.
Airports nearest to Rutenga are Buffalo Range and Masvingo — two towns equidistant from the business centre tucked in the middle of a rich cattle ranching zone.
Almost 20 years ago the soils of a larger section of Mwenezi, then reserved for livestock farming, revealed potential for palm tree growing, a project undertaken at Mwenezana by British company Aberfoyle.
Aberfoyle later sold its venture to Cluff Resources, who found sugarcane a better crop for the region being done under irrigation to date, courtesy of Manyichi Dam.
All these were viewed as ingredients that would influence Rutenga grow, which never was.
“Now a new light is on the horizon with the coming of the planned dry port,” Mwenezi district administrator Rosemary Chingwe said.
“We expect a boom and we are inviting people to come here to invest. Rutenga will not be the same again and people should move in with investment.”
The government plans to bring investment though Xai-Xai which is just 600km from Rutenga.
It is understood the port, closer than Durban, has deep shores suitable for large sea vessels.
Xai-Xai port will reduce the distance to Harare by road by at least 2 000km, which will have a positive impact on consumer pricing.
There has been talk that the government would offer Japanese used car dealers space at Rutenga to reduce distance and risk people wishing to buy cars face in South Africa.
Trains are expected to use Rutenga as a trans-modal hub for goods and passengers.
On his recent visit to Beitbridge Transport and Infrastructure Development minister Joram Gumbo, hinted on the development of Rutenga as one of his ministry’s objectives to trigger development and activity in southern Zimbabwe.
Chingwe, who heads the district development committee, feels bigger schools are now needed in preparation for families expected in the new and bigger Rutenga.
“Rutenga now has a master plan which will chart the direction of development. It is ready for large supermarkets and other chain stores,” she said.
New, bigger and better service stations, hotels, a bigger hospital and a composite government office block are now required to match the planned growth.
Abattoirs and their downstream industries are expected to come into the settlement and feed from the district’s rich head of cattle.
“We expect banks, we expect them all to be represented here, because at the moment we go to Masvingo, Beitbridge or the lowveld towns of Chiredzi for that service,” she said.
The district council’s sub office at Rutenga is expected to relocate to the settlement which straddles the main A4 highway to Beitbridge from Masvingo.
“Chingwe also sees the arrival of those investing in recreational facilities, churches and a variety of other social activities synonymous with towns,” she said.
“Colleges and private schools and medical facilities must come in and like other places. We need good fast foods outlets to come and scout for strategic places. We are going to be one of the busiest points in south Zimbabwe.”
At the moment, accommodation is found at Manyuchi Dam or further down near and in Beitbridge district.
The National Railways of Zimbabwe is keen on reviving passenger rail services to Chiredzi, Beitbridge and Gweru following the arrival of new locomotives and wagons.
Rutenga could also benefit from tourists visiting the wildlife-rich South Eastern Transfrontier Park shared by Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe formerly known as Gonarezhou.
Rutenga’s growth will influence lifestyle changes in Chikombedzi, Maranda and the Sango communal areas.
It had the potential of opening the corridor with Mozambique and thousands of jobs will be created during the upgrading of the 150km railway and road connection between Rutenga and Sango.
Talk of diamond deposits downstream of the Mwenezi Bridge excites locals who see a change of fortunes when the mine eventually opens.
But almost immediately, the soon-to-start dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare Highway will breathe new life into Rutenga ahead of the establishment of the dry port.
Activity is likely to rise during the construction of the road expected to have 40 new bridges and other structures.