Feature: A case for ChiTown’s dormant industry

industrial area of Chitungwiza town or ChiTown

TALL grass, dilapidated buildings and derelict vehicle shells abandoned along potholed roads and dark streets snaking around properties now turned into maize fields summarise the state of what was once the promising industrial area of Chitungwiza town or ChiTown as it is affectionately called.

Once a source of pride for its residents, Chitungwiza is a pale shadow of its former self and is now the very worst example of a rundown ghetto where refuse is hardly collected, waterborne diseases are commonplace and public funds are looted with impunity.

While the settlement is called a town, possibly rivalling the country’s major urban areas in terms of population, little evidence exists to support this.

And the town’s economic death is evident at its once vibrant and thriving industrial area, which dragged thousands of jobs and livelihoods in its demise.

Nathan Durai (57), who still lives in Chitungwiza 28 years after the closure of one of the town and country’s biggest employer, Cone Textiles Zimbabwe, almost sheds tears of despair as he ponders his plight and former workmates who lost their jobs when the textile firm caved in due to an economic meltdown in the 1990s.

“The sorrowful state of the Chitungwiza industry is worrisome to say the least. I was once a Cone Texitles Zimbabwe worker where I was first employed as a general hand before I became an assistant boilermaker. It hurts to see that many companies that used to employ thousands of people are no more,” Durai recalls.

“Imagine we lost our jobs without a cent. There were companies like SilZim, which used to be a timber trading company. We are now being greeted with very tall grass, dilapidated buildings with damaged roofs and broken down useless machinery,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief.

What remains of the industrial activity in the area is more than comic.

As one heads towards the nearby Nyatsime River, booming loud bomb-like noise occasionally breaks the dreary silence of the industrial area.

At closer inspection of the building from where the noise is emanating from reveals that the property is used as both a workplace and accommodation facility.

Because of the ghostly state of the industrial area, many of the unused buildings are being used for accommodation.

The yard is strewn with litter, tall grass colonises empty spaces, a pile of firewood is at one corner, while some laundry flatters in the wind on a line at the other end. Windows of the factory building are shattered and a truck is being loaded with sacks of popped corn or maputi, the generic name of the product.

That intermittent booming sound is from the corn-popping machine inside the factory building and this highlights the few industrial activities still taking place in Chitungwiza’s industrial area.

Nyasha Romberai (not his real name), who has been working at one of the few remaining companies for the past three years, said: “There are two companies which are in the maputi popping business. The business is very brisk as you can see there are piles of packed maputi finished already.

“We supply many wholesale shops and tuckshops. Some farmers also come to buy to feed chickens and rabbits since they are good for them. This is my third year at this company and I must admit that all is well as you can see some of our friends are living with their families here.”

Nearby, next to the State-run Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) depot where rust-damaged and stationary old buses tell their own story, there is a shop and bottlestore where some employees of the few remaining companies come to buy food and quench their thirst.

Anna Chakai, who has been operating a fast food business for more than two decades in the area vividly recalls the ups and downs of ChiTown’s industrial area.

Chakai says all was well in the early 1990s, but the situation suddenly changed for the worst when Cone Texitiles ceased operations. Another company, Modzone, came on stream, but it never lasted long.

“I have been in this business for more than 20 years. I started operating when Cone Texitles Zimbabwe was still in operation, it had three shifts and employed more than 2 000 employees and this gave me a good market and business was brisk.

“During those days business was good. I managed to send my three children up to tertiary level because many companies were operating at full capacity. It hurts to note that only a few companies such as Gain Cash and Carry, Delta and Dairibord are the only ones still operating,” she said with a sorrowful face.

Chakai added: “If the situation continues to be like this then it means our source of income is on the line. These days we are forced to work seven days a week in order to increase our revenue, especially with the revellers who frequent this area on Sundays.”

Driving around the industrial area is no longer a joy. Given the potholes riddling the roads, it make good sense for one to walk on foot to avoid damaging their vehicle.

One worker, Chris Mutapi, employed by one of the residual companies in the area said: “Gone are the days when we used to see the unemployed sitting under that tree playing a game of draughts (checkers), with others seated next to the company gate waiting for a job call-up.

“Nowadays, job searching is now different because the company is no longer employing. You rarely notice people coming to search for jobs, may be because the company has scaled down its operations.”

The state of ChiTown’s industrial area paints a gloomy outlook for a once bustling dormitory town of nearly 400 000 residents.

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