Feature: Politics stifling Mutorashanga growth

Some of the shops forming the shopping centre

FOR several years, Mutorashanga, a mining town located about 100 kilometres north of the capital Harare, on the northern stretch of the Great Dyke range, was just a tiny chrome-mining settlement in Mashonaland West province.

But the locals, being an adventurous lot, discovered the Green Pool at the former collapsed Ethel Mine quarry dumpsite and converted it into a weekend outdoor spot.

Unfortunately, there were no amenities, shops or services for the “tourists” coming to enjoy their weekends swimming in the cool water at the Green Pool or cave hiking.

The people of Mutorashanga were losing out as the tourists preferred to bring their own drinks, braai packs and other goods.

The challenge, then, was that Mutorashanga had one shopping centre — Chizhange.

Made up of about 10 small buildings serving as Mutorashanga’s “town” centre, Chizhanje was built by white commercial farmers in the 1950s to serve a very samll farming community then.

The shops are now failing to cope with the growing population, forcing the majority to either travel approximately 35km to Mvurwi or 100km to Chinhoyi for services such as shopping.

With the influx of new farmers who came as a result of the government's fast-track land reform programme, something had to happen on the business front to capture the ready market.

Enterprising businesspeople took up the initiative, started building modern shops and other amenities in the area adjacent to the main stadium and a high school.

But, their efforts have come to naught as politically-inspired ownership wrangles over the land have taken centre-stage with authorities threatening to raze down the new buildings, claiming that they are illegal.

Several residents who spoke to the NewsDay expressed disappointment with  the local leadership’s lack of foresight.

Brain Mubayiwa, a resident at Tafara 2, said the new shops had reduced the walking distance for shoppers who covered up to seven kilometres for groceries.

“We have had shortages of shopping centres for a long time after Mutorashanga failed to develop due to arguments over the ownership of the land.

“No one has been allowed to build except the chrome mining companies who built houses for their workers,” he said.

Former councillor Sandram Kembo, was fronting efforts to transform the ghost mining town into a modern urban centre, before failing to retain his ward in August's harmonised elections.

 “He (Kembo) facilitated and secured a place where people could build the shops. We only had two shops here in Mutorashanga that had to serve the whole community but after construction of these new buildings, there were people who advised that the buildings were illegal,” Mubaiwa said.

“They say the shops were constructed on a farm but as youths, this is now negatively affecting us because were being employed as guards and shopkeepers.”

Another resident James Jena said: “The councillor launched a project to facilitate stands through Mutorashanga Development Association which benefited more than 100 people on the residential side but still there were challenges on public infrastructure due population increases.

“The challenge that we are facing now is that Zimasco is claiming that the stands allocated to people by Zanu PF are on their land but we do not agree because they admitted that it belongs to Umvukwesi Range A,” he said.

Jena added that Umvukwesi Range A was part of Zimasco properties before the land reform programme which started in 2000.

Zvimba Rural District Council CEO EniasChidakwa said that council expected political leaders to put their plans as motions that would be deliberated on by council which would then designate the area as a shopping centre.

“No one is above the law and whoever distributed the land knows the proper way to handle the issue, so we would want to see their plans for the area and the standard of buildings  while we also expect everyone to adhere to council by-laws,” he  said.

The chrome mines in Mutorashanga have over the years exchanged hands between four companies, namely African Chrome Mine, Union Carbide, Zimasco and Sinosteel.

Justine Jawadu, another resident, concurred, adding “We have a good thing happening here with the construction of new buildings but we are facing a challenge where certain people want to stop the progress that hasn't happened in years. The place you see here was just a forest. What worries us is that after the development was done, they are saying the buildings should be demolished.” 

Chidakwa said  the new shops need to be regularised to enable the owners to start paying rates.

“Yes, the shops were built illegally after someone sold land and collected money from people. What is now needed for the beneficiaries is for them to regularise their building so that they get services from council and other service providers,” he said.

“They should engage council to save the buildings and submit their plans to council for approval.”

Management at SinoSteel in Mutorashanga declined comment on the matter describing it as too sensitive.

Residents also believe allocating the land for residential purposes could also trigger development in the area.

Kembo, who declined to comment on the pending demotions, also agreed that the land should be developed for residential purposes.

“The potential to develop Mutorashanga as a growth point is there and it could accommodate the miners and farmers who live around the town,” he said.

Former Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister Ignatius Chombo was also advocating for resettled farmers in the area to buy stands and build houses to spur development.

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