Bulawayo City Council: The challenge to restore an industrial hub

One of the big challenges for local government in Southern Africa is to find accord between investment and balancing the books in difficult economic times.

For a city like Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, the emphasis is very much on trying to galvanize economic development.

TOWER BLOCK 2The country’s second largest city (after Harare), is located in Matabeleland, about 439 kilometres southwest of Harare, and is now treated as a separate provincial area from Matabeleland.

For a long time in Zimbabwe’s history Bulawayo was regarded as the industrial centre of Zimbabwe and the city served as the hub to the country’s rail network with the National Railways of Zimbabwe headquartered there because of its strategic position near Botswana and South Africa

“Bulawayo has traditionally been the industrial hub of the country with textile, tyre manufacturing, food processing, leather industries, heavy and light engineering industries based in the City among others,” describes Martin Kysack Moyo, the Mayor of the City of Bulawayo, who was elected for the period from 2013 to 2018.

“The harsh economic environment has made it difficult for the City of Bulawayo to conduct some of its proposed projects. The challenges with liquidity and high interest rates have also made it deterrent to access loans through banks for capital projects. The community that we serve also faces the same challenges and as a result, affects the revenue collections thus adversely affecting the budget.”

Mayor Moyo and his team are responsible for Bulawayo which has a surface area of 630 square kilometres and is home to 655,675 people. The city has a long and proud history, as Mayor Moyo explains:

“Bulawayo was founded on an area selected by Lobengula, the last of the Matebele Kings as his capital, hence the name “City of Kings”. The site was selected by the King, for his personal Kraal, and became the capital in 1870 when he emerged as Kraal successor to King Mzilikazi, his father and founder of the Ndebele state. Initially named “Gibixhegu” the capital was later named “Ko Bulawayo” and the king lived there until 1881.

“Colonialists made Bulawayo their gateway to settle in Zimbabwe. It attained town status on 1st June 1894 and had the first Municipal Council of 9 elected members in November 1897. By 1943 Bulawayo had attained city status. The city is the second largest in Zimbabwe and the centre of both Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South Provinces.”

Bulawayo’s council has managed to stand out as the leading municipality in Zimbabwe in terms of service delivery to its residents, through various campaigns engineered by the city council such as the #mycitymypride campaign and #keepbyoclean on social media, these have been met with positive responses by residents and other stakeholders within the city.

In recent years Bulawayo has also been widely perceived as the cleanest city in Zimbabwe due the councils effective waste management strategy, although like all major cities and towns in the country Bulawayo faces water challenges.

Despite this challenge and the need for further infrastructure reinforcement, the City retains its strong manufacturing base, although several larger companies have relocated to Harare in recent years, leaving behind infrastructure which has been left to deteriorate.

The reason for the city’s de-industrialization has been heralded to be the lack of infrastructure to support the size of the city and its operations and an unreliable source of water and the collapse of the rail infrastructure which was a core reason of placing industry in Bulawayo to begin with.

Plaque on wallLike many parts of the country, Bulawayo has for the past ten years seen a huge drop in service delivery and an increase in unemployment due to the number of resignations of people seeking better prospects across the border.

Many people resorted to farming, mining and the black market for sustenance, while others depended on the little foreign currency that would be sent by family in other countries. However, with the introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009, a new approach is seen by investors in the city who admire the already-available infrastructure and the huge workforce and Bulawayo as great prospects for the future and is set to once again contribute greatly to the economy of Zimbabwe.

“The City of Bulawayo offers various opportunities for the serious investor. Council staff is geared and ready to assist enquirers concerning any type of investment,” affirms Mayor Moyo, who outlines a wide range of projects ready for investment, including: hotels, nature parks, housing projects, shopping malls, community facilities, education facilities, industrial centres and the further development of a road port and inland port.

Certainly the lack of money is holding back the great potential of Bulawayo, but at the same time, it should be reflected that the City has undertaken some terrific projects including the introduction of performance based management; closing the deal on the Conversion of Waste to Energy Project and community participation (engagement) in refuse collection.

“We are also currently engaged in the development of the Egodini Mall and the development of a Specialist Medical Facility, while infrastructure rehabilitation work remains ongoing,” states Mayor Moyo.

Attracting investment and stimulating the local economy remain high priorities and mayor Moyo outlines some of the initiatives underway within the Council:

“We have looked at improving the ease of doing business with a review of processes and procedures.

“Additionally there is the provision of business incubation for SMEs and the provision of Council rented shops for emerging business. Bulawayo has also seen the introduction of a lease with option to purchase concept to facilitate development,” he describes.

The local government also works closely with local businesses to foster good lines of communication:

“The City of Bulawayo has a good working relationship with both government and business. Politically, the city administration falls under Ministry of Local Government and Public Works. The City is represented in various business organisations (commerce and industry) to provide a permanent consultative arrangement for information exchange and appreciation of respective challenges,” says Mayor Moyo.

He adds that computer education starts at primary school level, while older people have benefitted for the establishment of Vocational Training Centres for skills training; the introduction of the Mzilikazi Art School for the Youth; Bulawayo School Leavers Projects; Women’s Clubs and Youth Clubs which specialise in sporting activities.

Whilst external investment would help to significantly improve the scope of the City’s work, Mayor Moyo remains upbeat about what Bulawayo will achieve in the year ahead:

“We intend on finalising projects outlined in our water and waste water master plan which will see the rehabilitation of water and sewer infrastructure as well as the development of additional water and sewer treatment plants.

“We are also looking forward to the development of Egodini Mall which will see the construction of a major transport hub and shopping mall and we would be happy to see the revival of industry and its growth,” he concludes.