By Dumisani Nyoni
Bulawayo, March 08, 2016 – OPPOSITION People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president and former finance minister Tendai Biti says Bulawayo still lags behind Harare by 20 years and a massive 60 compared to other well developed cities on the continent.
Biti said the country’s second largest city was in urgent need of total transformation to be at par with the country’s capital.
He said what made the situation worse was that Harare itself was also behind other African cities by 40 years, making Bulawayo look like a city just from the “Stone Age era”.
“This region (Bulawayo) lags 20 years behind Harare and Harare itself is 40 years behind normal African cities,” Biti told RadioVOP on the sidelines of PDP meeting in the city on Sunday.
“So Bulawayo as a city is 60 years behind Cape Town or Johannesburg or other developed African cities like Nairobi in Kenya.
“The idea is to transform. Let’s create jobs so that there is full employment in Bulawayo. Let’s resuscitate the industry as Bulawayo is an industrial town and so let’s get those industries kicking again.”
In 2014, while addressing his supporters at Stanley Hall in Makokoba, Biti said Bulawayo was now a “giant museum” of closed companies while the whole country has been turned into the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.
Bulawayo was historically known as Zimbabwe’s industrial hub and people used to travel from all corners of the country in search of jobs in the city’s industries.
But due to the economic meltdown in the past 15 years, most have shutdown or re-located to Harare or South Africa.
Many have downsized or closed shop altogether, throwing thousands into joblessness.
According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, more than 20 000 workers lost their jobs since 2009 as companies shut down owing to the economic recession.
Biti lamented the state of Bulawayo companies, adding the saddening thing was that there was no hope the current government’s economic blueprint ZimAsset could reverse the trend.
“The state of affairs of Bulawayo industries is so sad. We used to have the National Railways of Zimbabwe employing thousands and with about four worker unions.
“It is so sad that Bulawayo that was once the industrial hub of the country has been turned into a giant museum of national failure with hundreds of closed companies,” he was quoted as saying.
“Growing up, we used to know that the Great Zimbabwe Ruins was found in Masvingo, but Bulawayo and other cities now fall under the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. Everything has been ruined by Zanu PF in this country.”
During his tenure as a Finance minister, Biti unveiled $40 million for the survival of Bulawayo industries under the Distressed and Marginalised Areas Fund (DIMAF).
However, the fund was a pittance compared to the damage that has been caused by years of economic ruin.
Biti said Bulawayo residents should be given a reason to smile again, arguing why total transformation was necessary.
“Let them come back from Mzansi (South Africa) to this beautiful country. But we need to create jobs because they can’t smile without jobs, gross capital formation, without integration and cohesion,” he said.
Economic analyst Reginald Shoko said Bulawayo was suffering because of heavy regulations. He said city authorities were sticking “too much into the books”.
“We are a reserve society and we have no short-cuts in terms of development. We stick too much into the books. We are too regulated in Bulawayo,” he said.
Shoko added that Bulawayo was a “flea market” of South Africa. He said the population in the city was too small to pull significant investment.
As a solution, Shoko said the government should craft policies prompting embassies to be headquartered in Bulawayo. He said companies such as How Mine should be headquartered in Bulawayo.
“That doesn’t impress investors. So government should shun bambazonke (hoarding) mentality,” he said.