via Bulawayo business group sets out plans for city’s revival | SW Radio Africa by Nomalanga Moyo September 26, 2013
Fed up with constant references to Bulawayo as a dying city, three entrepreneurs have come up with an initiative aimed at reviving the country’s second largest city.
Called ‘Bulawayo Business Arise’, this is an ambitious project which has the potential to turn around the city’s waning fortunes.
While acknowledging the huge task ahead, given years of decline and disinvestment in the Matebeleland region, the founders of this business forum say they are not starting from scratch.
“Bulawayo used to be Zimbabwe’s industrial and employment hub. That means the city already has a well developed infrastructure which can still be revived,” the administrator, George Mukamba told SW Radio Africa on The Big Picture programme.
He added: “The region also boasts abundant resources which can be channelled towards reviving the regional economy.”
But this, alone, will not kick-start any revival, and according to Eric Chaeruka who heads the group’s small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) development portfolio, this is only possible through a fresh business model.
“While the Bulawayo of yesterday was driven by the textiles industry, we think that is no longer viable due, in part, to the influx of cheap imports especially from Asia.
“So what we propose is investment in other sectors such as information technology. We already have universities such as the National University of Science and technology, Solusi, and Lupane and those can help in terms of research and the direction in which the city can take,” Chaeruka said.
Formed in March this year, Bulawayo Business Arise already has a membership of 43 SMEs, and Chaeruka says they aim to encourage more residents to become entrepreneurs, as a way of countering the country’s high unemployment rate.
The group says many people are already involved in business, “but what they need is assistance with management skills so that they grow.”
Last week, the group submitted their blueprint to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, proposing that the city be declared a specialised economic zone.
“This will accelerate investment inflow into the city and spur economic development. This has worked in countries such as China, India and South Africa as it creates incentives that are favourable to investors,” reads part of the proposal.
A number of activities aimed at drumming up support for the initiative have been lined up, including an investment conference set for November where businesspeople will interact and discuss the challenges they face.
Next week, the group is hosting the government’s Minister of SMEs Sithembiso Nyoni who will hold a discussion with Bulawayo SMEs on relevant issues.
Over the last decade, more than 90 companies have folded in Bulawayo, leaving more than 20,000 people without jobs.
While it had been hoped that the government sponsored ‘Distressed Industries and Marginalised Areas Fund’ would inject life into struggling firms, this has not yielded much with recipients such as stationery firm Marvo still facing collapse.
Statistics suggest that at least $73 million will be required to revive Bulawayo’s industries but only $20 million of the allocated $40 million has been disbursed.