New master plan for Bulawayo

Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, is in the process of drawing up a new 15-year master plan to replace one that expires next year, which fell far short of its targets, thanks to an economic and political meltdown that afflicted the country.

With 2015 beckoning, the local authority remains hopeful the new plan will drive growth in the city, but the country’s economic prospects cast a long shadow over this positive outlook.

The city council only went as far as providing housing stands and crafting a public transport policy in the last 15-year master plan.

“The economic meltdown has been the major contributor,” said Bulawayo City Council’s spokesperson Nesisa Mpofu, explaining why the 2000-2015 plan achieved very little.

The immediate economic outlook does not look promising either, as 10 Bulawayo companies were, between January and June, placed under judicial management and are facing liquidation.

In the next 15 years, the council has identified seven priority areas, if the master plan is to succeed, with an application to the Local Government ministry for more land for expansion of the city being at the top.

But this could prove to be a sticky point, as the council is having to ward off squatters and landless people on some of the land it owns, with reports claiming these are members of the ruling Zanu PF party, to which the local government minister belongs.

Also among the priority areas are establishing an economic base in the city, providing adequate housing and social amenities, and providing an efficient public transport system.

“As can be deduced some of these goals have not yet been achieved but they remain relevant (to the new master plan),” Mpofu explained.

Social commentator, Godwin Phiri believes that for the new master plan to work the local authority should implement a deliberate strategy to package the city as a business friendly place, which allows for a broad range of stakeholders to participate in planning and implementation, although he concedes that could be a tall order.

“Predictably the (last) plan has not achieved much. If anything, Bulawayo has seen a reversal of fortunes over the last 15 years and this is understandable given the macro planning environment,” he said. “It will require a miracle to achieve much under these circumstances. The council needs to rethink the way it does business and get out of its traditional comfort zones. It is not business as usual anymore.”

Mpofu said since the expiring plan was not fully implemented owing to economic challenges, a review would be done to satisfy local government regulations.

“The issues to be addressed remain valid, however, and therefore it is not necessary that a new plan be drafted but it is being reviewed in terms of Section 20 of the Regional Town and Country Planning Act,” she said. “The review factors in the current macro and micro development climate. It factors in achievements and lack of achievements under seven thematic areas or goals.”

Topping the Master Plan’s goals is the promise to ensure the availability of suitable land to meet the future needs of Bulawayo until 2015, and to establish a strong and sustainable local economic base in Bulawayo. Other goals are to ensure that “provision is made for adequate and appropriate housing and social facilities to meet the city’s needs during the plan period” and to ensure that “adequate and appropriate physical infrastructure is provided to meet the development needs of Bulawayo until 2015.” Another goal is to “develop Bulawayo into an attractive city and ensure the utilisation of land and the environment in a sustainable manner; and to promote a capable and forward thinking management for the city with adequate resources to meet its development needs.”

Bulawayo, which celebrated 120 years of its existence as a modern city in June, has been in decline for the past decade. Hundreds of companies have shut down or relocated to other cities citing various reasons. Thousands of workers have also been thrown out into the streets.

In his inauguration speech after winning last year’s elections, President Robert Mugabe described Bulawayo as a scrapyard and pledged that government would come up with solutions to problems facing the city. However, some analysts believe the solutions be proffered to arrest Bulawayo’s decline, including the expiring Master Plan, do not take new realities into account.

Most of the interventions seem to be “be stuck in a moment of history almost 40 years ago when Bulawayo was the industrial hub of Zimbabwe,” said Dumisani Nkomo, a political analyst. “We need to envisage Bulawayo as it will be in twenty to 50 years not seek to return it to what it was 40 years ago.”

The dictates of globalisation and the information communication technology revolution make it imperative for the city to reposition itself, identify its strategic competencies, and build its development foundations upon new opportunities in the new national and global socio economic and political environment, Nkomo explained.

“It may be a fallacy to think the same industries that made Bulawayo the industrial hub of Zimbabwe 40 years ago can be revived in the same state and compete with industries for example in the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa,” he added. “It may be necessary to identify the new competitive advantages of Bulawayo and build upon old ones which are still feasible.”

The review of the Master Plan is projected to cost the city $500,000 and council says it would have to approach funders such as the World Bank for loans as its coffers are dry.

 

Kholwani Nyathi is an award winning journalist based in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo.

Image via wikimedia.

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