George Maponga-Masvingo Bureau
Masvingo is set to accelerate its growth from next year, with many of the required fundamentals now in place to see the provincial gross domestic product reach US$8 billion in the next decade.
The province had not grown in a long time mainly due to drought and challenges of the first dispensation.
But investments made over the past few years, and particularly this year, in agriculture, mining and social services, have pushed the province to the cusp of sustainable development.
Masvingo province might be among the most arid, but it is home to 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s dammed water and fertile vast tracts of land that have been harnessed for irrigation and with plenty more hectares that can be irrigated.
With the highest dam density in Zimbabwe built around the two largest interior dams, Lake Tugwi-Mukosi and Lake Mutirikwi, it was an evident no-brainer that the province’s road to middle-income status lies in irrigation development.
Mineral endowments ranging from gold, lithium, diamonds, asbestos and chrome provide steady income, but far more is possible tying natural resources to the deep human resources base.
As a result of previous failures to exploit its low hanging fruits, Masvingo for years remained stuck in the economic rain shadow resulting in an array of challenges conniving to stunt socio-economic development in potentially and arguably Zimbabwe’s richest province.
Come 2022 things took a complete turn with Masvingo pivoting towards becoming an agricultural and mining engine for the country.
The province has since the onset of the year 2020 embarked on a number of projects that have consolidated gains initiated in 2021 to prime Masvingo for rapid socio-economic transformation.
This year has largely been the province’s turnaround year with a number of gains in the socio-economic sphere pithed on the devolution programme. Masvingo’s local authorities received a combined nearly $4 billion under devolution this year to finance capital development that had a direct bearing on people’s lives.
In the sphere of health delivery, devolution funds enabled completion of clinics at Zoma, Makwirivindi and Nerupiri in Gutu, Mashenjere in Masvingo and Mupamaonde in Bikita. The clinics were spearheaded by local authorities and sought to reduce the distance travelled by villagers in rural areas to seek health services.
In Masvingo City the new Runyararo Clinic was completed using devolution funds while piped water was connected at Chiguhune, Bhasera and Nerupiri clinics using the war chest.
Scores of new schools were also built across the province using devolution funds with the state-of-the-art Chirichoga Primary School in Masvingo Rural and new Rujeko Secondary School in Masvingo City being flagship schools, but the whole building programme filling the gaps in the network that have greatly reduced walking distance to school by learners and stemmed overcrowding.
In the area of roads devolution funds were mainly used to refurbish and upgrade roads in towns and growth points with sizeable funding being committed to overhaul the road network in Masvingo City, Chiredzi and Mpandawana towns, Nemanwa growth point in Gutu, Rutenga, Chivi in Mwenezi, Jerera in Zaka and Nyika in Bikita.
Modern and spacious vending markets equipped with ablution facilities were also completed using devolution funds across Masvingo province urban settlements with the Chitima fresh produce and vegetable market in the provincial city being the poster project.
“We are happy that we now have bigger and spacious stalls to sell our wares which is a marked improvement in terms of hygiene and also for our business because we can expand the product variety,’’says Mrs Anna Musvosvi, a Chitima market trader from Mucheke suburb.
“Even the new toilets are a relief because this place used to be an eyesore with no flushing toilets but we are happy that we have new toilets with running water.’’
Handicraft and artefacts traders near the historic Great Zimbabwe monuments on the eastern fringes of Nemanwa growth point also have the devolution war chest to thank after Masvingo Rural District council financed the facelift of their vending site making it modern and attractive to lure the tourist eye.
The traders say their fortunes have improved after the facelift and are looking forward to an even better festive season into 2023.
Rural roads such as Maringire-Berejena, Chivi-Takavarasha in Chivi, Manjokonjo-Tirizi and Bhuka-Mushandike-Mashava have also undergone upgrading with the later road being a boon for irrigation farmers at Mushandike, arguably the largest irrigation scheme in Masvingo by area.
The Presidential borehole drilling programme has also changed the socio-economic complexion of the province with almost all the districts having new boreholes drilled especially at schools, clinics and rural service centres. Piped water schemes to replicate the Chombwe irrigation project near Mhandamabwe in Chivi were also expanded with communities around Sipambi business centre now proud beneficiaries of a similar scheme that is boosting nutrition and rural incomes through green produce.
Government licenced at least 17 fishing cooperatives at Tugwi-Mukosi dam to venture into commercial fishing which also boosted food supplies and incomes amid reports an average of over 200 tonnes of fish is hauled from the water by the cooperatives annually.
A number of irrigation schemes were also either rehabilitated or expanded across Masvingo this year under the irrigation rehabilitation and revitalisation initiative.
Top on the list of game-changing irrigation schemes that were rehabilitated and expanded is Chilonga in Chiredzi, Mushandike in Masvingo district, Bwanya in Chivu and Matezva in Gutu. The rehabilitation and expansion of these schemes on top of engendering food security will no doubt boost incomes and nutrition which are key indicators of an empowered and prosperous society as envisioned under Vision 2030.
Plans are afoot to expand the area under irrigation in Masvingo province with the planned Mutirikwe greenbelt earmarked from an area stretching from around Mutimurefu Prison to Roy Business Centre further in the east being among key projects that were initiated this year.
The planned greenbelt will straddle nearly 4 000 hectares and will make Masvingo district a vital cog in the provincial food security engine tapping redistributed water from Lake Mutirikwi.
Tugwi-Mukosi, the larger dam, has now taken over the role of anchoring the irrigation of the Lowveld cane fields, with Lake Mutirikwe redirected by the Government into general irrigation in the surrounding Chikwanda communal lands.
Government also forged ahead with plans to create a vast greenbelt straddling nearly 200 000ha in the Lowveld using Masvingo’s abundant irrigation water under the gamut and ambit of the Lowveld Integrated Irrigation Development Plan which seeks to produce cash and industrial crops under irrigation in the Lowveld. A number of investors have, this year, shown interest to develop vast tracts of virgin land for irrigation.
Lowveld sugar producer Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe also this year reaffirmed its commitment to continue and expand its investment in Zimbabwe thanks to pro-investor policies by the Second Republic after resuming work on the US$40 million Kilimanjaro Sugar Cane project which had stalled because of funding challenges.
To date nearly 40 indigenous beneficiaries have already been allocated plots on the nearly 700ha that is now under cane while work on the full 3900ha project continues so that more beneficiaries can join the bandwagon.
Tongaat Hulett also recently announced that it is partnering about 30 indigenous prospective cane farmers to develop virgin land at Pezulu under Triangle into cane plantations that will straddle nearly 500ha. This will ramp up aggregate national sugar output, create more jobs and earn Zimbabwe more hard currency through sugar exports as Tongaat Hulett seeks to achieve the installed milling capacity of 630 000 tonnes of sugar at its Triangle and Hippo Valley mills in Chiredzi.
The year 2022 will also be remembered as a turnaround year for over 1000 indigenous commercial sugar cane farmers at Mkwasine estates in Chiredzi who had been grappling with severe water challenges because of obsolete outlet pipes at Manjirenji Dam in Zaka that waters the cane fields.
Repair works at the reservoir were kick-started this year with funding from Treasury under the 100 day cycle project. So far about 30 percent of the repair works have been completed giving hopes to farmers that next year they will be able to irrigate their 5000ha of cane plantations without hitches.
Before the start of repair works at Mkwasine, about 12 megalitres of water were being lost at the dam daily, seriously curtailing irrigation water supply by the water body that was commissioned in 1966.
In the area of mining the major development of the year was completion of a US$70 million chrome smelting plant near Mashava by a Chinese firm, Zimbabwe Zhongxin Smelting Company in a development that will benefit hundreds of chrome miners around the chromite-rich mining town.
The chrome smelter will employ north of 300 direct workers and during a tour to assess construction progress in August this year, Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Ezra Chadzamira hailed the investment as a potential game-changer for Mashava and surrounding areas while the entire provincial economy was going to experience positive domino effects from the investment.
Steelmakers-owned Sponge Iron and Mining and Beneficiation Industries plant in the Masvingo industrial area also resumed operations this year after an almost 2-year hiatus occasioned by low sponge iron prices on the international market a problem accentuated by the Covid-19 global pandemic that swept the globe from 2019.
The firm also this year formally applied for 120ha of additional land for expansion purposes while pledging to inject US$150 million to ramp up sponge iron production and beneficiate it to produce stainless steel products that are on high demand as the world weathers Covid-19 with a construction boom in the wake of the rebounding global economy. The SIMBI project is expected to create over 800 direct jobs.
Local private investor Great Zimbabwe Hydro Power Company started work on the US$14 million project to build a 5MW power station at Lake Mutirikwi. This is not large in national terms, a quarter of a percent of Zesa’s installed capacity, but should provide enough power to run the irrigation scheme and many other developments in around the lake and has already created hundreds of jobs mainly for locals from Chikwanda, Murinye and Mugabe communal lands that surround the dam. This project is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2022.
Masvingo province also started accruing benefits from Government’s rural industrialisation drive this year with the Mapfura/Marula Value Addition and Beneficiation Plant in Rutenga collecting more 1100 tonnes of mapfura/marula fruit from villagers in and around Mwenezi where the fruit is ubiquitous. The plant was built by the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe under the Second Republic’s rural industrialisation drive.
Villagers who supply the fruit pocketed more than US$5 million with prospects even brighter in future as more people are likely to warm up to the benefits of gathering the fruit harvest.
Mwenezi Rural District Council has also announced plans to develop 10 000ha of virgin land for mapfura/marula irrigation using water from Manyuchi Dam to satisfy the growing demands of the value-addition plant. All these developments are harbingers of an even brighter future for the Mwenezi folk as Government forges ahead with rural industrialisation based on the principle of ‘’leaving no one and no place behind.’’
Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) also joined other local state-owned universities in heeding the Government’s call for the institutions to be hot spots for seeking solutions to nagging community and national challenges after initiating work on the institution’s School of Research and Dryland Agriculture in the arid Chivi district.
The fledgling school will house warehouses to store traditional grains, research laboratories for plant and animal species that thrive in arid conditions as part of efforts to extricate surrounding drought-prone communities from food shortages and make them self-reliant.
GZU also completed the Simon Mazorodze School of Medicine and Health Sciences that was commissioned by President Mnangagwa,who is the institution’s Chancellor, in October this year. The school is expected to enrol its inaugural group of learners in January 2023 and this will help the province in particular and nation at large gravitate towards producing enough medical doctors to improve health delivery in line with Vision 2030.
In the business category, the province last month held the first provincial business expo where hundreds of exhibitors from within and without the province came along to showcase their different businesses.
The two-day expo marks the beginning of similar expos in the coming years with high hopes that the two-day fete will blossom into a big international event for the province to sell its opportunities to the outside world in the hope of quickly achieving a US$8 billion economy by 2030.
Minister Chadzamira said the expo was a unique opportunity for Masvingo to attract investment in various fields that will grow its Gross Domestic Product and set the province on the road to sustainable socio-economic transformation.
Masvingo born and bred businessmen also continued to curve their own unique feats with local city fuel mogul Mr Philip Mapfumo of Doczine Investments headlining a growing cast of young entrepreneurs who are blazing the trail in business as he further expanded his petroleum retail business across the country’s oldest town in the process creating employment opportunities for youths while encapsulating President Mnangagwa’s ‘’nyika inovakwa nevene vayo,’’ rallying call.
The annual Lake October Festival, which is now an annual fete on the province’s tourism calendar also continued to grow in leaps and bounds with this year fun lovers and domestic tourists treated to a four-day dose of entertainment that saw visitors flocking to Lake Mutirikwi and the surrounding tourist attraction sites around the Great Zimbabwe monuments citadel, among other activities.
The festival resumed this year after a three-year hiatus induced by the pandemic and organiser of the event Mr Garikai Garande said there is every reason to believe that the financial magnitude of the event will rake in more than US$1,5 million for Masvingo’s economy in a couple of years from now.
The Great Zimbabwe annual bikers rally resumed on a high this year, after a pandemic-induced interlude, with over 200 bikers from without and within the country’s borders partaking in the event that is slowly growing in scale with more participants coming mainly from South Africa.
On reflection, the year 2022 might as well be labelled a year of socio-economic turnaround for Masvingo, a province that had for long remained stuck in the backwaters despite its apparent potential given the massive water bodies that can be used for irrigation, central location and tourism potential.