Matabeleland Development Foundation in ambitious plan to turnaround region


Botswana was one of the poorest countries in Africa when it attained independence in 1966. Its per capita income was about P60 (US$80 at the time). Its gross domestic product, or total output, was only P36.9 million.

Today, it is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to the discovery of diamonds, which now account for 90 percent of its exports, as well, of course, as sound economic management.

Its gross domestic product was estimated at US$13.9 billion last year with per capita income at US$8 800, a staggering Z$49.3 million at the diaspora rate.

The country can literally shut down everything and survive for two years. Its foreign currency reserves stood at US$5.3 billion at the end of December with import cover at 26 months.

The Matabeleland Development Foundation (MDF), a non-government organisation established in 1988 shortly after the unity accord that brought together the ruling ZANU-PF and the then opposition PF-ZAPU, plans to have a similar transformation for the dry, arid region of Matabeleland, which borders Botswana, and comprises Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South.

The organisation, which aims to be the engine driver for growth in the region, intends to turn Matabeleland into “the most developed region in Zimbabwe as measured by the standard of living, industrialisation, and infrastructural development by the year 2008”.

It plans to attract investment of not less than six large companies every year and to reduce unemployment in the region by 50 percent every year.

This looks like an impossible task for an organisation which has nothing to show for the 16 years it has been in existence. But Phineas Makhurane, former vice-chancellor of the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), who comes from Gwanda in Matabelelend South, said while the region might not be able to attain the goal of becoming the most developed region in the country by 2008, what was important was that the people of the region had the heart to come up with that goal.

“Life is a continuous story of shattered dreams,” he told members of the MDF, who had come to Bulawayo from as far as Binga and Beitbridge to attend the organisation’s first annual general meeting in four years.

“What matters is that we must have dreams. We must have hearts in which to put the dreams. And we must try never to say the dreams cannot be achieved. We must have the passion, the conviction and the sense of wanting to do something important and to make a difference.”

Though the situation on the ground appeared hopeless for the region, the spirit of self-reliance, hope and a re-awakening was evident throughout the day-long meeting, with speaker after speaker echoing the organisation’s stated goal of self reliance which is displayed on all the organisation’s documents in six local languages: Zenzele (Ndebele) Zushingile (Tonga), Libelekele (Nambya), Zwitile (Kalanga), Dzietele(Venda), Diyele(Sotho).

A closer look at the region shows that, though it falls mainly in natural regions four and five, which experience frequent droughts, it has vast natural resources which if fully exploited can catapult it to the top.

John Nkomo, one of the most senior government ministers from the region, said the region was one of the richest in the country because it had the largest game sanctuary in the country, Hwange National Park.

It had the foremost tourist attraction not only in the country but in the world, Victoria Falls. It also had Matopos and Khami Ruins. It had the largest coal mine in the country at Hwange as well as the largest internal power generation plant also at Hwange.

It had vast methane gas reserves, plenty of gold and timber, and could soon be turned into a greenbelt with the commissioning of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project.

It hosted the country’s busiest border towns: Beitbridge, Plumtree and Victoria Falls. And it had vast human resources waiting to be exploited.

Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, was the hub of Zimbabwe’s industry though it had slumped over the years. No one knows the level of de-industrialisation but the central bank has commissioned a study to look into this.

The same applies to unemployment. Though the MDF intends to reduce unemployment by 50 percent a year, no one knows the number of unemployed in the region. It is, however, estimated that up to 80 percent of the employable population is without jobs.

On the way forward, Nkomo said: “The only problem holding us back is that we have kept aloof. We still want to do things as individuals.”

He said people in the region were not taking advantage of key officials in the government who came from the region.

These included Nkomo himself, who was responsible for land and could therefore chip in if people formed consortiums to go into agriculture.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi could grant them licences if they wanted to organise casinos to raise funds.

They could also use people like Nicholas Ncube who was at the central bank and was in charge of development, Sam Malaba who was at Agribank which gave loans for agricultural purposes, and, though he did not come from the region, Environment and Tourism Minister Francis Nhema, the region’s son-in-law, to get licences to operate safaris and tourism related projects.

Matabeleland South governor Angeline Masuku blamed the slow growth in Matabeleland to lack of motivation and the will to improve the region.

“Before you blame anybody for lack of development, ask yourself what you have done for the region,” she said. “Development means developing yourself and improving your standard of living, not being propped up by someone else.”

Mohadi, who comes from Beitbridge was more forthright. “He who does not work, shall not eat,” he said, quoting from the Bible. The people of Matabeleland had to realise, therefore, that no one was going to bail them out. They had to strengthen district associations that formed the MDF, identify the priorities of the people and come up with projects that could be implemented in the region.

He said the MDF, with the help of the district associations had to ensure that companies and institutions that were doing business in the region ploughed something into the community.

He queried, for example, why the region did not have ready access to foreign currency when most of the currency was coming through Beitbridge, Plumtree and Victoria Falls. Why was it not possible for the region to get a small percentage of all the foreign currency that went through these border posts?

Citing a story in the Herald in which Mhondoro Development Association had raised millions of dollars using company executives and government employees from the district, MDF chairman Tshinga Dube, said if a district could organise something that big, how about a region which comprised three provinces.

Dube, who has been instrumental in resuscitating the MDF and was asked to steer the organisation until the end of the year to enable district structures to be properly organised, said all that was required was unity of purpose.

MDF Patron Dumiso Dabengwa, who is the chairman of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, said the region was losing out because of lack of commitment from the people. He said the MWZP had secured a $25 billion loan from the central bank for the project and construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam had already started.

Dabengwa said he had been shocked when Water Resources Minister Joyce Mujuru asked him whether they had already sold out businesses along the shorelines of the proposed dam.

He urged delegates to take up this challenge because businesses along the shorelines such as fishing camps, chalets and boating facilities could be grabbed by people from outside the region if the people of the region did not move fast enough.

Makhurane, who gave the keynote address said there were three fundamental dimensions of development: individual development, technological development and organisational development.

“The first dimension is the development and transformation that occurs in individuals when they improve their knowledge, their skills and their attitudes and begin to take pride in their work, in their relationships, in their environment, in their appearances and in themselves,” Makhurane said.

He said individual development led to higher productivity, greater responsibility and resourcefulness. It also made one aware of the difference between dependence, independence and interdependence.

“The dependency syndrome would tend to make the people of Matabeleland blame other people or their environment for all their miseries. Independence would make them take the responsibility for their situation. The highest level of maturity, interdependence, would make us realise that in life we need our own efforts and the cooperation of others in order to get what we want- including development in our region,” he said.

Makhurane said technological development was necessary for greater productivity while organisational development led to both higher productivity and democratic governance.

Though it seems to have an insurmountable task ahead of it, the MDF already seems to have broken ground. While it had been limping along with deficits up to last year, it had a surplus of $6.3 million in the first half of this year. It raised the money on its own.

And while a lot of work has still to be done to realise its goals, all the region needs is commitment. After all, it has more resources than Botswana. It even has the diamonds that catapulted Botswana, at River Ranch in Beitbridge.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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