Austin Nyathi, Features Correspondent
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step!
This phrase perfectly describes the growth of Gwanda town, which was founded as a small settlement around 1900 by the white settlers and has made great strides in economic and infrastructure development post-independence.
The mining town is strategically located along the Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa commercial trade road on the North-South corridor which also goes through the same countries up north to the rest of Africa.
It is within a 90-minute drive from the country’s second-largest city, Bulawayo and two hours away from Beitbridge, the port of entry that links Sadc countries north of the Limpopo to South Africa. Gwanda is also strategic to investors as the Beitbridge-Bulawayo railway line passes right through the middle of the town.
Endowed with rich red soils weathered from gold bearing granite rocks, plain savannah and sweet grasslands, the town has significant potential as a livestock ranching and mining hub.
If one looks back from the pre and immediate post-independence era, it is apparent that a lot has changed and the town remains on the road to transformation to a medium or big city.
People-centred service delivery, the provision of social amenities, education, health and business opportunities have been growing with each year and this is expected to go a gear up with the Government fully implementing the devolution concept.
Additionally, the town’s success story is anchored on a culture of living and working together by the forward-thinking residents and those with the levers of power at local and national levels.
In fact, the community seems committed to creating a place where everyone cannot only feel at home but also feel at work. There is a general consensus among the community that everyone must do something to make it awesome.
While the economic foundation of Gwanda is gold mining and cattle ranching, residents have a clear understanding of the need to balance the economy with environmental, social and cultural aspects of the community in order to create a place where people want to live.
Gwanda town is home to 100 333 people, according to the 2012 national census and some of its suburbs have been developing at tremendous speed over the past 40 years in terms of immovable properties.
These include Spitzkop North Extension and Medium Density suburbs. What started off as a small settlement transformed into a rural district council, town council and now a municipality, drifting towards a medium city status.
The Jahunda town, as it is affectionately known to the residents, has grown in both population and infrastructural development.
At Independence, about 4 000 people made up the community of Amajahunda amahle and lived in two locations namely Old Location and Marriage Quarters which were built in the late 1960s and mid-70s respectively.
In separate interviews, former city fathers and senior citizens all concurred that a lot has improved in most economic and social sectors post-independence.
During the colonial era, there were few notable developments including Old location, Marriage Quarters, Jahunda Primary School and Gwanda Secondary School, also known then as F2, now Gwanda High.
“At Independence in 1980, the town of Gwanda was administered by the then Gwanda Rural Council and had a population of about 4 000, according to the 1982 population census.
“The town has witnessed major growth and development since then and its population should be more than 70 000 now,” said former Town Clerk, Mr Gilbert Jackson Mlilo.
He said in 1991, the area became a stand-alone entity after being granted town status, Gwanda Town Council while the rural part of the then Gwanda Rural Council subsequently merged with the Gwanda District Council to form the rural district council.
Due to its growth and development, Mr Mlilo said the town was upgraded to a municipality in 1999.
“All the land within the area of the town was urban state land under the Ministry of Local Government. However, following the attainment of the municipal status, we applied to be given title to the land and it was granted in 2002,” he said.
“In order to ensure full decentralisation of Government activities to provinces, the Government financed the construction of a number of government buildings in Gwanda, the provincial capital of Matabeleland South province.
“These include the new ZRP complex, new government complex, Mtshabezi building, doctors’ flats, Veterinary Services offices, Provincial Affairs offices (formerly Governor` s offices) east of the railway line, CMED at the Hampden industrial site, Gwanda Zimbabwe Integrated Teacher Education College (Zintec), now known as Old Site and the state-of-the-art Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic among others”.
He said in order to facilitate indigenisation, the Government opened up new opportunities for the citizens by the promulgation of appropriate policies and directing local authorities to relax their by-laws.
“As a result, a number of properties developed by the indigenous persons and growth of the informal sector or SMEs are bearing testimony to the empowerment programs by the Government.
“You’ll realise that mining was a preserve of the big mining companies like Blanket mine and Vumbatshigwe, but after Independence, a lot of development has taken place through indigenous mining companies. We now have Glo garage which was built by a local miner, Kaweni Complex and Rebrine Complex among others,” added Mr Mlilo.
Other post-independence development efforts include the construction of NSSA complex, CIP building, Cabs building, Agribank, Oasis, GMB, First Avenue commercial properties, Redan garage, Glow garage, Topic funeral parlor, and industrial shells at the Hamden industrial site.
According to a senior resident, Mrs Margarine Khumalo, who has witnessed the transformation of Jahunda town over the years, the Government came up with a number of housing development initiatives to promote property development.
Among these, she said, were housing schemes where two-roomed structures were put up and residents would complete the superstructures.
“Some of the residents benefited from Government programs like the USAID scheme in Phakama where people were given building materials to construct their own homes.
“Before Independence, people did not have properties but now the town is dotted with beautiful homes,” she said.
The senior citizen added that most of the roads in the high-density area were not tarred but things were improving despite the unfriendly economic climate.
Through government funding, a number of these roads were constructed including Jahunda Ring Road, USAID Roads, Jahunda, and Ultra High area, Medium Density, Jacaranda and Spitzkop. At Independence, the tarred road connected Marriage Quarters and the long-distance bus terminus only.
Mrs Khumalo said water used to be drawn from Blanket Dam and Sheet Dam but following the construction of the Mtshabezi Dam, it was agreed that Gwanda would get a four percent yield from Mtshabezi water as and when needed.
Former Executive Mayor, Mr Rido Mpofu said during the 1950s and 1970s, the town was just a mining compound that had the Bulawayo-Beitbridge highway and a few buildings belonging to some people of Indian origin.
“Before Independence, there were only a few buildings belonging to the Indians along Soudan Street,” he said.
“In fact, there was Dix Furniture Shop and Mine Elect among the notable structures with only two black business persons namely Cadys Motors and Thabani Store.
“After 1980, the Government introduced a number of polices among them the Zimbabwe-Cuba Teacher Education program to equip local teachers with teaching skills.
“There was significant infrastructural development that included the construction of schools, housing units, and road network within Gwanda town”.
The Gwanda water treatment plant was upgraded with assistance from the French Red Cross.
In addition, a five mega litres water reservoir was constructed on Spitzkop hill to ensure improved water supply for the whole town.
On the health side, the town managed to decommission the Renkini old clinic which only accommodated very few people at a time and construct a new, bigger one, at Phakama while the provincial hospital was upgraded, courtesy of Pretoria Portland Cement.
The health institution has a state-of-the-art paediatric ward (named Inkonyane) and a private ward. Strides were also made in constructing Gwanda Government Secondary School to ease pressure off Gwanda High which, at independence, was the only secondary school in the town.
At tertiary level, the town has two universities namely, Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) formerly the University of Zimbabwe Centre for Distance Education and Gwanda State University, which is currently operating from Epoch Mine in Filabusi District .
It remains every Gwanda resident’s dream to see the town realising its full potential as a major economic player and model of development in the country’s southern region.
Austin Nyathi is the provincial information officer for Matabeleland South