Students accommodation complex built using local currency NUST student accommodation

Nqobile Tshili, [email protected]

BUILT on a former gold mine, the Bulawayo Students Accommodation Complex (BSAC) situated in Selbourne Park in Bulawayo has become a symbol of innovation and resilience in the construction sector. The project, which commenced in 2019, suffered an initial blow following the outbreak of Covid-19 the following year resulting in delays in work due to measures implemented to contain the virus.

It was completed in February this year, also weathering a phase of the exchange rate volatility that saw some players in the construction sector halting projects.However, the Infrastructure and Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) innovated around currency challenges and commenced the construction of the US$15,6 million project with the officials from the bank describing it as uniquely constructed using local currency only.

It is a joint venture between IDBZ, the Mining Industry Pension Fund, Old Mutual and Zimnat. IDBZ officials said the project faced a lot of challenges including the discovery of disused gold mine tunnels when construction works started. The facility started accommodating 490 students from across tertiary institutions in July last year with those from the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) in the majority.

The bank charges students US$90 monthly to occupy the facility and when used to full capacity, it will accommodate 1 023 students.
When the tertiary institutions are closed, the facility will be used to accommodate visitors to the city. IDBZ director private sector operations Mr Nobert Mutasa said BSAC is one of the few major projects to have been constructed using local currency in the past five years.

The Bulawayo Students’ accommodation.

“Something unique about this project is that it is the only project in this country that was implemented fully using the Zimbabwe dollar, while others were complaining that they couldn’t implement projects using Zim dollars. We are now generating US dollar revenues out of a Zim dollar-funded project. In a big way it actually preserved our capital,” said Mr Mutasa.

IDBZ chief executive officer Mr Thomas Zondo Sakala said while they were alive to the currency challenges, the bank resorted to procuring all the raw materials as opposed to advancing the funds to contractors.

“Because of some of the macroeconomic challenges and the volatility in terms of currency, we had to find a way to make sure the impact on our projects would be kept at a minimal and here at the BSAC we bought most of the materials upfront,” said Mr Zondo Sakala.

“In other words, we were able to buy them at a certain price and it was locked at that and mainly the contractors came in with labour. That way it helped us ride the challenges of volatility in the prices of various materials needed in the construction and this has been a useful experience by and large,” said Mr Zondo Sakala.

He said due to the success in the construction of the students’ accommodation hostels, IDBZ is implementing the same model in other projects across the country. Mr Zondo Sakala said the successful implementation of its innovation has seen the Government roping the bank to provide its expertise in other infrastructure development projects.

“We are in the infrastructure sector. We are getting useful lessons so they ask us to be part of their teams that then review their own contracts and their own projects. We are available, it is also part of our mandate to assist other Government departments where we have comparative advantage or where we have useful experiences,” he said.

Mr Zondo Sakala said the discovery of the gold mine increased the cost of construction as they had to bring experts from South Africa to provide technical assistance.

“There used to be a gold mine which had not been picked during the Geo-technical surveys. We found there were some old tunnels down there. So the foundation on one section of the project is very deep and reinforced, we had to bring in experts from South Africa and we had to add additional materials,” said Mr Zondo Sakala.

“The other interesting thing about this project is that besides the geo-technical challenges we implemented it during Covid-19. We had to manage the impact on the number of staff who had to be on site. We had to house those who were involved in the construction in one facility to manage issues to do with isolation.”

The facility is expected to generate income for the private sector as it has 33 commercial units including a food court, bank, grocery shops and pharmacy among other services.

It is equipped with closed circuit television and biometric entrance which increases the security of the students occupying the facility. —nqotshili

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