Nelson Chenga, Staff Reporter
IT was an excellent initiative that sought to arrest the age-old dilemma of rural to urban migration affecting many developing countries. However, more than three decades after the growth points were introduced in Zimbabwe as a panacea to rapid urbanisation, the settlements have struggled to live up to expectation.
Wedged in the middle of purely communal lands, the quasi-urban set ups experienced phenomenal growth soon after the country’s 1980 independence, but they are now battling to remain relevant. To all intents and purposes, the growth points have failed to reduce pressures on the country’s major towns and cities due to their thin economic bases which are getting leaner on the back of inadequate central government funding, poor planning and a badly performing economy.
The failure by the growth points to plug migration into large cities has resulted in the capital city, Harare, experiencing swift growth. This has caused living standards in the sunshine city to drastically deteriorate due to worsening water and sanitation conditions.
Harare is among Africa’s 40 cities with more than a million people.
The majority of the people who were ejected from the capital city during the controversial 2005 Operation Murambatsvina whichsought to destroy all the illegal settlements in Harare and other towns and cities have since returned and are rebuilding their “homes” on new land that has little to no infrastructure in place.
Backyard shacks and unauthorised house extensions are resurfacing in Harare and other major urban centres that are offering better prospects for job seekers.
Because Zimbabwe’s economy was once propped up by agriculture, hitherto its backbone, this sector’s demise over the past decade resulted in once bustling growth points such as Murambinda, Mupandawana, Magunje, Dotito, Mutawatawa, Jerera, Murombedzi, Kotwa and Sanyati, among others, experiencing inertia.
Out of the more than 40 growth points that were named just after independence only one, Gokwe, in the Midlands Province, has attained town status. And none of the numerous other areas with business centre status have graduated into growth points.
Even after attaining town status, Gokwe, whose growth was bolstered by cotton farming, might probably soon find itself requesting to be again accorded growth point status to attract investors since the crop that triggered its expansion is perpetually affected by volatile global lint prices.
Also threatened by the ever unstable cotton prices are Sanyati and Nembudziya growth points that lie in the country’s cotton farming belt.
Without good prices, farmers may soon abandon planting the crop and these growth points would have very little else to lean on for further growth.
Mupandawana, in Gutu District, whose phenomenal growth in the 1980s activated so much activity that even sex workers were on course to establish red light districts there, is now a pale shadow of its former glory.
Although Mupandawana, with a population of more than 30 000 people, is crying out for town status, it has lost much of what helps justify its case. The little industrial activity in the form of a milling factory, cooking oil manufacturing unit, a brewery and clothing factory that used to drive Mupandawana all crashed out of business over the past 10 years. And a bakery, that is still toughing it out, is charting rough seas as the country fast travels down the road towards completely failing to grow its own wheat.
However, Gutu Rural District Council authorities are still hopeful that the situation might change for the better.
“We are not stagnant yet. We can’t be stagnant, but we are growing at a snail’s pace. We are growing but no at the pace we would like,” said the council’s chief executive officer, Frederick Tozvireva, in a recent interview with The Financial Gazette.
Council chairperson, Daniel Jinga added: “Farming should anchor Mupandawana but that sector has not been performing well with Gutu experiencing frequent drought spells. We have also not been getting enough resources from central government, which has forced us to rely on the little revenue we get from residents.”
While Gutu District is more than just farming as it is also blessed with mineral deposits that include alexandrite, emeralds, tantalite and gold, the area has been unable to court any serious investor due to the country’s currently tricky investment climate, clouded by political uncertainty as well as concerns around its indigenisation and empowerment crusade.
Villagers are also refusing to give up the land they are occupying for Mupandawana’s expansion.
Despite having been consulted and later informed that the land being occupied by Mukadziwasha, Mupandawana and Munangangwa villages was part of the growth point’s master plan, villagers in these areas have declined to be relocated, stalling Mupan-dawana’s plans to expand en route to attaining town status.
Like Mupandawana, Zimbabwe’s growth points need stronger economic bases to anchor their development if the country is to be able to sustain the looming wave of rural to urban migration as envisaged by the United Nations.
The UN estimates that Africa and Asia would account for 86 percent of the world’s urban population growth over the next 40 years, a situation that would bring new challenges for developing nations.
“Africa’s rate of urbanisation of 3,5 percent per year is the highest in the world, resulting in more urban areas with bigger populations, as well as the expansion of existing urban areas,” says the UN Environmental Programme.
The 2011 Revision of the World Urbanisation Prospects produced by the UN Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that Africa’s urban population would increase from 414 million to over 1,2 billion by 2050.
According to Michael Lipton, an economist specialising in rural poverty in developing countries: “The rural sector contains most of the poverty and most of the low-cost sources of potential advance; but the urban sector contains most of the articulateness, organisation and power.” It follows therefore that Zimbabwe’s growth points must become more articulate and better organised as urban settlements to be able to reduce pressure on the country’s major towns and cities.
Graduating into proper urban centres that offer jobs, housing and infrastructure would help Zimbabwe’s growth points take advantage of the opportunities that come with urbanisation.
“This unprecedented increase in urban population will provide new opportunities to improve education and public services in Africa and Asia, as more concentrated populations become easier to reach,” said a UN April press release.