Marondera wakes up

The Mashonaland East Provincial capital, 70km southeast of Harare, is painfully and slowly clawing its way out of the out of the acute economic meltdown that has paralysed this country since the late 1990s.

Proton Bakeries
Proton Bakeries

This once prosperous farming town, situated along the highway that links Harare with the eastern city of Mutare, and the border with Mozambique, is home to an estimated 125,000 residents – mainly pensioners, former farm workers, the informally employed and pocket of civil servants.

Business activity in timber milling, carpentry, grain milling, bakery and retailing was severely downscaled as the national economic crisis – marked by shortages, hyperinflation, a breakdown in social services and withdrawal of investment – worsened through the past decade. But these are now showing signs of recovery, thereby creating a sizeable amount of jobs. The town’s biggest employer, Proton Bakery, recently expanded its operations.

The giant Cold Storage Commission abattoir, which was on the verge of total collapse, is being revived. Local farmers now have their cattle slaughtered and CSC has resumed the sale of cattle to the local public.

At its peak in the 1990s, CSC employed some 6,000 workers and was the biggest employer in the town. It virtually shut down its operations in early 2000, following disruption of farming activity caused by the land “reform” programme. The Mayor, Farai Nyandoro, is upbeat about prospects of the town regaining its lost glory. He said a number of investors were eyeing Marondera as the town was putting in place essential infrastructure.

“Investor applications are piling up. Our only challenge is limited serviced land in the Central Business area to accommodate new ventures,’’ he said. Government recently allocated $2,1 million dollars to expand the CBD, under the Public Sector Investment Project.

The council has significantly improved its service delivery as one of the strategies to prepare for full recovery. The road network, public lighting, business friendly service charges among other investor attractions are already in place, according to Nyandoro.

But revival is putting a strain on the municipality. “Available infrastructure might be overwhelmed by the ever rising urban population if we do not rise to the challenges,’’ said Nyandoro, who bemoaned poor planning by previous councils.

The council is currently servicing vast tracts of land for residential purposes, with about 4, 5000 beneficiaries likely to be allocated houses under the Hunyani Housing Project this year. A new Lower Paradise low density housing scheme is already benefiting home seekers on the council housing waiting list, with some 150 housing units already on offer. The council is planning to, in the next three months, rehabilitate the abandoned Marondera and Rusike flats so as to decongest low-income suburbs and improve health and sanitation standards in residential areas.

The town started as a rail-side resting place for farmers travelling between Harare and Mutare. After assuming Town Board status in 1964, a hotel was constructed at nearby Ruzawi to provide accommodation for the farmers. The surrounding farmland is extremely fertile and has made Marondera one of the most agriculturally productive districts in Zimbabwe – with horticulture, tobacco, ranching and cereals all doing well.

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