MOST cities and towns in Zimbabwe are characterised by dilapidated infrastructure, de-industrialisation, over-crowded streets, poor state of roads, unavailability of public lighting, among other challenges. City fathers if confronted on this state of affairs, argue that there is no foreign currency and investors are not keen on pumping money into the development of these urban centres. But as debate on this subject rages on, the suggestion proffered by Bulawayo industrialists yesterday that the City of Kings in its entirety, declared an industrial Special Economic Zone (SEZ) as opposed to adopting a sectoral approach can be panacea to lack of development. Bulawayo, once Zimbabwe’s industrial hub, has been facing serious de-investment and recent SEZ approval by Government was welcome, but industrialists feel the focus on leather and textile alone is narrow.
The captains of industry argue that this sectoral approach will not yield the desired industrial revival. The industrialists pointed out that the city had a wider spectrum of industry operations across different sectors, which should benefit immensely from the model through a value chain system. They said this while contributing during a pre-budget dialogue symposium organised by our sister paper, Chronicle, in Bulawayo. CZI Matabeleland Chapter president Mr Joseph Gunda said while business was pleased that Bulawayo has been declared a SEZ, they wanted an inclusive model covering the whole city. Zimbabwe has adopted the SEZ concept following lobbying by industry bodies with a view of attracting investment in designated areas, which would offer special conditions and incentives to enhance international competitiveness as well as foster industrial growth and development.
It is against this background that Bulawayo, with companies in sectors such as engineering, food processing, leather and textile, among other areas, yearns to benefit from the SEZ concept. SEZs have many advantages for cities and towns as they promote industrialisation and economic growth through sustainable development. Under normal circumstances SEZ units are offered tax rebates, fiscal incentives and land at subsidised rates. Given the support the SEZs enjoy from Government, they are expected to generate additional economic activity, promote exports of goods and services, stimulate investment from domestic and foreign sources and create employment among other activities.
The SEZs also help in developing infrastructure facilities and simplifying procedures for development. Zimbabwe wields unlimited potential for economic growth and prosperity, but lack the spark to ignite its inert potential while the decade of economic downturn pulled it down. The legislation is there and what might be needed most is the will to make the SEZ concept work for the country. On November 1, 2016 the Special Economic Zones Act (Chapter 14:34) was gazetted and came into force effectively replacing the Export Processing Zones Act.
But enabling legislation is not an end in itself. Work must start in earnest now and each stakeholder should play ball. We are not there yet, although we have moved miles in coming up with the SEZ legislation that was signed into law by President Mugabe. The legislation is only part of the foundation of a humongous superstructure that must be built and this is not an event, but a process, which requires constant evaluation.
We say so because the SEZs are being established to restore and drive the economy’s capacity to produce goods and services competitively. Other objectives of the SEZs include ensuring inclusive growth emanating from the spread of growth nodes and diversified provincial offerings; to maximise the economic benefits of a given geographical location and its stakeholders and to attract more investment from the international world.
We must move with speed and remove any bottlenecks that might impede the quick operationalisation of the SEZs. China, the world’s second largest economy after the US that has successfully built a diversified industrial base is willing to help Zimbabwe in developing SEZs. For an economy like Zimbabwe, which has for several years suffered from economic estrangement SEZs are a way of attracting foreign investment and creating jobs.