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Bulawayo: From industrial to church hub

by Staff reporter
12 Jul 2017 at 13:09hrs | Views
ONCE regarded as the country's industrial hub, Zimbabwe's second largest city has suffered what probably ranks as the worst job carnage, occasioned by the deteriorating economic situation that has led to seismic company closures, with churches now occupying buildings that used to be a hive of industrial activity.

The city is now a pale shadow of its former self after it was turned into a ghost town by gross maladministration, corruption, marginalisation and utter ignorance by those in power.

Bulawayo had deservedly earned the moniker koNtuntu Ziyathunqa, loosely translated to mean a place that continually exudes smoke, but not anymore.

Its industry has literally become a grave site, with no production taking place.

Zimbabwe's second largest city was influential and crucial in the country's production and manufacturing sector.

Analysts this week said a string of government programmes initiated in the past two decades to revive the city's collapsed industries have turned out to be nothing but cheap politicking, as the reality on the ground speaks of a totally different story.

Lack of sound policies, among other deficiencies, have led to a sad scenario where many factories in the city's industrial sites are now abandoned, with churches taking over.

According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), close to 100 firms have closed down or relocated from Bulawayo in the past decade or so.

Enter an abandoned factory in the once-pristine metropolis of Zimbabwe's second largest city, one comes face-to-face with the sad reality of how stubborn problems of de-industrialisation have spawned long grasses and bushes growing, while the abandoned equipment is rusting.

The abandoned factory shells have, however, become the new home to worshippers, who have since invaded the idle warehouses.

Some of the churches that have taken over the industrial shells include Emmanuel Makandiwa's United Family International Church, which is now using the once buzzing factory of one of the city's biggest textile companies, Textile Mills, which employed hundreds of workers during its peak.

Also occupying the Thorngroove industrial area is Blessing Chiza's Eagle Life Assembly.

Another new entrant in the industrial area is one led by controversial South Africa-based Shepherd Bushiri's Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church in Belmont.

This is just but to mention a few notable ones.

A tour of Belmont, Kelvin and Thorngroove industrial sites this week revealed a shocking upsurge in the number of churches finding home in the area, which used to be hive of activity before the economy collapsed. If truth be told, the population density of churches in the industrial area is something that can no longer be ignored.

With new pentecostal churches being formed while new pastors and prophets emerge almost daily, the growth of the church industry is now a remarkable phenomenon.

Affirmative Action Group (AAG) regional president Reginald Shoko said it was clear that Bulawayo has been turned into a church hub.

"It's a good and bad like scenario. On one hand, it's great that we have a lot more people being saved and knowing the Almighty but on the other, it's a reflection of the decline in industry as more churches occupy the industrial sites," he said.

"The continued closure of companies is leaving big space unoccupied which pastors are taking advantage of as the once mighty former industrial hub of Zimbabwe has been turned into church hub."

Shoko, however, said the new development spoke highly about the state of the economy, rather than the church.

" . . . the scenario is a reflection of the decline of the economy, which demands that all of us act to reverse it".

Christian Alliance director Useni Sibanda added that churches were simply capitalising on the cheap facilities.

"The issue of unemployment and closure of industries has seen the majority of people in Zimbabwe also turning to divine intervention, as you may be aware that the majority of us are Christians," Sibanda said.

"Naturally, the closure of industries has opened up cheap and affordable spaces for the churches. Not that we are rejoicing that industry is down but that it's cheaper since the economy has negatively impacted on everyone," he said.

Sibanda attributed the whole scenario to rampant corruption and poor governance in the country.

Buy Zimbabwe economist Kipson Gundani said churches have become a business on their own.

"There is no more industrial activity and the church business is growing in Zimbabwe," he said.

"You have a property and you find the next person to lease to and that becomes the church," he said, adding that the long-suffering Zimbabwean have found solace in church in the face of biting economic hardships.

"Zimbabweans are increasingly becoming poorer and desperate and as a result, they seek God. So, that justifies the whole issue why churches are all over," he said.

Ray Motsi of the Zimbabwe Theological College said it was sad that there was no industry to talk about in the city.

"It's sad and we now have churches mushrooming all over. There is nothing wrong with that. In a way it's part of business in the sense that most of these churches are now into business."

Government has in the past introduced several facilities such as the Distressed and Marginalised Areas Fund (Dimaf) and the Zimbabwe Economic Trade Revival Facility to revive the collapsed Bulawayo industries.

However, most of the companies that accessed Dimaf remained in the doldrums, as the loans were of a short-term nature, very small and had punitive interest rates.

Some have pinned their hopes on the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) initiative now led by former Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono for possible meaningful bail out and revival.

Bulawayo is one of the few chosen for implementation of the SEZs that have been touted as a key pillar in attracting foreign direct investment and creation of employment.

Source - dailynews