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Let us decongest Bulawayo CBD Now!

15 Nov 2022 at 12:44hrs | Views
Bulawayo's ever-growing informal sector needs to be decongested to high density and some middle – low density areas. It is a fact that stakeholders need to check and explore something drastic or disruptive to improve access to trading spaces and integration of the informal sector into the local economy development.  

Bulawayo Metropolitan Province has experienced exponential growth of the informal economy in the past few years due to the obvious continuous downturn of the economy i.e. closure and relocation of industries mainly to the capital city. A glimpse of informal trading at various corners in the CBD points to a very sad state of affairs, people scrambling at every corner to eke a living, I am challenged to think differently and challenge those reading this piece to also have an open mind. In this piece I am not going to focus on failures and excesses of government.

A quick check on the available data, indications are that the informal sector in Bulawayo has contributed more than $1 million (USD18500) to council coffers through license fees and rentals during the first six months of 2022. Projections are that with more efficient coordination over $100 million (USD142 800) may be collected by end of 2022.  According to the World Economics Quarterly Informal Economy Survey (2022), Zimbabwe is now second from Afghanistan on informal economy Gross Domestic Product contribution. In light of the facts above, the contribution and integration of the informal economy cannot be overemphasized.

Let us check the great trek of informal traders to the CBD,

The city has seen a great trek of informal traders into city centre shunning market places within high density areas due to:

•    Perceptions/ beliefs not backed by facts that the central business district hub is lucrative and everyone must go and scramble for business,  
•    Lack of prioritization of informal traders in high density areas, for example provision of toilets, access to water, lighting and ancillary services like children play centres, entertainment facilities etc
•    Lack of decent trading spaces although in some areas it has been observed that informal traders are shunning infrastructure provided by the local authority,
•    Prohibitive rates and rentals for pull factors such as rentals in shopping malls like Nkulumane and Entumbane Complex which have seen occupants such as banks, big retail chains and wholesalers ditching the facilities and moving into the city centre to also scramble for business opportunities.

Some strategies to Decongest the Central Business District

Concerted efforts from central government like the ministries of local government and public works, women affairs, community, small and medium enterprises are required to ensure there is decongestion of informal trading in the Central Business District, this view is unpopular in the interim but it is one of the sustainable ways to ensure that there is improved management and integration of the informal economy in the city of Bulawayo local economic development.

•    There is need to ensure that facilities such as shopping malls in townships are revitalized since they are still usable and are within the reach for many communities. This would also eliminate the transportation cost of transporting goods from market places and also reduce cases of muggings, robberies that occur in the wee hours of the morning when informal traders particularly women rush to restock their goods in the markets.

•    Organizations like the one I belong to and its partners have constructed a Wholesale Market in Nkulumane as part of the efforts to contribute in ensuring that there is decongestion of services for informal traders from the central business district. Producers will be invited to utilize this facility as this will also aid in decongesting the CBD.

•    There is need to engage private developers or property owners like Mining Industry Pension Fund (MIPF) and Old Mutual Zimbabwe to consider reducing or incentivizing potential occupiers of their properties. This move has the potential to lure tenants into their properties.

•    There is also need to create an enabling environment through enacting responsive policies, reviewing Bylaws to improve the ease of doing business like decentralizing licensing services, and for the second time like the organization that I belong to that facilitated the development of Bulawayo Informal Economy Enhancement Strategy (BIEES) in 2021, this has assisted in integrating the informal economy into the Bulawayo local economic development strategy. This has improved relations between the local authority and informal economy associations and has seen co-creation among players in the ecosystem. These are small gains that can be built upon to ensure there is improvement in the management of the informal economy.

•    Sustained and vigorous initiatives on awareness to challenge the mindset of informal traders is required in order to ensure that there is a buy in from informal traders to transition from the central business district. It is an undisputed fact that not all informal traders can be accommodated into the CBD, since there are limited trading spaces due to the nature of the size of the City Centre.
•    There is need to also keep on reminding the government not to abdicate from its duties to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive as that will create jobs and reduce the huge influx into the informal economy. It is encouraging that the country is in the final stages of producing the National Informal Economy Transitioning Strategy in line with the domestication of international Conventions like the International Labour Organization (ILO) Recommendation 204 that advances the transitioning from the informal to formal economy.

 Michael Mdladla Ndiweni is a social commentator, freelance journalist and Executive Director for Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA). He writes in his personal capacity.

Source - Michael Mdladla Ndiweni
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