By Kenneth Matimaire
The Covid-19 pandemic has stalled progress towards the implementation of the Sakubva Urban Renewal Project, including the reconstruction of hundreds of homes in Zimbabwe’s eastern border town of Mutare.
Initially, the project was launched in August 2017 by former local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, only to be subjected to political contestation two months down the line following the military assisted ouster of the late leader Robert Mugabe.
As such, the project was shelved for nearly two years before President Emmerson Mnangagwa relaunched it in December 2019.
It was further temporarily put on hold owing to the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the government to put the country under various levels of lockdowns as part of measures to contain the pandemic.
The City of Mutare, which is at the centre of the construction exercise together with central government through its Public Works Department, had to adhere to the lockdown restrictions.
“The urban renewal project was launched by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in December (2019.) The project suffered a major set back as a result of the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, in which we were also affected as a local authority,” Mutare City public relations officer Spren Mutiwi said.
Only managed a fence
Mutiwi indicated that due to the Covid-19 induced lockdowns, the city only managed to fence the identified area earmarked for reconstruction in Sakubva high density township.
He said the proposed area,called NHB section, is now known as Coronation Park.
Mutiwi is optimistic that with the easing of the latest lockdown, the city will see some “commendable progress” towards the construction project.
“ So far we have since completed the aspect of fencing the area where we intend to establish the first flats along Coronation Park, “ he said in interview. “The families that are currently occupying the houses have since been notified to look for alternative accomodation so that construction will begin in enerst,” he said.
Apart from high-rise flats, the project also includes the construction of a modern bus terminus, vegetable market, flea market and sports stadium.
The renewal project is projected to cost US$900 million, with US$40 million required for the first phase, according to an investment outlook from the Office of the Minister of State for Manicaland.
Thousands of jobs
The investment outlook also projects that a total of 1,500 people will be employed directly under the programme while an additional 20,000 others will be employed indirectly.
However, while residents acknowledged the challenges posed by Covid-19, they lamented that the project has dragged for too long before they appealed to council to experdite the exercise.
“We were very excited when the development was conceived during President Robert Mugabe’s time. The idea was carried over to the new dispensation led by President (Emmerson) Mnangagwa. It came as a relief to the residents because they live in slump areas. Some of the houses are inhabitable, their condition having worsened over the four years since the idea was conceived.
“So, we are very concerned as Mutare residents about projects, which are given a lot of publicity and then die a natural death without realising their very good potential,” said Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association (MURRA) programms director, David Mutambirwa
Other residents are looking to the project for the promised jobs, saying their lives had taken a huge knock from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I used to sell used clothes at the Sakubva flea market. I have not been able to return to work since April last year. So maybe the promised jobs that will arise from the urban renewal project is just what I need to be able to fend for my family,” said Silas Chataika of Maonde, Sakubva.
Fear of empty promises
While the city is hyping the project, there are also fears that residents who are not sure whether they will be guaranteed homes under the scheme, might resist moving from their current premises to make way for the housing project.
“We don’t have faith in the manner the city council is handling the project. They want us to move out to make way for construction of the flats, but there is no gurantee that we will recover the houses after the programme is done. Come to think of it, where are we going to live during all that time?” said Stella Ngaone of NHB section.
“So, council must construct the flats in part and move residents in before their current houses. They can take a leaf from Golden Peacock Hotel which built new accommodation while people continued to book at the hotel,” she said.