GWANDA, the provincial capital of Matabeleland South province has over the years grown in leaps and bounds with potential to become a sought-after business hub.
The town, which is a transit route for travellers to and from South Africa is surrounded by some of the country’s biggest gold producers such as Blanket and Vubachikwe mines.
It is also in the same province where Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC), a prime producer of cement operates a clinker plant.
Despite all that, the town has not grown in the direction most people thought it would but has taken a different route owing to the countless small-scale miners operating in the province.
“Growing up, we thought the big companies would trigger Gwanda’s development but from the 90s up to now, the dimensions have changed. It’s still mining which is the life-giving artery of the town but it’s no longer the big mines that are investing in the town. The smallscale miners and the illegal mining syndicates have created a new bunch of rich people,” said Mr Eric Sibanda who was born and bred in the town.
He said most of the small-scale miners are school dropouts who started doing illegal mining in the early 2000s.
“Now you find them constructing three-storey buildings, owning one or two properties in town. It’s actually working well in the sense that the town is developing. The money is among the people. If you look at the residential areas, they have doubled in the past couple of years. Now you find new suburbs like Spitzkop North and if you look at the architecture of the houses and the quality of the materials used to build them, it tells you a story of how
rich people are,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said residential areas were growing faster than those in Bulawayo given the size of the town and the number of residential properties.
“If you go into the central business district, it gets even worse. You can see five or six buildings that are under construction. Between 2015 and now, there have probably been six or seven other three-storey buildings that were erected,” said Mr Sibanda.
Gwanda now has mainstream supermarkets and various leisure centres that were not there in the past.
“Back in the day when you wanted to start a business in Gwanda, you had to start from scratch. But now we’ve had Choppies coming in, McInn, Pick n’ Pay is coming and so there’ll be more construction happening,” said Mr Bongani Khanye, a business owner in the town.
He says there are many hardware stores coming up in the town because Gwanda is a mining consumable driven economy.
“A lot of people buy mining supplies so we have more hardware shops and those selling mining equipment and so on.
Even if you come up with anything else, the money circulating in the economy of the town is enough to sustain it.
You find that everything in Gwanda is being sold in rands. There are more informal miners than there are civil servants so everything is now in rands. At the end of the day, you find more people coming to the town because they’re looking for foreign currency,” said Mr Khanye.
He said consumption is high when it comes to gadgets.
“When small-scale miners come here, they want to buy phones, cars, houses and equipment. A lot of spending happens here. You’ll be shocked how much is made from this town per day. The amount of money that circulates in this town is just insane,” said Mr Khanye.
The entertainment scene in the town provides a ready niche for investors looking to set up upmarket facilities.
“Bars in Gwanda will make three times what bars in Bulawayo make per night. The potential in Gwanda is huge because there are people who are just ready to spend. But now, if you come to Gwanda, there’s no fancy restaurant or anything like that. The people who actually have the money are not people who are exposed to the restaurant lifestyle or the “soft” life.
They come from the rural areas and go to any random bar and they’re done. There’s a hugegap for setting up certain amenities for entertainment purposes. Slowly, the taste is evolving and we’ll soon have people who want to go to nice bars and better facilities,” said
Ms Yolanda Zulu, a manager at one of the entertainment spots in the town.
The construction industry in the town has the potential to flourish as well because more people continue to invest in properties.
“The money trickles down to the plumbers, electricians, everyone — you can’t even buy tomatoes in bond notes.
Everyone is selling something and the Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse. People have backroom tuck-shops at their houses. Gwanda is a rich town and its success lies in the mining and construction industry. The past eight years have allowed the town to grow tremendously. There’s always something new popping up on either side of the town,” said Mr Sibanda.
The foreign currency black market however, continues to cause challenges for the ordinary citizen.
“The black-market rates are inaccessible to others. There’s always a disparity and things become much more expensive as a result. It can be hard to buy anything here if you don’t have hard cash. You can only swipe at OK Supermarket, Choppies and Mukoko. There’s no bar that takes swipe because most of the businesses are informal and some of them are on the outskirts of the town,” said Mr Sibanda.
Residents said small-scale miners have altered the DNA of the town and cases of violent attacks have been reported.
“When some of the small-scale miners have money, they become violent which has somehow led to an increase in crime. The gold boom has also brought an influx of new people which alters the DNA of the town; the culture and the way of doing things.
Gwanda is a small town and people know each other. When we have new people, we have culture clashes and rise in crime. Generally, there always comes social problems that come with the influx of new people,” said Mr Rorisang Dube.
A growing population in Gwanda has caused a housing shortage. “There’s a shortage of accommodation and a lot of people live in shared houses and rooms.
The growth of the town is not in tandem with the demand for accommodation which burdens the local authority. The town has grown so fast even the national power utility is not catching up with the demand for electricity in the town,” said Mr Dube.
He said places like Spitzkop North had still not been electrified, five years on.
“As a result, a significant number of people in the new suburbs now rely on solar energy and gas. Although we have electricity problems, it’s a good thing on the other hand as the town is going green. This also creates a ready market for solar installers whose business is thriving as a result,” said Mr Dube.
Gwanda’s boon and the consequent rise in population has also burdened the health care system.
“If you look in the area where I grew up, there’s only one clinic which has been there since back in the day yet the population has more than trebled in the last few years,” said Mr Dube.
Matabeleland South Provincial Mines Director Mr Khumbulani Mlangeni said Gwanda town sits on the greenstone gold belt which hosts notable gold producers which include Blanket, Vubachikwe, Jersey, Freda and Horn mines.
“Blanket is in the top two biggest producers nationally. PPC, one of the biggest cement producers is south-east of Gwanda. Mineral output is a source of forex and mining is a source of employment. Opportunities in town due to mining include infrastructural development, mining service support industries, downstream industries and general
support of the growth of Gwanda,” said Mr Mlangeni.
He said Blanket Mine and PPC have contributed towards the facelift of Gwanda Provincial Hospital and Phakama Clinic isolation centre ensuring health service provision to the Gwanda community and beyond.
“Blanket Mine donated towards Covid-19 mitigation measures and Gwanda benefits from the national cake,” said Mr Mlangeni.