After witnessing a flurry of rare development projects in the run-up to the August elections, residents of Bulawayo’s sprawling high-density suburb of Cowdray Park are now facing the reality of the rest of Zimbabwe’s urban dwellers.
The development starved residents have once again been left alone to contend with poor roads, acute water shortages, long hours without electricity and high food prices after a frenzied few weeks during the election campaign period where they were promised heaven on earth in return for their votes.
Cowdray Park Constituency, which was among the new constituencies created by last year’s controversial delimitation exercise was coveted by Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube, who stood on a Zanu PF ticket.
Ncube, a respected economist and academic who was wooed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s post-coup government in 2018 to help resuscitate Zimbabwe’s moribund economy, sunk thousands of United States dollars into various projects to win the hearts and minds of the often neglected residents.
The former African Development Bank vice president hoped to win his first election after he was handpicked by the 81-year-old ruler as one of the non-constituency MPs for the ministerial post.
His critics accused him of brazen vote buying as he only started funding projects such as road rehabilitation, nurse aid training courses, connection of households to the electricity grid, rolling out of free WiFi access points and drilling of boreholes after he was confirmed as the Zanu PF candidate in March this year.
Ncube eventually lost the election to Pashor Sibanda of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in what was considered to be one of the biggest upsets of the August 23 and 24 polls.
Cowdray Park, however, is now in Zanu PF hands after Sibanda was controversially recalled by self-styled CCC Secretary General Sengezo Tshabangu.
Zanu PF’s Arthur Mujeyi is the new MP for Bulawayo’s largest suburb by population after Tshabangu blocked Sibanda from contesting the December 9 by-elections.
After a pre-election investigation by CITE in partnership with the Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation supporting investigative journalism in Zimbabwe and southern Africa, demonstrated how Ncube enjoyed an unfair advantage over other candidates by using money, a follow-up probe has shown that the picture in the constituency has changed dramatically.
While Cowdray Park residents can still access free WiFi at designated points, the rehabilitation of the badly damaged road network which was initiated by Ncube as part of his campaign has since stopped.
Some of the boreholes that were drilled as part of the minister’s hunt for votes have broken down and Cowdray Park residents, like everyone in the city, are bearing the brunt of Bulawayo’s 120-hour water rationing schedule.
Bulawayo is grappling with a critical shortage of water because its supply dams are failing to cope with demand and the situation has been worsened by frequent power cuts.
Thousands of Cowdray Park residents still have no access to electricity as Ncube is yet to deliver on his promise to supply 38 transformers that will enable the connection of their houses to the grid for the first time.
A Bulawayo United Residents Association official in Cowdray Park said some of the projects initiated by Ncube in the run-up to the elections were at a standstill.
“There are projects that were initiated by Mthuli Ncube when he wanted to be the MP such as the drilling of boreholes, WiFi access points and rehabilitation of roads,” the official told CITE.
“The tarring of the road from Caravan to eMpompini was completed (before the elections), but the other road is yet to be completed and he promised to come back.
“Some of the boreholes are no longer functional, but residents can still access the WiFi.”
Joseph Phiri, the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association chairperson in Cowdray Park, said the hoped that Ncube will fulfil the pledges he made to improve the living conditions for residents in the suburb although he lost the elections.
“The WiFi is still accessible, but the boreholes are not functional and there is no water,” Phiri said. “All the other projects are stagnant.
“We do love Mthuli because he fixed some of our roads and drilled boreholes for us and at the moment two are still functional.
“He might feel hurt that he lost, but it was not because people don’t love him. It was the jacket he was wearing (his political party).”
Nicholas Ngwenya, a community leader from the eMpompini section of Cowdray Park, said Ncube recently addressed a residents meeting in the area where he pledged that all the projects that he initiated will be resuscitated.
“Ncube said he will continue with his efforts to turn Cowdray Park into a smart city as per the promises he made in his election manifesto,” Ngwenya said.
“He said youths had started enrolling for different courses and that the rehabilitation of roads will resume soon as the programme was disrupted by rains.
“He also said people will continue accessing WiFi and he will work with Mujeyi (the new MP).
Ngwenya said the minister also promised to help youths in the suburb to set up a community radio station.
Nkosilathi Hove Mpofu, the councilor for ward 6 in Cowdray Park, said he was worried about the pause in the road rehabilitation and the non-functioning boreholes.
“When I inspected the boreholes only three were functional, some had dried up and there was no pumping equipment in some of them,” Mpofu said.
Sibanda, the former MP, said they wanted to see the projects initiated by Ncube being sustained but added that there was need to consult residents first instead of imposing development on them.
“Our priority in this side of Cowdray Park is the issue of sewer,” he said. “Our people do not have a proper sewer system and rely on Blair toilets.”
Mujeyi, the new MP, said he was inspired by what Ncube did in the run-up to the elections and will ensure that the projects spearheaded by the minister are revived.
He said he will push for the completion of the road projects and drilling of boreholes that were initiated by the Treasury boss.
Ncube did not respond to numerous phone calls when attempts were made to get his comment on residents’ concerns.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency’s 2022 population census preliminary report, Cowdray Park is the second most populous suburb in Zimbabwe after Harare’s Budiriro with a population of 75 000 people.
Budiriro has 89 287 people.
Cowdray Park’s population is bigger than that of the Matabeleland South capital Gwanda, which has 27 143 people and the coal mining town of Hwange in Matabeleland North, which has a population of 40 241.
The Bulawayo suburb, which was in the hands of the opposition since it was captured by the MDC led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai in 2000, has thousands of residents that have gone for years without access to electricity, water or a sewer system. CITE