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MSU campus brings hope
Lovemore Zigara

New MSU campus brings hope to Zvishavane community
Zvishavane town continues to grow, defying a limping national economy. Last year, the country’s largest university by enrolment — Midlands State University (MSU) — set base in the mining town, endorsing Zvishavane as an investment destination of choice. Zvishavane Town Council, like the business community, is excited at the prospects offered by the new MSU campus in their town.

Town secretary, Tinoda Mukutu, believes the MSU campus will go a long way in changing the financial fortunes of the town. “We are very grateful to MSU for setting up a campus here. We foresee major investments coming to Zvishavane. As a local authority we want decent accommodation for all the students. We have kick-started negotiations with MSU and Shabanie Mine to see how best we can accommodate the students.

Private players are already grabbing opportunities created by MSU’s coming to Zvishavane. They are turning their houses into boarding houses for students. The ripple effect of that is that there will be more money circulating. This means people will now have money to pay their bills to council,” he said.

Council only managed to raise 35 percent revenue out of its projected $6,5 million budget last year, with the balance being financed through borrowings.

Landlords in Zvishavane are capitalising on students’ accommodation shortages caused by the sudden population boom. Viola Moyo, a final year student in Film and Theatre Studies, has been forced to share a room with three other students, each paying $80 monthly in rentals.

“I think the college should have sorted the issue of accommodation first before we came here because most of the students are virtually stranded. I’ve been forced to find lodgings in Mandava where I’m staying with three other students and we are paying $80 each,” she said.

Another student, Panashe Beta said the lack of accommodation has forced her and some of her peers to look for lodgings in Mapazuli, a rural area situated 10km outside Zvishavane, on the road to Gweru.

Already the small mining town’s night life has changed, becoming a hive of activity. Students have virtually taken over the show within a short space of time. One of the biggest investors in Zvishavane, Pote Holdings with interests in retail, hardware and hospitality among others, is recording brisk business following the opening of the new campus.

“Our sales have steadily increased because of the increased traffic mainly due to the coming of MSU students. We really appreciate their presence as it is good for business,” Pote Holdings general manager, Tamson Mthombeni said.

When MSU opened for its first semester last month, it transferred students in the Faculty of Arts and some programmes in the Faculty of Social Sciences to its Zvishavane campus from the Gweru. Zvishavane took a knock when asbestos miner, Shabanie Mine started facing viability challenges, resulting in its closure in 2008.

However, Zvishavane did not go the way of other mining towns when their chief mineral runs into problems, thanks to continuing artisanal gold mining in adjacent areas. Mimosa Platinum Mine which commenced operations in 1994 and is one of the country’s most successful mines, has also done well to keep the town alive.

With about 5,000 MSU students out of a total enrolment of 23,000 now at the new campus, Zvishavane is expected to remain on the rise. Previously, the Zvishavane campus had only housed students in the Faculty of Mining Engineering when it opened its doors last year. MSU set its Zvishavane campus after taking over buildings formerly owned by Shabanie Mine.

Close to 5,000 jobs were lost when the asbestos mine ceased its operations resulting in the economic growth of the mining town slowing down.

Shabanie Mine had been the heart and soul of the mining town for many years. It is credited for constructing some of the key infrastructure, which includes thousands of houses and other amenities such as Shabanie Mine Hospital, Maglas Stadium and McAdams Rugby Fields, among others.

Platinum miner, Mimosa Mining Company also helped in maintaining and developing new infrastructure when it commenced operations in Zvishavane. Unemployment, however, remained a problem despite Mimosa’s coming on board. This drove many of the town’s youths into gold panning as they tried to eke a living.

The dire economic situation in the mining town has been compounded by the non-operation of Sabi Gold Mine which has since been placed under judicial management while Delta Beverages closed its plant nearly two years ago owing to viability challenges.

During MSU’s 13th graduation ceremony in December last year, vice-chancellor, Professor Ngwabi Bhebe, said the university had directly and indirectly brought $100 million worth of investment in Gweru. It is through such figures that the people of Zvishavane can expect robust growth.

Kudzai Chikore who runs a beauty parlour in Gweru has already opened another in Zvishavane. She says part of her clientele relocated to the mining town following the opening of the Zvishavane MSU campus.

“About 40 percent of my customers are MSU students. I lost a bit of business when the university relocated some of its faculties to Zvishavane. But I said why mourn when I can follow them. I then opened another beauty parlour there and business is slowly picking up,” she said.

Moving some faculties to Zvishavane might have helped decongest Gweru but the accommodation challenges remain a “headache” to students and the authorities. MSU registrar, Erasmus Mupfiga conceded the accommodation situation was deplorable. He said the institution had not anticipated that but assured students the university would do everything in its power to solve the problem.

“We are still waiting to hear from Shabanie Mine who agreed to lease some of its properties to us after signing an agreement last year. We didn’t realise that the situation would be like this but I’m confident that we will assist students to find suitable accommodation,” said Mupfiga.

Shabanie Mine and its ex-employees are entangled in a legal battle over ownership of the houses. Some of the houses in question were leased to MSU but the institution is yet to occupy them. The matter is still before the courts.

As was the case in Gweru when the MSU opened, the lack of residential space in Zvishavane could be a boon for property developers. Mukutu said already 310 stands are being serviced in Eastlea Suburb by a private land developer. Two hundred more are being developed in Mabula low density suburb.

The biggest of the housing developments is the Mabula Housing Estate which is a partnership between the local authority and government. The project has 8,100 stands being serviced.

Rapid housing development might see tables turning in the long run giving students more bargaining power compared to the prevailing situation where landlords are dictating the market.

Gweru witnessed a replica development where massive housing developments in suburbs adjacent to MSU and others in the outlying areas took shape. This resulted in landlords, especially in Senga and Nehosho suburbs, who were charging outrageous rentals, being forced to reduce them and introduce incentives such as Wi-Fi, beds and geysers, among other things, to attract students.

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