From as­bestos to academia: The story of Zvisha­vane now

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/opinion - Mid­lands Bureau Chief Patrick Chi­tumba

HIS­TORY books have it on record that in the 1970s to early 2000, as­bestos was fetch­ing a rea­son­able price on the world min­eral mar­ket and as such Zvisha­vane and Mashava towns, the main cen­tres of the ex­trac­tion of chrysotile fi­bre, grew in leaps and bounds. With the favourable as­bestos prices, the then Sha­banie and Mashaba Mines (SMM), now the African As­so­ci­ated Mines (AAM), were thriv­ing to the ex­tent that a 17-floor as­bestos plant was com­mis­sioned in Zvisha­vane in 1979, mak­ing it the tallest build­ing in the coun­try at that time.

The surge in the pro­duc­tion of chrysotile fi­bre saw with it the emer­gence of sub­urbs such as Man­dava, Ma­glas, Kan­dodo, Birth­day and Chinda Heights in Zvisha­vane to ac­com­mo­date the grow­ing work­force and its fam­i­lies.

At its peak, the as­bestos pro­duc­ing gi­ant em­ployed 5 000 work­ers, with over 100 000 fam­i­lies from sur­round­ing ar­eas de­pend­ing on the mines and close to 200 down­stream and up­stream in­dus­tries ben­e­fit­ing from full-scale op­er­a­tions at the mine.

Then around 2004 when as­bestos pro­duc­tion stag­gered, min­ing, the only known eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in the area, choked.

With the only source of liveli­hood limp­ing, most of the busi­nesses in the set­tle­ment crashed as the par­ent com­pany found con­tin­ued op­er­a­tions un­sus­tain­able.

How­ever, as the old adage goes, “ev­ery cloud has a sil­ver lin­ing” the eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in Zvisha­vane and Mashava is now cen­tred on the op­er­a­tions of two uni­ver­si­ties, the Great Zim­babwe Univer­sity (GZU) and the Mid­lands State Univer­sity (MSU) with sev­eral pri­mary and sec­ondary schools also sprout­ing.

Th­ese in­clude Er­rymaple pri­mary and se­nior schools and Mar­lon Ju­nior School. Christina Se­nior School owned by prom­i­nent Zvisha­vane busi­ness­man Mr Clever Pote, is set to open soon.

In Zvisha­vane, MSU has sta­tioned some of its fac­ul­ties at build­ings pre­vi­ously owned by the as­bestos gi­ant, while the GZU also has some of its fac­ul­ties at Gaths Mine in Mashava.

The two uni­ver­si­ties ne­go­ti­ated 20 to 25-year re­new­able leases for the oc­cu­pa­tion of the build­ings.

The two uni­ver­si­ties’ moves have changed the eco­nomic tra­jec­tory of the two towns with the Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Masvingo West, where GZU Mashava cam­pus is, Mr Ezra Chadza­mira, say­ing: “In place of the min­er­als, books are now levers of our econ­omy.”

Ac­cord­ing to out­go­ing MSU Vice-Chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Ng­wabi Bhebhe, the univer­sity brought over $100 mil­lion worth of in­vest­ment to Gweru, mean­ing Zvisha­vane over the years will amass such fig­ures as the num­ber of stu­dents grows.

The sud­den in­crease in stu­dents has lit up Zvisha­vane bring­ing relief to the res­i­dents of this for­mer vi­brant town.

As a re­sult, al­most ev­ery­one has turned into a busi­ness per­son with home­own­ers an­tic­i­pat­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion de­mand, build­ing or turn­ing their houses into board­ing houses for des­per­ate stu­dents, thereby in­creas­ing cash­flow in the com­mu­nity.

Banks, the town coun­cil, shops and the taxi busi­ness all now rely on stu­dents as books over­take min­ing.

Scores of Zvisha­vane women can be seen out­side the cam­pus gates, with can­teens stretch­ing across sell­ing food to the stu­dents from as lit­tle as 10c per two bub­ble gums.

“We thank God for th­ese stu­dents be­cause some of us are rent­ing our houses to them while oth­ers are sell­ing food to them out­side cam­pus.

Big su­per­mar­kets like OK, TM and Pote, hard­ware shops and the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try are all ben­e­fit­ting from the stu­dents,” said a ven­dor, Mrs Martha Ta­chiona.

Pri­vate play­ers in the med­i­cal sec­tor have also firmly es­tab­lished prac­tices as stu­dent vis­its keep them busy 24/7.

Town Sec­re­tary Mr Tin­oda Mukutu said he was happy MSU has set up its cam­pus in the town and this would be a cue for ma­jor in­vest­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to MSU, the in­sti­tu­tion of higher learn­ing has ex­panded into Zvisha­vane as part of its growth strat­egy.

“Mid­lands State Univer­sity has ex­panded its ten­ta­cles into Zvisha­vane where it has opened a new cam­pus. The cam­pus, which is lo­cated at the old Sha­banie-Mashava Min­ing Hold­ings of­fices, houses the Fac­ulty of Min­ing Sciences and the de­part­ments of Peace Stud­ies, and Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Man­age­ment which are both of­fered un­der the Fac­ulty of So­cial Sciences. Also on of­fer at the new cam­pus is the Bach­e­lor of Ed­u­ca­tion de­gree in In­for­ma­tion Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nol­ogy un­der the Fac­ulty of Ed­u­ca­tion.”

Fa­cil­i­ties at the new cam­pus in­clude ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fices for key units such as the bur­sary and reg­istry sec­tions.

Apart from its dif­fer­ent ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion, all func­tions and pro­cesses re­lated to man­age­ment, teach­ing, learn­ing, and stu­dents’ wel­fare are the same as those cur­rently in place at the Main Cam­pus.

“For ex­am­ple, stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion is avail­able for new and re­turn­ing stu­dents both on and off cam­pus. How­ever, sim­i­lar to the Main Cam­pus, on-cam­pus ac­com­mo­da­tion is lim­ited and pref­er­ence will be given to first year stu­dents on a first come first serve ba­sis.

In the case of re­turn­ing stu­dents, pref­er­ence will be given to those who had al­ready se­cured ac­com­mo­da­tion at the Main Cam­pus.”

Gov­ern­ment ap­pointed AMG Global Char­tered Ac­coun­tants’ part­ner, Mr Afaras Gwaraz­imba, to ad­min­is­ter op­er­a­tions un­til the two mines be­came vi­able.

In the sport­ing arena, both towns of Zvisha­vane and Mashava had a vi­brant sport­ing legacy, which churned out in­ter­na­tional stars such as for­mer na­tional soc­cer team cap­tain, Fran­cis Shon­hayi, and na­tional long dis­tance cham­pion Zepha­niah Ncube.

On the mu­sic arena, the fa­mous Dev­era Ng­wena Jazz Band was born in Mashava.

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