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Hwange Colliery, council fight over control of town

By Dumisani Nsingo in Hwange

HWANGE – The battle for the control of Hwange urban between the Hwange Local Board (HLB) and Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) has reached fever pitch with the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing appointing a team on a fact finding mission to ascertain the discord.

Hwange Colliery Company
Hwange Colliery Company

Hwange is one of the oldest towns in Zimbabwe having originated from settler mining at the beginning of the last century.

Its growth has generally been driven by coal mining, with its core being that of satisfying mining activities. Consequent to population growth it has grown to become a major district centre performing regional functions that are administrative and commercial in nature. It now boasts the biggest thermal power station in the country, Hwange Power Station.

However, the imbalances caused by the apportioning of land by big companies namely HCCL, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority’s subsidiary Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) and the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has led the area to experience stunted growth and failure to attain township status.

As it stands, Hwange is a local board authority created by the constitution of the country and by statute under the body of the Urban Councils Act, Chapter 29:15.

HLB was established in 1974 and due to multiple administration and land ownership by the three parastatals the local authority only administers and offers service provision to two suburbs namely Mpumalanga and Baobab.

The local authority is calling for amalgamation of all the concessions into one with it overseeing infrastructural development projects, administration and service provision. ZPC and NRZ seem to have mellowed into the idea but HCCL seems to be adamant.

“The growth of the town has remained constrained over the years. Colonial legacies are still rooted in the systems of administration and planning. Hwange has not transformed itself over years to ensure sustainable growth and development. It’s more of a settler town meant to last the years of mining, a situation that should not be allowed.

“It is ironic that the town is in the middle of the national park yet it does not appear in the tourist map of the country. This is so because the current set-up has reduced Hwange into a company town. The next generation deserves to find a city that is sustainable and self-sufficient,” reads part of HLB’s position paper in the possession of this publication.

The local authority believes the origins of the “town” in the form of a coal mining area has given rise to multiple administrative systems, the three parastatals playing a quasi-local authority role. A set-up that has given rise to “disjointed and ad-hoc administration and planning”.

“This history of the town has a strong bearing on the current urban set-up under multiple and quasi-local authority structures. This existence of these quasi-local authorities as administrative authorities puts a number of constraints for the existence of a responsive and efficient town that satisfies the needs and the demands of the day,” read part of the HLB’s position paper.

However, HCCL seems to be undeterred by HLB’s call for amalgamation as it has for the past three years been destroying some of its low-density houses to pave way for the construction of businesses at its commercial centre. Since 2011 it has created space for the construction of two banks, a gigantic OK supermarket and a huge food outlet by Innscor is under construction to be completed before the end of this year.

The infrastructural development by the coal mining giant at its commercial business centre can be viewed as frustrating the local authority’s initiative of developing a civic centre which is viewed as one of the major projects towards attaining township status.

“There is nothing with Hwange Colliery making infrastructural development at their commercial business centre because we will take that area as a service centre as council is the only one which can provide a CBD.

“However, in a proper set-up it should be such that in the event of any infrastructural development the planning should be spearheaded by the local authority but as with HCCL whatever they are doing they are not consulting anyone but subjecting themselves to a planning authority,” said HLB chief executive officer, Mr Ndumiso Mdlalose said.

The Sunday News also has it on good authority that HCCL has applied for a subdivision permit of its residential areas through the Hwange Rural District Council as part of its bid to enhance its property investment.

“What HLB should know is that HCCL is operating in a rural district area. It’s only that it has experienced major infrastructural development to the extent that it has since urbanised.

“The other issue which the local authority (HLB) doesn’t know is that HCCL has already applied for a subdivision permit from the HRDC which will see it assuming ownership of its residential areas. This is part of its strategy to improve its balance sheet because it can use that as collateral when applying for loans,” said an authoritative source privy to the developments.

HCCL offers all the service provision such as water and sewage reticulation (including servicing systems), health facilities (clinics and a hospital), garbage collection and social amenities at its Lwendulu, Madumabisa and Makwika and Lusumbami compounds commonly referred to as villages.

Though the other parastatals (ZPC and NRZ) offer service provision in their area of jurisdiction, HCCL boast major and to some extent state-of-the-art infrastructure and it also has a larger population residing in its concessionary area.

“HLB should stop shedding crocodile tears and concentrate on luring investors to invest in its area just like what HCCL is doing. To tell the truth the local authority (HLB) has no capacity to run the whole of Hwange urban,” said the source.

A letter from the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing’s Department of Urban Local Authorities and addressed to the HLB secretary dated 15 April 2014 in the possession of Sunday News reveals that Government was aware of the amalgamation matter.

“The matter of amalgamation of the Wankie (Hwange) Colliery concession area into Hwange Local Board has been mooted for more than two decades but remains unresolved to date. Since the establishment of Hwange Local Board in 1974, the concession area was represented in council by company officials from Hwange Colliery, ZPC and the NRZ.

“After delimitation in 2008, the concession area is now made up of Wards 8 to 15 whose councillors sit in, and form part of, Hwange Local Board; on the other hand, council administers Wards 1 to 7 only, whose population is approximately 9 789 out of a total population of 37 612 (2012 Census report) in all the 15 wards,” read part of the letter.

The letter further states that HLB made “follow-up to previous numerous attempts at finalising the matter and petitioned the ministry for a relook into this matter”.

“The scenario of multiple ‘authorities’ in Hwange Local Board, as indeed pointed out by council in its submission, affects co-ordinated development as parties pull in different directions. It is noteworthy to point out that the local board should be by law, the service authority of this area, and as such should of necessity take charge of development in the area under its purview.

“It is against this background that we propose the appointment of a team to go and carry out a thorough diagnosis of the problem and come up with implementable recommendations for the ministry’s consideration,” reads the letter.

The ministerial five-member team to tour Hwange would be headed by a Mr H Hungwe, the deputy director, Department of Urban Local Authorities.

Mr Mdlalose confirmed that the delegation had indicated that it would be visiting Hwange this month and as part of drumming up support on the amalgamation issue the local authority boss and his executive met the Minister of State for Matabeleland North Province Cain Mathema.

However, Mathema would not divulge any information pertaining to his meeting with the Hwange local authority officials. Sunday News