The city, once the country’s industrial hub, has been hit by serious disinvestment at a time the country is anticipating renewed economic activity after years of decline.
A number of companies, mainly in the manufacturing and construction sectors, have been forced to either retrench or relocate to Harare, citing perennial water shortages.
But activists and politicians say the companies are using the water shortages as an excuse to continue the marginalisation of the region.
The debate has been reignited by recent reports that Hunyani Holdings, one of the biggest employers in the city, was mulling plans to join the long list of companies ditching Bulawayo for the capital.
Edwin Ndlovu, the regional spokesperson for the Welshman Ncube-led MDC, said it was time Bulawayo residents started boycotting products of companies that relocated to Harare.
“It is better for locals here to continue buying goods from neighbouring South Africa, which have filled our shops than to support companies that have de-industrialised Bu-lawayo,” Ndlovu said.
“It does not make sense for the companies to send their goods here when in the first place they said there is no business in Bulawayo.”
His sentiments were echoed by Methuseli Moyo, the spokesperson for Zapu, who said reasons being given by the companies for shifting their bases to Harare were invalid.
“Companies are saying Harare is profitable so they should make their profits there and not send their products down here,” Moyo said.
“These companies are turning Bulawayo into a supermarket where they just come and dump their goods after relocating.”
Moyo claimed there was a conspirancy to de-industrialise Bulawayo, a theory that has been peddled for many years.
“There is a conspiracy to de-industrialise the city because business conditions are the same countrywide but shockingly when it comes to Bulawayo the same business conditions are seen as worse off,” he said.
Relocations up unemployment, loss of revenue, says Byo Mayor
Industrialists say companies in the city are operating below 40% of their capacity and many continue to retrench workers.
Besides worsening unemployment in the city, the relocations have reduced the struggling local authority’s revenue base, Bulawayo Mayor, Thaba Moyo said last week.
“We are losing a lot of investment and it has reduced our revenue,” Moyo said.
“These relocations are worrisome and what should be done as a matter of urgency is start dialogue to find out why they are disinvesting so that we try to put a stop to it.”
Henry Masuku, a civil society activist said the relocations were the main reasons why people in the region were now calling for the devolution of power.
Ibhetshu LikaZulu, a local pressure group says it would soon petition the government to stop the relocations because it believes they are not justified.
The Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) also questioned how the companies would overcome the challenges they cited for relocating once they set up shop in Harare.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Lovemore Matombo called for an investigation into the companies that were relocating, saying most of them did not pay their workers terminal benefits.
“They should be investigated,” he said. “Relocation is not an arbitrary decision of the majority shareholder, as in terms of the law they have to discuss with trade unions concerned to find out why they are relocating.”
Efforts to establish the number of workers left redundant by the company relocations were fruitless.