The issue was raised during a meeting between President Mugabe and his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg last Friday ahead of the Extraordinary Sadc Summit on Zimbabwe at the weekend.
Cde Mugabe and President Zuma – facilitator to Zimbabwe’s inter-party dialogue – met for three hours.
Although South African government officials could not be reached for comment last night, Presidential spokesman Mr George Charamba confirmed the issue, saying President Zuma had agreed to look into ways in which his government could assist.
Mr Charamba – who is also the Secretary for Media, Information and Publicity – said a figure of US$50 million had been mentioned as a possible rescue package for ailing companies in Bulawayo.
The firms are failing to access cheap finance for recapitalisation, resulting in many of them closing down or scaling down operations leaving thousands of people unemployed.
According to Mr Charamba, the President told his SA counterpart that some of the firms required as little as US$500 000 to revive operations.
It has now emerged that the two leaders’ talks did not only centre on the political situation in Zimbabwe, but also touched on economic co-operation.
The rescue package could take the form of lines of credit.
Early this year, Botswana and Zimbabwe signed a 500 million Pula line of credit agreement for the manufacturing sector.
Businesses in Zimbabwe believes the Botswana facility would help unlock more funding from other countries.
Sadc countries have pledged to assi-st Zimbabwe, which is reeling under illegal western economic sanctions, which have blocked economic aid from multilateral institutions.
President Mugabe is concerned about de-industrialisation of Bulawayo and has asked Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube to explore ways of salvaging the situation.
An inter-ministerial committee has been formed to find solutions to the problem.
But the Inter-ministerial Taskforce Committee on the “Let Bulawayo Survive Campaign,” yesterday came under fire from business associations after six ministers failed to attend a final consultative meeting on challenges facing the manufacturing sector.
Only Minister Ncube who chairs the taskforce and Water and Infrastructure Development Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo attended.
Small and Medium Enterprises and Co-operative Development Minister Sithembiso Nyoni was represented by her Permanent Secretary Ms Eveline Ndlovu.
The ministries that were not represented are Finance, Labour and Social Welfare, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment and Economic Planning and Investment Promotion.
“I don’t think that the taskforce per se understands why Bulawayo must survive. They don’t have the passion to address the challenges affecting industries in Bulawayo as evidenced by their absence here (at the meeting). We have been waiting for three weeks for them to come and attend this meeting,” said the president of the Matabeleland Chamber of Industries Dr Ruth Labode.
She said a host of challenges had contributed to the demise of the manufacturing sector in the city.
“CZI feels very strongly that our highly centralised Government systems were not favourable in promoting business development in Matabeleland. Right now because of a centralised system, everything that you want to do as a business you have to either fly or drive to Harare. For example, to get a licence to import food, you still go to Harare. On Mtshabezi and Zambezi water projects, there is nothing happening,” she said.
Another official made a scathing attack on the inter-ministerial taskforce committee following the absence of some of its members at the meeting.
“We want a full explanation as to why the ministers are not present. They have done something wrong because they are civil servants and this is the reason why Bulawayo is not developed. Why are we alienated?
We need these guys (ministers) to explain. We want them here because this is a Cabinet thing and the President knows it,” said the official.
Bulawayo Indigenous Business Association secretary general, Mr Fred Ndoro, said some of the issues discussed at yesterday’s meeting were raised before.
“Today we have a similar meeting with similar issues that we discussed recently. I don’t know whether the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has summarised all those issues we submitted as associations. Last time we gave you (taskforce) the same issues.
“I don’t think the ministers have confidence in us to revitalise industries in Bulawayo. It will be probably advisable as Cabinet to start demonstrating the implementation path to the challenges we gave solutions,” he said.
Prof Ncube said he would take the region’s sentiments to his taskforce colleagues. He said most of the ministers on the taskforce could not make it to Bulawayo because of other commitments.
“I will convey the strong sentiments that you have made here to the ministers concerned. Minister Kasukuwere was here with me last time. Unfortunately, today (yesterday) the President asked to be with him for a meeting on indigenisation with mining companies,” he said.