Maphisa in Matobo district in Matabeleland has transformed from its early days as a TILCOR (Tribal Trust Land Development Corporation) growth point linked to the nearby Antelope farm estate. Like Mvurwi and Chatsworth that I profiled in the earlier series on small towns and economic development, Maphisa is booming in the post land reform era.
An African town in an African area
Maphisa was established in the 1970s as part of the TILCOR attempt to create ‘African’ towns in ‘African areas’, aimed at maintaining the dual economy, and racial separation, while encouraging economic growth in ‘African’ areas. Mrs N, who was born nearby, explained:
“Maphisa was a forest. It was a grazing area for communal livestock. The place where Omadu Motel was located, was an aerodrome for the white farmers and those on the estate. In the 1970s, a white man called Fish was sent to address the local community about justification for building Maphisa township. He explained that Antelope dam and irrigation were going to create jobs and benefit communities who would in turn invest at the township and grow rich. The chiefs and local leadership present at the meeting agreed and Maphisa was established”.
One of the early black shopowners, Mr T, recalled the beginnings of the growth point:
“In 1973 I cut down trees and built my shop. It started operating in July 1975, as the authorities made it difficult for a black person to possess a liquor licence. In 1975 TILCOR drew a masterplan for Maphisa, started clearing land and built three shops and rented these out. Four other private shops including mine were operated by teachers”.
Post-independence these early growth points were incorporated into the wider spatial planning approach for mixed development. The TILCOR estate was taken over by ARDA, and for several decades Maphisa became intimately linked to the success of the nearby estate. ARDA created opportunities for outgrowers on 150 ha of the irrigation scheme, with plots averaging 1-2 hectares. ARDA also began to build infrastructure in Maphisa in the mid-1980s , including housing for workers and some general dealer shops. The government also established administrative offices for various government departments at the time, and built the Hlalanikuhle location with high density housing. The ARDA irrigation scheme was central to the economy of the town, as it employed up to 8000 people at the height of the 1990s cotton boom.
But through this period Maphisa remained an enclave, reliant on the ARDA estate, and surrounding by large-scale commercial farms, owned by whites (although with one black-owned farm belonging to Chief Ndiweni). These were huge ranches, supplying beef to CSC abbatoir in Bulawayo, and many with commercial gold mines on them. The impact of this largely white-owned farming-mining economy on Maphisa was limited. This all changed with land reform, with most farms taken over, and allocated to resettlement land. In this period too the fortunes of ARDA declined, with many laid off, and the estate production collapsing. The outgrowers (now numbering 132 families) have carried on making use of canal irrigation, but got little support from the estate.
With new people on the land, Maphisa changed from an estate-linked enclave town to one serving the wider area, with a whole range of new businesses established. The decline of ARDA though had a negative effect, as revenues from labourers working on the estate vanished. In 2015 a new investment partnership was agreed, with Trek Petroleum, a local company, taking over the estate operations, and investing substantially in 12 new mobile centre pivot irrigation systems and 350 HP tractors, growing maize over 520 ha (including seed maize contracts with various companies). As I will discuss next week, this highly mechanized operation has not created the level of employment of before, but it has nevertheless meant that new life has been injected into the economy.
New people, new enterprises
Our enterprise survey in Maphisa showed that the local economy has grown since 2000, despite challenges. There are now 6 supermarkets (when before 2000 there were none), 8 butcheries (from 4), 5 hardware stores (from 1), 10 bottle stories, some including ‘nightclubs’ (from 6), and more than 30 kombi operators. Plus today there are more welding shops, tailors, hair salons, service stations, car washes, internet cafes, photocopy/typing shops, and ecocash outlets.
There are now more people living in the town, and investing in property. The occupied high density stands have increased from 223 to 1118, while the medium density stands have increased from 121 to 498. Low density stands have not had such a take-up but overall the size of the town has increased significantly, and with this business activity.
Mr T, a local businessman and long-term resident in Maphisa, as well as A2 land reform beneficiary with 350 ha, explained the impacts of land reform on business:
“Land reform opened up more grazing land and opportunities for livestock marketing. I have 80 cattle, mostly Simenthal crosses. I hire private transporters who charge USD 40 per animal to Bulawayo, where I get around USD 800 per beast. I have just too many goats at the farm! Prices are good. I can get USD 50 per goat. The new cattle business is helping Maphisa to grow. For example, hides and skins are available for establishing a tannery industry. Also, there are plenty of mopane worms. Value addition and packaging could be done here”.
Mr N was also born in the area, and has owned shops in Maphisa over many years. He established a large supermarket in 2012 to complement his four other shops, his transport business (he owns ten 30 tonne trucks), his mining claims, and Mopane worm collection and sale business. He comments:
“The supermarket business is good – we are the leaders here at Maphisa. I employ 34 people. Yes liquidity is a challenge that forces prices down. ZESA high tariffs are a concern too but plans are on to change over to solar power. We sell products to civil servants, ARDA employees, irrigation outgrowers, miners, communal and resettlement farmers and in transit customers. Up to 200 customers cross our doors per day”.
Others have invested in shops more recently. Mr S for example comes from Gwanda, and worked in the civil service and then the diaspora for 20 years. His father had shops and he has invested in a bottle store/night club in Maphisa, which opened in 2014. Mr S commented:
“Proceeds from working in South Africa, the UK and the US helped me to build the business premises over a 5 year period. Some of the money was also raised from horticulture at the family’s 6 acre plot near Bulawayo city. I also did buying and selling cattle as an additional sideline to raise funds. We employ 4 workers in the restaurant and 2 in the bottle store. Business is up and down at the restaurants. We managed to keep ZESA bills down in the restaurant by using gas and firewood for cooking. Electricity is only for lighting and fridges. Beer sales go up when ARDA pays its workers but it is the miners contribute a lot towards beer sales”.
Others rent shops from the council or richer property owners. Comrade M explains:
“From 2009 I have been renting this shop where I operate a butchery and food outlet. I pay USD 350 per month rent. I buy cattle for USD 400 – USD 500 on the hoof after bargaining with the seller. I take the beasts to Maphisa Council slaughter facilities. I buy 2 – 3 beasts per week and sell meat to customers at USD 5 per kg. I prefer buying live cattle because after slaughter I gain from offal, heads and hooves. I used to sell hides to several buyers, who have since gone bust. The food outlet business is a strategy to increase turn-over of meat sales from the butchery. My wife supervises the business while I run around looking for slaughter stock. I also have a A1 villagised land reform farm, with 30 cattle. These support my business”.
Mrs N is a divorcee who stayed before in Gutu, but was born in the area. She has been building a house in the location, and renting a shop in Maphisa. She sells hardware now, having shifted from a grocery store, which was outcompeted by the new supermarket. She explains:
“I operate the shop on my own. We recently added an agro-vet section to the hardware. Our customers are local but we also sell hardware and livestock medicines to resettled farmers. To promote sales, we extend credit to those we know – based on trust. I used proceeds from the hardware to educate my children and to build my house. I also built another house at my parents’ home nearby”.
The growth of informal trading in Maphisa has been huge. The council rents out numerous stalls. Mrs N is a trader, and has been operating since 1986. Originally there were only 9 stalls, but now there are about 20. The traders sell vegetables. These were originally supplied by the ARDA estate, but now local farmers in the resettlements supply them.
“We use cellphones to communicate and they bring the produce here. I also order at the Bulawayo market. When business is booming I go for orders three times per week. I pay USD 10 bus fare to and fro, or get Kombis to go and bring our orders. Proceeds from the market have been critical in keeping the home going – purchasing food and groceries, paying school fees and council rates”.
Small-scale mining as a driver of economic growth
In addition to changes in the agricultural economy, it is also changes in the mining economy that have affected Maphisa in recent years. Before, mining was formal and relatively large-scale, with compounds built in farms, with little contact with the wider area. In the past the Falcon Gold company used to run many of the mines nearby.
Today this has changed dramatically, with many new mining operations in the area, established. Mr T, a bar owner commented: “There are now well over 100 black miners with licences here. Night life at the GP is alive due to gold miners”. Each small mine operation employs around 30 people in each mine, meaning there are substantial numbers working in the area, and purchasing goods and services in Maphisa.
Mining is not for everyone though. Mr S observes: “I would not like to go into mining – it is too much a game of chance. I know a guy who got 7kg of gold after mining for 6 months and he quit with his loot. Another guy has been mining for the last 6 years investing monies but reaping nothing substantial”.
From an enclave town, linked to an estate, created through colonial racial-based planning, Maphisa has transformed into a business hub linked to local economic activity in both agriculture and mining. The estate remains important, and especially since the injection of new investment from through the partnership with Trek Petroleum (see next week’s blog). But it has a more diversified base today, and like other small towns shows the opportunities, but also challenges, of small towns in a restructured economy.