CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe
AFTER the lead and zinc mine ceased operations, Kabwe was relegated to a ghost town status.The closure of Kabwe mine, which operated for decades until 1994, spelt economic doom on Central Province’s capital.
During the 1990s other companies also ceased operations, leaving Kabwe, a once promising mining, railway, textile and agriculture hub, an economically depressed region.
Amid this economic depression, Zambia China Mulungushi Textiles Joint Venture (ZCMT-JV), one of the biggest companies, was limping.
In 2007, ZCMT-JV ceased operations, too.
As a ghost town which was also grappling with lead pollution, Kabwe was considered a high risk investment area.
This gloomy economic picture is, however, changing because investors no longer view the district as a ghost town.
Stakeholders, among them Kabwe mayor Prince Chileshe, Central Province Minister Sydney Mushanga and Permanent Secretary Chanda Kabwe, feel the district is now a viable investment destination.
They cite the opening of Forestcol Fertiliser Zambia Limited, Mulungushi Mall where Shoprite is the anchor store and Coronation Park where Botswana’s leading supermarket Choppies is the anchor store as some of the positives signs.
At a once neglected Coronation Play Park now sits a shopping mall, one of the latest investments and developments in Kabwe.
The people of Kabwe are excited that the Coronation Park and Choppies have become active business centres, just like the two Shoprite stores in Kabwe.
Mr Chileshe said the building of Coronation Park and investment by Choppies at the facility are positive signs that Kabwe is now an investment-friendly zone.
“Kabwe district in the last few years has seen major investments and this is a sign that we will soon become a well-rounded developed town as we endeavour to attain city status,” Mr Chileshe said.
Mr Chileshe said recently that Kabwe is on the path to becoming an economic hub, and Kabwe Municipal Council (KMC) will continue doing its part to sustain a favourable investment environment.
Coronation Park is at the former Coronation Play Park opposite Kabwe Chapel and Broadway Secondary School near Freedom Way.
KMC has leased the land to Unity Distributors for 26 years. The local authority is receiving monthly lease fees of K24,000.
Unity Distributors Group of companies chief executive officer Kam Shah is happy that his company extended its investments to Kabwe.
Mr Shah said Coronation Park was built to meet the shopping needs of the people of Kabwe.
“Ultimately, the facility is for Kabwe residents and designed for their growing needs as we were aware that Kabwe residents were fed up of spending their precious time in long queues during shopping,” Mr Shah said.
“We hope the opening of this shopping mall will add to the available facilities which are designed to address these problems.”
Some materials such as roofing sheets and blocks that were used to build Coronation Park were sourced within Kabwe, a sign that the town has viable industries.
Mr Shah said his company will continue to contribute to the local economy of Kabwe through trade, provision of employment and addressing the needs of the locals through corporate social responsibility programmes.
“For Unity Group, it’s not the first time that we are helping Kabwe residents.
“We have been sponsoring Mother Theresa (charitable organisation) for over 10 years,” he said.
The Kabwe Choppies branch is the 16th store the chain store is opening in Zambia since 2015.
Choppies has outlets in Kanyama, Matero, Chalala, Chilenje, Ibex Hill, Kafue, Leopards Hill in Lusaka and Chililabombwe, Chingola, Mufulira, Kitwe and Ndola on the Copperbelt.
Other outlets are in Kalumbila and Solwezi in North-Western Province, and another is in Chipata, Eastern Province.
Choppies marketing manager Clementina Maoka said her company plans to expand operations to Southern Province, starting with Livingstone.
“We started operations in Zambia in 2015 in November in Lusaka. Our store was opened in Kanyama and we have now 15 (stores) that are operating daily the entire Zambia,” Ms Maoka said.
In Central Province, an outlet will be opened in Kapiri Mposhi, the second one in the region after the Kabwe branch.
Ms Maoka said Choppies, through its investment, is contributing to job creation in Zambia.
“All our employees in Kabwe came from Kabwe. We are here to support the youth and increase employment for the young people in Kabwe,” she said.
As for Mr Mushanga, the investments by Unity Distributors and Choppies are positive developments for Kabwe.
He says the investors were attracted by the favourable investment climate in the district.
“The Government attaches great importance to investments such as this one by Choppies,” Mr Mushanga said. “As Government, we will always support such investments in Zambia.”
Mr Mushanga said the construction of Coronation Park and subsequent investment by Choppies are positive signals of Kabwe’s economic recovery.
The Central Province administration wants Unity Distributors and Choppies to extend their investments to other districts in the region.
To facilitate this, they have requested Mkushi and Serenje town councils to provide land to Unity Distributors for the construction of shopping malls.
“We have secured land for you. That’s a commitment on our part as provincial administration because we are committed to bringing development to Central Province,” Mr Kabwe said.
The provincial administration is convinced that Kabwe is heading for a rebound because it offers unique economic opportunities.
“We are hoping to get more investments as a way of improving people’s livelihoods and social mamenities,” Mr Chileshe said.
Mr Chileshe says Kabwe is open for new investments and ideas that will ultimately facilitate the transformation of the district into an economic hub.
“As mayor of Kabwe, I would like to encourage the people of Kabwe to take part in creating investment opportunities for the development of our town,” Mr Chileshe says.
The opening of shopping malls in Kabwe is thriving on the productivity of the district and the growing income levels of the locals.
But the district needs more and massive investments by both local and foreign investors, for the local economy to continue growing and support spending patterns that come with modern shopping centres.
CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe