HARARE – Diversified financial services group, Old Mutual, is set to construct a multi-million mall in central Harare to cater for small to medium enterprises and the informal sector.
The listed company’s chief executive Jonas Mushosho on Friday said the new property — to be known as the Eastgate Market — will have at least 500 trading bays, offices, light manufacturing and single bedroom flats.
“Out of a total lettable space of 15 000 square metres, the Eastgate SME centre will provide up to 2 000 square metres of refrigeration for rural farmers that will help preserve their produce and enhance livelihoods,” he said.
The new property, tipped to be the first of its kind in sub- Saharan Africa, is expected to reduce congestion in Zimbabwe’s capital city where pavement trading is rampant resulting in movement conflict between vehicular traffic and traders.
The death of Zimbabwe’s formal sector, largely blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s populists and disastrous policies, has seen a rapid rise of the informal sector, which is absorbing the bulk of retrenched and unemployed graduates.
A 2015 report by the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe revealed that there are at least 20 000 registered vendors operating in Harare’s central business district.
Small and Medium Enterprises minister Sithembiso Nyoni commended Old Mutual for embarking on such an ambitious project aimed at improving SMEs competitiveness at a time when the insurance giant is being affected by high void levels at some of its properties.
“The SME sector worldwide is playing a pivotal role in the economic development of many countries. However, the sector’s ability to meaningfully contribute to the economic development of the country is affected by a number of constraints which include…multiplicity of regulations, limited access and high costs of capital, weak managerial, technical and entrepreneurial capabilities…,” she said.
Nyoni noted that there was need for the government, the private sector and the development partners to work together for the provision of workspace to spur development and growth of the SME sector.
“I would like to encourage Old Mutual to roll out this noble initiative to other towns to afford SMEs in these centres an opportunity to access such state-of-the-art facilities,” she added.
This comes at a time when the informal sector and SMEs are expected to dominate and drive Zimbabwe’s economy following the significant shrinking of the formal sector.