Zimbabwe: Beitbridge and Musina, Twin Towns United by a Mighty River, Rediscovering Each Other

Thupeyo Muleya — The story of Beitbridge town in Zimbabwe and Musina in South Africa has for over the years been that of a modern city divided by a big river.

The two towns are in different countries as defined by the colonial boundaries, but they are one urban development separated by a river, bridges and border post with similar challenges on service delivery, infrastructure and pollution.

Daily, the authorities in the two towns struggle to meet the service requirement for their estimated population of 80 000 each plus that additional transient population of 15 000, a total of 1 200 commercial trucks, 1 000 light vehicles and 200 buses.

In the last few years, the development patterns in the two twin towns have become contrastingly stark, if one is to look into the globalisation dream of having the two as one single city when it comes to urban renewal and resilience.

Although Beitbridge town has in the last five years been developing rapidly in terms of infrastructure and property development, it still has notable problems when it comes to people-centred service delivery.

That as it may be, Musina also has its own fair share of problems and has been doing fairly well in addressing them.

Many local authorities either in an urban or rural set up are now looking at having twinning arrangements with those from different countries.

Many people and development agencies believe that this helps the authorities to carry out peer reviews and implement harmonised systems to achieve sustainable economic growth.

In addition, twinning initiatives are seen as one that can bring together Zimbabwe and South Africa’s port towns of Beitbridge and Musina.

There is a general consensus among experts and all the well-meaning citizens of the world that the two towns must work together to ensure that they grow on the same wavelength.

Beitbridge is the Zimbabwe Government’s cash cow for duties and other taxes, while Musina plays a critical role in terms of regional and international trade for South Africa.

Currently, both towns are moving towards modernising into medium cities.

One major factor in the twinning concept is that this can accelerate gender equality by making sure the two councils are adopting similar policies.

Dusty streets and roads are a common feature in Beitbridge, while Musina has moved to address such areas.

On the other hand, Beitbridge has a better water and sanitation management system compared to Musina, where water is elusive to many residents.

It is understood that the population growth in Beitbridge is driven by its proximity to South Africa and location at the busiest inland ports in Sadc.

A closer look at the two places of economic activities shows that they share the same burden when it comes to handling the transit population.

A few months ago, authorities at the Beitbridge Municipality and Musina Municipality signed a memorandum of understanding that will see the two local authorities having a twinning arrangement.

The Beitbridge delegation was led by then mayor, Councillor Munyaradzi Chitsunge, while Councillor Godfrey Mawela led the Musina team.

“The memorandum of understanding covers a number of areas we would need to cooperate and share ideas on,” said Beitbridge town clerk Mr Loud Ramakgapola. “One of the key deliverables between Musina and Municipality of Beitbridge is exporting water to Musina. As you are aware women suffer more if there is no water.

“We also want to promote cultural exchanges between the two towns. Our common service delivery challenges are on issues relating to; water provision, refuse collection and power challenges which affect all the genders under our jurisdictions.”

Mr Ramakgapola said residents and businesses had to take ownership and contribute to the service delivery challenges.

For example, he said, his local authority was battling to manage solid waste from both residents and travellers through the border.

He said recycling groups including the youth and women could benefit from the necessary support from local authorities supported by various development agencies.

“Cooperation from these stakeholders is this paramount if we are to have cleaner cities,” said Mr Ramakgapola. “There is also a need for businesses to contribute in terms of bins and paving areas within and around their shops. We also challenge businesses especially in Beitbridge to speed construction where they have been allocated commercial stands.”

There was a need to cooperate and exchange notes on the special economic zone considering that the two towns have similar statuses on that aspect.

The safety of both men and women was of paramount importance in the two towns and hence they would increase cooperation on public safety related issues.

Mr Ramakgapola said other areas under consideration were the strengthening of cultural and educational programmes.

Cllr Mawela said during the MoU signing that the two councils were focusing on economic development and infrastructure development.

“We have a lot of issues in common including the establishment of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in our areas and we also share a border,” he said. “So, our major focus is on moving together in terms of economic development.

“From what we have seen, we appreciated that Beitbridge has enough water to give to the residents and the setup is impressive. This is something, as Musina will take a leaf from. We have serious water challenges and we are not in control of such facilities.”

Cllr Mawela said they had learnt a lot on water service delivery.

He said the two councils had also agreed to jointly establish a cultural village at Dulivhadzimu gorge which is a critical historical feature for the Beitbridge community.

Cllr Mawela said most people in the two towns were Venda speakers who shared the same cultural rites.

“We are the same people who are only divided by a river and hence we must work together on preserving culture and culture exchange programs which may also push tourism growth,” said Cllr Mawela.

“At the same time, we share a common problem: the influx of migrants in both towns is a burden on its own and this must not make us fight. So, through this twinning agreement we will be able to find solutions and bring people together.”

The two councils would also work together in showing the world the importance of having neighbours and sharing a border and how that can push economic development.

Chairperson of the Beitbridge Informal Traders Association, which has more than 500 members, mostly women, Mr Mafios Macheka, said key to enhancing cross border trade within the two towns.

That called for Musina and Beitbridge councils to invest in the requisite facilities that boosted cross border trade including markets stalls, toilets and terminuses.

“The two municipalities provide services for the transit population from the Sadc region and other African states who use the Beitbridge port of entry,” said Mr Macheka.

“They are faced with the transfer of pandemics from other countries e.g. ebola, yellow fever, cholera. Their budgets are overstretched by unexpected populations like undocumented migrants who get stranded who include men, women and the youth.”

A South African researcher and lecturer in development communication at North-West University, Mr Mphumudzeni Siphuma, said the bilateral relationship between Musina and Beitbridge municipalities was a strategic step in tackling crucial challenges that impact both towns.

The collaboration had the potential to speed up the processes of developing skills and resources related to gender-based problems, enabling both municipalities to coordinate and implement gender-based awareness programs for both populations concurrently.

In addition, Mr Siphuma said the partnership enabled the two municipalities to collaboratively organise gender-based workshops and seminars involving the local communities and other relevant stakeholders within their jurisdictions.

“These seminars aim to equip the police officers, community members, business professionals, municipal employees, and healthcare practitioners with the essential skills, knowledge, and information required to effectively address gender-based issues,” he said.

“This would not only accelerate the process of resolving the issue at hand, but also empower the broader community in addressing this pressing issue affecting both municipalities. Hence this collaboration will have a significant impact on gender-based service issues.

“The municipalities are close to one another, fostering a shared sense of collective identity among their residents and both communities have identical challenges, including insufficient water supply, unemployment, lack of infrastructure, roads, and, most significantly, healthcare capacity to provide to the residents.”

Mr Siphuma, who was also a resident of Musina, said the twinning arrangement can be used to strategically plan urban growth and for collaborations to address the demands of their steadily growing population.

Ministry of Local Government and Public Works spokesperson, Mr Gabriel Masvora, said: “As a Ministry we are of the view that this arrangement is important especially in promoting gender based service delivery.

“Of note is the thousands of our women who cross into Musina daily and once there is a common understanding between the two municipalities, it also promotes their ease of doing business and helps them to carry out their business in a respectable and dignified manner.”

Mr Masvora said the provision of adequate water by the councils would address specific challenges they are facing.

Gender Links Regional Manager for Zimbabwe, Ms Priscilla Maposa, said the two councils’ corporation played a crucial role in promoting gender-responsive budgeting and gender-responsive service delivery.

By working together, she said, these municipalities can ensure that their budgets and services are designed to address the specific needs and priorities of both men and women in their communities.

“This arrangement recognizes the importance of gender equality and aims to create a more inclusive and equitable society,” she said.

“One of the key areas of concern is the provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, and electricity.

“Ensuring that these services are accessible and reliable for all residents, regardless of their gender, is essential.

“Additionally, both municipalities need to address issues related to transportation, healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. By identifying these common areas of concern, the municipalities can work together to find innovative solutions and improve service delivery for everyone.”

Businesses and residents in Musina and Beitbridge had an important role to play in enhancing gender-responsive budgeting and service delivery by the two local authorities.

Businesses, she said, can contribute by adopting gender-responsive practices within their own organizations, such as promoting equal pay and providing opportunities for women to advance in their careers.

“They can also support initiatives that aim to improve service delivery, such as investing in infrastructure projects or partnering with the municipalities to provide essential services like refuse collection,” said Ms Maposa.

“Residents, on the other hand, can actively participate in local decision-making processes, attend public meetings, and voice their concerns and suggestions. By engaging with the municipalities, residents can help shape policies and programmes that are responsive to their needs and priorities.”

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