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As part of our series on Bulawayo #CityOnTheRise, we at Mukamba, have been drawing together articles, research, interviews and stories from the 2nd city in Zimbabwe. If you enjoy this article or are inspired, please contact us.

Bulawayo #CityOnTheRise: Article 4 of 8

Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe, is home to a dynamic, resilient economy that has been showing positive growth trends over recent years. In this article, we aim to discover the economic engines that make Bulawayo prosper. Our goal here is to dive deep into the five sectors that contribute most to the city’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Through an analysis of data, gathering expert commentary, and connecting the dots, we will provide both policymakers and potential investors a detailed insight into where Bulawayo’s economic strengths lay. 

Bulawayo has seen steady economic growth supported by several leading industries. According to recent data from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat), five sectors in particular have driven much of Bulawayo’s GDP over the past few years (Gahadza, 2022). 

The main finding is that five sectors in particular stand out for their large contributions to Bulawayo’s GDP:

  • Wholesale and retail trade
  • Manufacturing
  • Real estate
  • Construction
  • Accommodation/food services (Bhebhe.2022).

Table 1: Bulawayo’s GDP by Sector, 2019-2023

SectorGDP Contribution 2019GDP Contribution 2020GDP Contribution 2022GDP Contribution 2023 (forecasted)
Wholesale and Retail Trade; Repair of Motor Vehicles and Motorcycles31.4%30.5%32.2%33%
Manufacturing21.924.3%13.6%14%
Finance and insurance7.7%9.1%10.9%11.2%
Real Estate Activities14.7%14.7%    14.7%     –
Information and communication5.8%5.3%7.2%7.5%
Construction4.7%4.5%6.8%7%

(Data Source: Zimstats, 2022) (Gahadza,2022)

Wholesale and retail trade makes the single largest contribution at over 30% of GDP. When compared nationally, the data showed (in 2020) Bulawayo had a higher nominal GDP per capita than Harare, despite having a smaller total GDP (Gahadza,2022). This indicates greater wealth distribution in Bulawayo compared to the capital region. The Wholesale and Retail Trade sector is one of the primary contributors, with Bulawayo serving as a regional trading hub. This sector not only contributes to the city’s GDP but also provides a substantial number of jobs and has strong linkages with other industries.

Another major contributor to Bulawayo’s GDP is the Manufacturing sector. This sector is particularly strong in sub-sectors such as food processing and engineering. Manufacturing in Bulawayo contributes significantly to the city’s exports (ibid). The real estate market in the city has been influenced by a number of variables, including as infrastructure advancements, investments made by the diaspora, and economic policies. Local investors began to view real estate as a more secure investment than the erratic financial markets. Zimbabweans residing overseas started bringing money home at the same time, not just for investments in real estate but also for subsistence. The money infusion has become the Bulawayo real estate market’s lifeline (Team. 2023).

The Construction sector is another key contributor to Bulawayo’s GDP. A variety of ongoing public and private construction projects are boosting this sector, which in turn supports other sectors through investment. For example, the development of residential estates such as Kings City, Hopeville, Hopelyn Estate, Manningdale, etc, stand out. These projects, driven by private real estate developers, are meeting the growing demand for housing in Bulawayo, thereby stimulating the real estate and construction sectors. The value-add from the Construction sector is a significant component of Bulawayo’s GDP. 

Lastly, the Accommodation and Food Services sector, which encompasses the city’s tourism and hospitality industry, is a major contributor to Bulawayo’s GDP. This sector not only contributes to the city’s GDP but also provides a significant number of jobs. There are numerous opportunities for further growth in this sector through investment promotion.

Over time, the statistics reveal manufacturing has increased its GDP share, highlighting its growing importance. Property demand also remains strong based on real estate activities. Overall, the analysis provides valuable sector-level insights into Bulawayo’s economy. It identifies the industries central to wealth creation and employment. With proper support, these sectors could help further increase Bulawayo’s GDP growth and standard of living in the coming years. The data serves as an important evidence base for policymakers and investors.

  • In 2020, Bulawayo dominated the nominal GDP per capita by contributing $203 868 in 2020 followed by Harare with $104 674 (Gahadza, 2022).
  • The manufacturing sector significantly contributes to Bulawayo’s exports, with sub-sectors like food processing and engineering serving as key industry pillars.
  • Despite contributing less to GDP compared to other sectors, construction has witnessed significant growth in recent years, driven by both public and private projects.
  • Real estate also makes a strong contribution to Bulawayo’s GDP, with growth in this sector often associated with demand for property and investment from other sectors.
  • With a large contribution to GDP, the wholesale and retail trade is key to Bulawayo’s economy, benefiting from the city’s position as a regional trading hub.
  • Accommodation and food services sectors, although not listed in the table, contribute substantially to the city’s GDP and employment, thanks to the growing tourism industry.
  • Despite the pressures of the global economy and challenges at home, Bulawayo has shown resilience and adaptability, with projected positive growth trends.

1Gahadza, N. (2022) Bulawayo dominates provincial GDPs. Zimbabwe Situation. https://www.zimbabwesituation.com/news/bulawayo-dominates-provincial-gdps/. Accessed 14/3/2024

2ZIMSTAT. (2022). Provincial Gross Domestic Product 2019 to 2020. Available at: Final_Provincial_GDP_Report2019_2020.pdf (zimstat.co.zw). Accessed 14/3/2024

3Team, K. (2023). The evolution of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s real estate market over the last decade. Kurby Real Estate AI. https://blog.kurby.ai/the-evolution-of-bulawayo-zimbabwes-real-estate-market-over-the-last-decade/. Accessed 14/3/2024.

4Bhebhe, N. (2022). What makes Bulawayo’s economy tick?… Five keys drive city economy. The Chronicle. https://www.chronicle.co.zw/what-makes-bulawayos-economy-tick-five-keys-drive-city-economy/. Accessed 14/3/2024.

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