JOHN KACHEMBERE, ACTING BUSINESS EDITOR, 5 APRIL 2015, Daily News (Zimbabwe)
HARARE – Thirty five years ago, Zimbabwe’s biggest integrated steelmaker, Ziscosteel, was the pride of the nation, a source of livelihood for a population of over 100 000 people in Redcliff. It used to employ over 6 000 workers. But today, it is a pale shadow of its former self, with the plant mothballed since 2008 after failing to retool. Ziscosteel — rebranded New Zimsteel — was the largest integrated steel works in Africa with a capacity to produce one million tonnes of the commodity annually.
Its demise in 2008 came as no surprise due to the Zanu PF government’s chronic mismanagement, corruption and maladministration of the economy. Like all other sectors of the economy, the collapse of the iconic steel giant at the hands of the Zanu PF-led government has brought untold suffering to the majority of Zimbabweans who had so much hope for their country. Ziscosteel used to be 100 percent owned by government until its demise.
Indian firm, Essar Holdings, only snapped up a 54 percent stake in 2010, reducing government’s shareholding to 36 percent. A consortium of private investors holds the remaining 10 percent. Today, the once vibrant and bustling town of Redcliff has been reduced to ghost settlements — devoid of hope and livelihood. A survey by the Daily News revealed that the downstream industries in Kwekwe and nearby areas, have closed shop, leaving the formerly vibrant areas surviving off the scant proceeds from artisanal small-scale gold and chrome mining activities.
Schools and hospitals in the town have also been hard hit. Ziscosteel used to pay all the bills and ensured property maintenance through its social responsibility programme. The only health facility, the Torwood Hospital, has not been in operation for the past decade, with a makeshift polyclinic serving as the only source of medical treatment. Understaffed and ill-equipped, the clinic is unable to serve workers. A lot of Ziscosteel workers are dying because they cannot afford to pay for their treatment.
The company has lost more than 200 workers who succumbed to different ailments since 2011, according to Ziscosteel’s workers committee. Several ex-Ziscosteel workers and their families being the biggest casualties. Over the years, the workers’ union has sent out an SOS to schools, asking them not to expel employees’ children who are failing to pay fees. The same supporting letters were being written to Zesa Holdings and the respective municipalities. Despite the pleas, the service providers are apparently getting impatient and sometimes understandably disconnect supplies.
The only relief the workers have is accommodation, as the company sold most of its houses to sitting tenants. However, some workers have been thrown out of their lodgings. Some lost property to landlords who were trying to recover rentals owed over the years. Despite government’s insistence that Ziscosteel will be revived soon, with the latest such pronouncements coming from Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Redcliff residents and the majority of Zimbabweans, have now taken such promises with a pinch of salt.
Early this year, thousands of Kwekwe residents converged at Torwood Stadium to seek divine intervention and solutions to their seemingly endless problems. “We want God to heal Zimbabwe whose industry continues to shrink by the day especially here in Redcliff where our congregation is suffering owing to the closure of Ziscosteel and the downsizing of other companies, we want God to heal this disease,” said organising secretary for the prayer meeting, Reverend Pardon Chingovo.
It is the hope of many Zimbabweans that the resumption of production at Ziscosteel will directly impact big companies such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Hwange Colliery Coal Company, Zesa Holdings and many other big companies. Many downstream industries stand to benefit from resumption of production at Ziscosteel.
A recent study by the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit (Zeparu) revealed that the country lost over $20 billion in potential revenue since the closure of Ziscosteel seven years ago. The study also noted that the mining giant’s continued closure is depriving the engineering and metal products sector of over $3 billion in revenue per year.
According to Zeparu, the engineering and metals sector had failed to compete globally for more than five years. The research also found that the government’s economic recovery and industrial development policies lacked “coherent” and “synchronised” implementing frameworks.