Zambia: Kabwe Residents Toast Zrl Return

SCORES of Kabwe residents yesterday staged a solidarity march in support of Government's move to revoke the concession agreement with the Railway Systems of Zambia (RSZ).

Meanwhile, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has joined other stakeholders in applauding Government's decision to revoke the concession agreement awarded to RSZ in 2003.

In a related development, the new management at ZRL yesterday held talks with Government as part of the continued efforts to chart the way with regard to the operations of the company after the compulsory acquisition of the concession rights granted to RSZ.

The procession, which included former Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL) employees and those still employed after having had been taken on by RSZ, went from Kabwe Civic Centre to the new ZRL head office.

The jubilant crowd waved placards, sung and chanted solidarity slogans.

Speaking on behalf of the ex-workers, Kent Chanda said they were happy with the revocation of the agreement since RSZ had lamentably failed to run the company.

Mr Chanda explained that railway system played an important role in any given economy and that it was unwise for the previous government to let go off ZRL.

Mr Chanda appealed to Government to recapitalise ZRL and ensure that heavy cargo moved by rail to reduce on the strain on roads.

The concession of ZRL assets and operations was awarded to RSZ for a 20-year period from 2003 in respect of freight business and seven years for the passenger business. It covered the whole inter-mine railway network on the Copperbelt as well as the long haul railway from the Copperbelt to Livingstone.

And addressing the crowd which assembled at the provincial administration buildings, Central Province Minister, Philip Kosamu said the Patriotic Front (PF) Government had taken over the railways to safeguard the assets which were for the Zambian people.

Mr Kosamu urged Zambians to ensure that the remaining assets were protected until Government put in place all mechanisms to fully kick-start the operations of the company.

He added that RSZ had failed to manage the infrastructure and for that reason the cancellation of the contract could not have come at a better time than now.

Mr Kosamu condemned the remarks made by MMD president, Nerves Mumba when he said the takeover of running RSZ would chase away investors in the country, saying his words were incorrect and unpatriotic.

And Kabwe Central Member of Parliament, James Kapyanga said the solidarity march reaffirmed the good move President Sata had taken to revoke the concession agreement.

Mr Kapyanga said that the railway sector played a key role in maintaining the economic posture of the town due to mass employment activities it offered to various skilled residents.

He said the concessioning of ZRL brought misery to Kabwe as the new managers cancelled most of the operations and functions and further reduced employment to minimal levels.

Mr Kapyanga said the relocation of the headquarters from Kabwe to Lusaka had further affected the town as it had created a lot of misery as most of the businesses wound-up.

Meanwhile, Bwacha Member of Parliament, Sydney Mushanga said the railways used to employ over 5,000 people but since the take-over, the residents were negatively affected as a result of lay-offs of employees.

Mr Mushanga said that he was hopeful that the move to cancel the concession agreement of RSZ would bring about the creation of more jobs as a result of Government's intention to revamp the industry.

ZCTU president, Leonard Hikaumba said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday that the move to revoke the agreement entered into with RSZ was welcome.

Mr Hikaumba said that in the years that RSZ had managed the national railway line, it had failed to perform to satisfaction.

Mr Hikaumba said RSZ had, during its operations failed to expand its employment base but had retrenched most of the workforce under ZRL.

He said job creation had been stagnant under RSZ.

"This is a welcome move because the concession agreement failed to meet the aspirations of the labour movement. RSZ did not expand its workforce but only downsized the number of workers from close to 3000 to less than 1000, and did not improve the railway service. So this was a failure for the nation and it is good that the Government has taken this decision," he said.

He said Government and the private sector should now return to the drawing board and map out a strategy on how ZRL would proceed.

He said decisions that would arise on the management of ZRL should have the interest of the general workers so that they were not negatively affected as was the case when RSZ took over in 2003.

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