6 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Workers Suffer As Essar Deal Drags

WHEN two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

This is the true scenario for NewZim Steel workers, who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing fight between Essar Group and the government over the ownership of some iron ore claims.

The workers have gone for over nine months without pay.

A day before Christmas, The Standard news crew visited the sleepy town of Redcliff, where it witnessed the alarming poverty levels that the workers are going through as the government and Essar continue to dilly-dally on the conclusion of the deal for the takeover of the former Ziscosteel.

The non-payment of salaries to the workers has caused social and economic disorder in the town, as the moral and social fabric has virtually collapsed. Marriages have irretrievably been broken due to poverty-induced challenges.

A number of schoolchildren are no longer going to school because their parents can no longer afford the fees.

One of the workers, Tichaona Zimuto said life had been tough since the company collapsed in 2008. He said most of his colleagues had embarked on urban subsistence farming in order to eke out a living as they patiently wait for the company to resume normal operations.

"Things are difficult here my friend and we are just surviving by the grace of God. Imagine we are yet to receive our salaries since April. We don't know whether we will ever be out of this problem," said Zimuto, a father of six. "We have nothing to feed our families and that's why we are just ploughing some maize, so that we can feed our starving families."

Another worker, Panashe Gumbo (43) added: "We have become a laughing stock in the entire community. We have lost respect and dignity and it's now embarrassing to tell someone that you work at Zisco [NewZim Steel]."

"We are battling to pay electricity and water bills, as well as our children's school fees because the company is failing to pay us. I have been kicked out of my rented house several times for failing to pay."

As The Standard news crew drove around the ghost town, it witnessed several workers busy planting at the Redcliff golf club fairways.

If Tiger Woods were to come to Zimbabwe and see the decimated golf turf, he would definitely shed tears. The once world-class golf course has been destroyed, as nearby residents from Rutendo and Redcliff suburb have invaded the swampy area and turned it into little fields.

Most of the sporting facilities in the town have either collapsed or turned into white elephants due of total neglect.

The once busy Redcliff town centre is now a pale shadow of itself, with most of the shops virtually closed down. the few remaining ones just open with no meaningful business taking place.

Ziscosteel closed down in 2008 and its revival has been a tale of "so near yet so far".

Despite a partnership with the Indian firm, Essar, more than a year ago, the company, now known as NewZim Steel, has failed to resume normal operations. Presently, the company is battling to pay the over 3 000 workers.

The company has the capacity to take on board between 5 000 and 10 000 people in both the upstream and downstream industries.

The government recently set up a committee to handle the paperwork on the sticky issue of iron claims ahead of the projected start of operations at NewZim Steel this month.

The Minister of Industry and Trade, Welshman Ncube, has said officials from Essar Holdings, the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and from his ministry would convene a meeting to iron out the problems hampering the company's operations.

However, workers said they no longer trusted what he said. "We have heard such stories for a long time and we are tired of them," said a worker who gave his name as Enock Moyo. "These ministers are just politicking with our lives."

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