Madrid, Spain — THE saga at Renco Mine in Masvingo took a new twist on Sunday with Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi making sensational allegations that shareholders of the mine, Rio Tinto Zimbabwe, offered him a US$100 000 bribe so that he could abandon the workers and surrounding communities in a stand-off over working conditions.
Operations at the RioZim-owned Renco Gold Mine ground to a halt mid-January when spouses of miners at the gold producer besieged the offices demanding their husbands' annual bonuses and better working conditions.
Over 800 women blocked their spouses and the police from passing through the gates.
The women organised a night vigil and vowed to disperse only after their husbands got their bonuses and if the mine management addressed them.
They were joined by people from the surrounding communities who demanded that the mine be indigenised under the country's empowerment laws.
The protests only stopped after Minister Mzembi urged the demonstrators to let operations continue while matters of indigenisation were being diacussed.
Chivi South legislator Cde Irvine Dzingirai, who has a background in mining, was said to have assumed control of operations until the matter is resolved.
In a statement issued to journalists here on the sidelines of the Firtur Travel and Tourism Exposition, Minister Mzembi said he turned down a bribe as it would have weakened the workers and surrounding communities.
However, RioZim chief executive officer Mr Ashton Ndlovu dismissed the minister's allegations.
Minister Mzembi is the legislator for Masvingo South where the mine is located.
"They tried to buy me out of this case, with a US$100 000 brown envelope which I turned down, preferring to advance community and worker issues which they have blatantly violated over the past 40 years.
"I am not that cheap neither is my constituency worth so little, after four decades of gross neglect and abuse. They must try someone else. I will not be bought with filthy lucre to sell an entire constituency's aspirations and dreams about development which they clearly see being implemented more responsibly by other corporates like Zimplats and Unki in areas where they are operating."
Minister Mzembi said he had sided with the workers and the community after realising that their cause was genuine.
"I will not dignify corporate political slander on my person, neither will I be intimidated by litigation from exercising my representative role as Member of Parliament.
"This is a classic case of trying to prevent me from exercising my legitimate role of interceding on behalf of the community in their dispute with RioZim shareholders. Why should it work for other regions and not Masvingo? What kind of curse is this that attracts this kind of investment which politicise clear corporate social responsibility issues?
"Well, if I turn out to be the Ken Saro Wiwa of Masvingo South in pursuit of justice for our people, so be it," said the Minister.
Minister Mzembi said he had informed President Mugabe about the real situation on the ground at Renco Mine.
"Instead of resorting to this vuvuzela approach of splashing litigious adverts on this matter they must go to the source and engage the community for a lasting community.
"I have no intention of owning a mine, my plate is already full, with my calling to represent the people, but if they expect me to turn a blind eye to exploitation of our people, then they have got it wrong.."
Minister Mzembi said he had pleaded with workers to resume work pending resolution of their grievances through his office.
"They gave me their conditions including those of the community which had joined in the class action but Riozim have been avoiding dialogue but instead bragging about their connections to higher offices.
"I still insist on a 360 degree thorough probe of Riozim. If I am wrong on what I suspect has been going on, I will be the first to extend a public apology to the people of Zimbabwe."
Mr Ndlovu, whose company last week splashed adverts in newspapers accusing Minister Mzembi of inciting the workers and surrounding communities to disrupt operations, said RioZim had engaged Minister Mzembi, the traditional and political leaders in the community.
"I do not know where the minister is getting that (bribery allegations) from. Any money spent by the company is accounted for because we are public listed company. All the money we give out is not given to individuals," he said.
Mr Ndlovu said his company had engaged the community including its leaders on how it can assist in development programmes.
"We have discussed how we could assist the community through the RioZim Foundation which has been in existence since 1974 and has assisted the communities around the mine. Otherwise we do not deal with individuals but the community through its leadership," he said.
RioZim has also accused Minister Mzembi of threatening disruptions at the mine if the workers were not paid their bonuses.
"The management pleaded with him to help avoid this but to no avail."
RioZim stated they were in good standing with all legitimate stakeholders and had several engagements with Minister Mzembi.
"On Saturday January 18 2013, honourable Minister Mzembi arrived at the mine with Chivi South legislator Cde Irvine Dzingirai and others.
"He called a public meeting and announced that RioZim had not complied with the indigenisation obligations of the country and hence they were taking over Renco and MP Dzingirai would be the general manager and all staff would work under him," read part of a press statement published by RioZim last week.
The company said Chivi South legislator Cde Irvine Dzingirai had "unlawfully" assumed executive authority over the mine.
It also accused Cde Dzingirai of using threats and intimidation to prevent senior management from accessing the mine.
The company also accused Minister Mzembi of issuing inaccurate information on workers pensions.