ONE could be forgiven for mistaking the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) station in Bulawayo for a junkyard.
The massive station is surrounded by rusty, smelly and run-down coaches and wagons that are scattered all over the place. Building apartments, in dire need of maintenance, look like they have since been deserted.
Workers who spoke on condition of anonymity last week blamed the parastatal's management for the current sorry state of the station, which used to be a revenue generating entity.
The workers said the trolleys, wagons and the coaches have been dumped in the yard for several years now, with management seemingly clueless on how to save it.
"I really don't know why the management is not trying to do something to save this property. If they cannot use it, at least they should dispose of it properly," said one of the workers.
Most of the property, which was then worth thousands of dollars, started getting dumped at the station way back in 2001 when NRZ began to face serious operational challenges.
"The management should take the blame for neglecting the property, otherwise this could have been avoided by properly securing it," said another worker.
Some of the dumped coaches have become homes for vagrants and street kids.
Presently, the NRZ is operating far below capacity, due to lack of funding and allegations of poor management that have also been raised against previous senior managers.
Since the introduction of the multiple currency system in 2009, the locomotive company has been struggling to pay its workforce of about 5 000 employees.
As a result, workers' morale is at the lowest ebb and they have, on several occasions, embarked on industrial action to force the company to improve their wages and working conditions.
This has been an effort in vain.
Over the past decade, NRZ has lost most of its skilled workers who have left for countries such as South Africa and Botswana. This has resulted in the company recording reduced volumes in freight and passenger movement.
Govt must inject fresh capital to revive companies -- CROSS
Economist Eddie Cross said NRZ was the pillar at which the economy of the Matabeleland region was anchored on before the economic meltdown which began about a decade ago.
He said the problems faced by NRZ were also affecting all companies in the region. He called for massive injection of fresh capital to revive the companies.
"There is a very urgent need to revive these companies," said Cross. "It's unfortunate that in the past years the company has experienced serious decline. The NRZ is functioning at far below capacity and the number of employees went down from 30 000 to 5 000," said Cross, who is also a senior MDC-T official.
US$2 billion needed to resurrect NRZ
NRZ general manager, Mike Karakadzai said the once vibrant parastatal needed about US$2 billion for its long-term rehabilitation of infrastructure.
The company is facing the daunting task of improving its communication signals that are too old and need replacement. NRZ's track system is also in disarray.
At its peak in 1998, NRZ used to carry goods in excess of 18 million tonnes compared to 3,7 million tonnes carried in 2011.
NRZ has about 65 locomotives, 3 271 wagons, nine cabooses and 158 coaches against the optimum average requirement of 83 locomotives, 4 262 wagons, 17 cabooses and 145 coaches required to viably run the company.
Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Nicholas Goche said they were looking for private partners to revive the ailing company.
"We are looking for a partner to work with the government in reviving the company," he said.
The parastatal is one of the 10 loss-making companies that have been marked for restructuring and possible privatisation.
Bulawayo-based economist, Eric Bloch said the privatisation of the parastatal was long overdue as the institution continued draining the government fiscus.
He said privatisation was necessary to bring new partners that could bring the much needed capital and technology.
"For the speedy recovery of such sectors in the economy, we must privatise the parastatal. It needs new partners who can recapitalise them and bring new technology and equipment wanted for revival and be able to service the economy," said Bloch.