8 June 2014

Zimbabwe: Cold Storage Company in Sorry State

The Cold Storage Company's (CSC) Bulawayo abattoir is now in a state of ruin as the beleaguered company is failing to maintain it.

The huge factory premises in Belmont industrial area is now surrounded by overgrown grass, making the place hardly visible from outside.

Save for the main gate and the entrance to the chief executive officer Ngoni Chinogaramombe's office, the whole yard now resembles an untilled field, having not seen any sort of maintenance for many years.

There are huge trees and shrubs that are threatening to shoot through the roof of the factory buildings of what was once the leading meat supplier in Zimbabwe and abroad.

The precast periphery wall has virtually collapsed. Workers spoken to on condition of anonymity said working conditions at this meat company continued to deteriorate by the day.

"The company has virtually failed to maintain the premises and it's sad. The grass has not been cut for a long time and if there happened to be a fire outbreak, there is going to be a disaster here," said one worker.

The workers also said hygienic conditions had deteriorated over the years. "The conditions are no longer fit for an abattoir which is supposed to maintain the highest hygienic standards," said another worker.

CSC used to play a leading role in the processing and marketing of Zimbabwe's beef since its inception in 1937.

However, it has fallen on hard times since 2000 owing to a myriad of challenges, that include difficulty in raising adequate working capital, cattle disease outbreaks, decline in the commercial herd, huge foreign debt, high staff turnover and an aged transport fleet.

CSC last exported beef in 2007 because of serious uncontrolled outbreaks of foot and mouth diseases.

The European Union (EU) stopped importing beef from the country after it failed to meet the international standards required when exporting beef.

Since the ban of beef exports, CSC has been on a financial free fall. The state of the CSC's Bulawayo factory provides a glimpse into the extent of the company's decline as other abattoirs such as Chinhoyi face similar challenges.

It is reported that the company is facing debts of up to US$22 million owed to different creditors and has a salary backlog amounting to US$2,1 million. The company is operating at 7% capacity utilisation and has a skeletal workforce of about 500 workers compared to 1 500 in 1999.

According a recent report, the CSC is left with only 600 cattle at its nine farms across the country. The report attributed the decline to the parastatal's mismanagement, corruption and lack of innovation to compete with private meat suppliers.

This comes at a time when parastatals have been on the spotlight due to numerous allegations of graft. There have been reports of some executives earning "obscene salaries" running up to as much as half a million dollars a month.

The company's fortunes were set to improve when Zimbabwe and Botswana signed a Memorandum of Understanding to have the CSC slaughter the latter's cattle, but it bungled the deal after failing to pay for the delivered cattle.

Chinogaramombe and board chairman Professor Lindela Ndlovu could not be reached for comment.

Economist Eric Bloch said there was need to privatise the parastatal and get fresh capital injection and save the company from further collapse.

"What I really think should be done is privatisation where some partners can come in with capital so that CSC can fully equip itself and have access to technical expertise and remove the further risk of the company falling down again," said the economist.

A fortnight ago the workers demonstrated in Bulawayo demanding outstanding salaries.

The workers said they last received their full salaries in 2009 and each worker is owed around US$10 000 in unpaid salaries.

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