Senior Business Reporter
EMPLOYEES of SMM Holdings, the parent company of Shabani and Gaths asbestos mines have made an application to Government seeking the removal of administrator Mr Afaras Gwaradzimba whom they claim continues to hold the office illegally.
SMM, formerly owned by businessman Mutumwa Mawere was placed under reconstruction in terms of Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies Act) on September 16, 2004.
It was confirmed by the High Court on December, 15 2005 with Mr Gwaradzimba appointed the administrator.
In terms of the Act, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs is empowered to vary the reconstruction order by removing Mr Gwaradzimba and any other person appointed to act as his assistants.
This will need to be confirmed by the High Court. The workers lodged the application through Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU).
Mr Gwaradzimba and SMM are being cited as first and second respondent respectively.
The workers claim Mr Gwaradzimba, in a meeting held on March 8 this year intimated his continued stay in office was illegal as at same stage was relieved of his administrative duties after the management of the company was transferred from Ministry of Justice to Zimbabwe Mining Development Company under Mines and Mining Development Ministry, only to be re-appointed informally.
According to the application now before Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, Mr Gwaradzimba was relegated to only deal with litigation brought against SMM by Mr Mawere.
"Pursuant to that restructuring, the 1st respondent (Mr Gwaradzimba) informed us that the administration and management of the second respondent (SMM Holdings) was effectively transferred to a board under the Zimbabwe Mining and Development Company and headed by Mr (Jerry) Ndlovu," said the workers in the application.
"The 1st respondent intimated that Obert Mpofu (former Mines Minister) was responsible for the appointment of the board and new chief executive.
"The 1st respondent admitted that at that stage his mandate was terminated... then stated that he was reinstated . . . via informal communication from the Cabinet Committee."
The workers are arguing that his re-appointment was illegal as the law was not followed.
"He has continued to hold the office illegally as he had, by conduct or by fact relinquish this position to the ZMDC board chaired by Mr Ndlovu.
"Accordingly, the applicant contends that the 1st respondent continues to hold the position of administrator unlawful and therefore applies for his removal from the office and for his immediate replacement with the proposed candidate (Mr Taurai Changwa) on behalf of the workers." According to workers, Gwaradzimba has "neglected or refused" to pay current workers about US$19,2 million between January 2012 and November 2017.
"Salary arrears from December 2017 to date are yet to be computed.
Nearly 1000 ex-employees are owed US$17,6 million. The company is also said to have outstanding obligations amounting to about US$3,4 million to the Mining Industry and Pension Funds and US$2,7 million to National Social Security Authority.
While the revival of Shabanie and Gaths mines remain a priority, some experts believe resuscitating the two mines might not make economic sense given high levels of structural weaknesses, huge capital outlay needed and low global demand of the fibre.
Instead, Government might need to concentrate on the dumps for the local market as challenges on the ground are clear that reviving the mines might not be feasible.
Some investors have been previously linked to the resuscitation of the mines over the past few years, but there hasn't been much achieved in the regard.
According to SMM, about US$120 million is needed to revive the two mines. Mining experts say that after the mines ceased operations, there was no a proper care and maintenance, resulting in both mines flooding, thus submerging equipment.
The experts also said the mines have suffered fatal geotechnical failures such as roof collapses which makes it difficult "if not impossible" to access critical mining levels.
Similarly flooding may cause rock strata stability challenges, which calls for huge capital to reopen the mines.
The top three levels of Gaths mines are said to have collapsed due to flooding of the mines.
Compounding challenges related to the re-opening of the mines is that potential investors may not be keen to go into asbestos on the back of the lobby to ban the mineral.
Health authorities around the world have long advocated against the use of asbestos, saying it posed health risks when the silky fibres that make up the mineral get into the air that people breathe. When inhaled in significant quantities, asbestos fibres can cause a scarring of the lungs that impedes breathing; mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity; and lung cancer.
Asbestos, which is widely used in the construction and other industries has been banned in many developed countries, including the European Union.
In some countries, such as Canada its use is strictly controlled through the laws, according to reports.