Home » General » Poverty Ravages Forgotten Zisco Workers

AS ONE drives through Redcliff town, the home of Ziscosteel workers, they are gripped by a deep sense of nothingness and overwhelmed by the evident signs of grinding poverty.

The once-thriving industrial hub and its surrounding communities are now steeped in utter hopelessness.

The former steel works and the town which housed its workers now reseble the set of a Hollywood zombie blockbuster indeed they could easily shoot Danai Gurira’s The Walking Dead here.

But no more than two decades ago, when turning off the Harare-Bulawayo highway, one would see huge plumes of brown smog reaching up into the sky. Environmentalists would scream pollution but to the locals it as a welcome sign of life.

Today the environmentalists would be pleased. The company, on which a significant part of the Midlands province’s economy depended, is in ruins – an industrial wasteland.

The blast furnaces and other key plant and equipment are all beyond salvage – much of it all put together for hundreds of millions of dollars with the bills sent to the national treasury.

Other company properties such as buildings have been vandalized while the once beautifully manicured gardens that used to be a key feature of the surrounding suburbs have been destroyed due to years of neglect.

Workers who remain still trudge to the company every morning for no pay they go there in hope – and because they have nothing else to do with their time.

After sitting at the company all day doing nothing, some can be seen at the local shops, sharing a pot of the local opaque brew, eyes glazed and wondering what they did to deserve such suffering.

Beginning the year 2000, Ziscosteel struggled with a terrible cocktail of challenges which resulted in the company’s complete shutdown in 2008.

Since then, it has been a tale of broken promises and false hope for the former steel workers and their families the promises made by their goverment – and just as swiftly broken by their government.

Revival deal that never was

The struggling workers had pinned their hopes on the New Zimbabwe Steel partnership deal agreed between the government and the Indian-based Essar group in 2011.

However, government dithering and the endless squabbling between NewZim Minerals, formerly Buchwa Iron Ore Company, over iron ore deposits and the shareholding structure of the new company have worsened the workers’ plight.

“There is untold suffering in Redcliff because of the closure of the company,” said Rogers Chisi, the former executive mayor of the town in a recent interview with NewZimbabwe.com.

“Most of the people in Redcliff and its suburbs such as Rutendo and Torwood were employed by Zisco and their livelihood used to depend on the company. When Zisco stops breathing every creature stops breathing as well.”

Chisi said the closure of the company has also affected other downstream industries in the town.

“As the main company in the town, Ziscosteel was supporting a number of industries and commercial companies such as banks.

“A lot of people in the city are unable to pay their monthly rates to the council and other service providers because they do not have the means to do so,” said Chisi.

Most of the workers have huge rental arrears and owe the Redcliff municipality hundreds of dollars in unpaid service charges. Legal action also looms for money owed to various institutions such as schools and hospitals.

Freddy Kanyekwere said he has now relocated to Malawi where his parents originated from because life had become unbearable in the town.

“I worked for Ziscosteel as a grinder for 30 years,” he explained.

“Since the closure of the company life has been very difficult for me and my family. After failing to make ends meet, I decided to relocate to Malawi where life is now better for me.”

Kanyekwere said before things started deteriorating at the company in the late 1990s, workers and their families used to enjoy quality life which was envied by many.

Government to blame

His sentiments were also echoed by Ntuntuko Nyathi, a former resident of the town.

“The way this place has been run down really pains me because when we were growing up we used to have well maintained social amenities such as swimming pools, public halls and bars.

“Everywhere there was well maintained lawn but now all have gone,” said Nyathi.

Chisi blamed the government for the demise of the company.

“We do not know why the government allowed this giant to die,” said the former executive mayor.

“People who were appointed to run the company were selected on a patronage system and were never made to account for their corrupt activities.”

A recent report on the state of Midlands industries released by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) central region has revealed the dire state of Ziscosteel workers.

In November 2011, Essar Africa, the African unit of the Essar Group agreed to buy 54 % of Ziscosteel in a deal worth $750 million, with the government keeping 36% and 10% to be owned by minority investors.

But, nearly four years later, the company is still to resume operations.

Source : New Zimbabwe