Poverty is stalking workers at Hwange Colliery Company (HCCL) who have gone for eight months without salaries compelling many to resort to fishing, cross-border trading and other means to make ends meet.
By Moses Mugugunyeki
HCCL, the largest coal mining company in the country has since 2012 struggled to pay workers’ salaries accumulating a US$15 million salary backlog. The company has 3 200 workers.
In its heydays, HCCL was the envy of the country’s mining industry but lately, it has been sliding into abyss, a phenomenon which workers blame on mismanagement.
Despite having struggled to remain in business over the years, the worst came during the hyperinflationary climate in 2007 when most industries in the country shut down. Manufacturing industry constituted the largest chunk of consumers of coal.
Since then, HCCL continued to slip into the mud amid allegations of gross mismanagement. Competition from other coal players and use of obsolete equipment also affected the company.
In August last year, euphoria gripped the mining community of Hwange following news that a new managing director, Jemester Chininga was taking over the reins at the coal mining company.
Many workers believed that new blood would address their salary woes.
“Last year, I was hoping this new managing director would bring new ideas to improve the performance of the company. We have gone for months without pay and his appointment did not change anything at the company,” said one worker who has served the company for three decades.
The old man recollected with glee his early years at the coal mining giant.
“It’s a pity we no longer enjoy working for HCCL. In the past everyone wanted to work for the company but today we are the laughing stock of the society. We are not getting our salaries and morale among workers is down to its lowest ebb,” said the long serving worker.
“We have resorted to the fish business to feed our families. We used to have fun-filled festive periods, but this last Christmas was a nightmare. Our company used to be the best as it catered for us.”
Several workers said lavish spending which characterised pay days and the festive season have gone forcing a number of workers’ wives to join the cross-border business to eke a living.
“My husband is employed at the colliery and he has not been paid for some time. I have decided to join other women who are either going to South Africa or Botswana to buy wares for resale here,” said a woman from Lwenduli village one of the mine compounds in Hwange.
There have been plans to stage strikes and demonstrations in a bid to press the company to pay outstanding salaries but all this has hit a brick wall. Some workers have accused the management of dividing workers along political and tribal lines which has created disharmony among workers.
Workers are now pinning hopes on a breakthrough of the US$50 million rescue package offered to the company by businessman Nicholas van Hoogstraten. Van Hoogstraten who holds 30% shares in HCCL, the second largest after the government’s 37,10% is demanding management control of the company for five years in exchange for the money.
Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa in December last year said the government was considering the offer.
HCCL corporate affairs advisor Burzil Dube could not be reached for comment, but sources at the company said the only way to bail out HCCL was to consider van Hoogstraten’s offer.