On January 15 this year, a bubbling President Emmerson Mnangagwa — freshly installed into office a month earlier after a coup against Robert Mugabe — promised that within 100 days of his rule, he would reopen the Redcliff steel-making giant, Ziscosteel.
By Tapiwa Zivira
Ziscosteel, once the largest employer in Midlands province, collapsed due to government bungling, looting, corruption and mismanagement.
“Ziscosteel and Shabanie Mines are part of our 100-day plan and they should be open within that period, we are working on it,” he said.
Industry minister Mike Bimha reinforced his new boss’s statements, emphasisng that “all the work to ensure that Ziscosteel will open within the 100 days had been done”.
“I don’t want to disclose much information at the moment, but to say it is within our 100-day work plan to ensure that Ziscosteel is open,” Bimha told our sister newspaper, NewsDay.
Nearly six months later, perhaps what remains of this promise is Mnangagwa’s gigantic election campaign billboard boldly declaring the promise to revive Ziscosteel when elected in next month’s watershed polls.
The billboard has been placed at Redcliff turn-off along the Kwekwe-Gweru highway and features images of a smiling Mnangagwa and the rotting Ziscosteel furnaces in the background, underlined by the message, “Returning Ziscosteel to its former glory”.
A drive into Kwekwe, and further into Redcliff, leads to the Ziscosteel main factory which sits on about a 2 million square-metre piece of land that strides from Rutendo and Torwood suburbs.
Contrary to the promises that the company would be operational by March, the plant stands stone cold, its rusting chimneys and furnaces glaringly telling a story that says nothing is happening.
If the president’s pronouncement were anything close to the truth, there surely would have been some preliminary work, or at least signs of restoration of the plant’s decrepit infrastructure.
Shrubs, grass and trees still grow freely inside and outside the factory with no sign of any human life.
From outside its walls, the only sign that there has been life around the plant is an odd Zanu PF primary election campaign poster carrying Local Government minister July Moyo’s image, stuck on one of the signs at the factory’s faded entrance signs.
The story of Ziscosteel, like many other promises the Mnangagwa government has made, appears to be one of the many false dawns Zimbabwe has endured over decades.
By 2016 when it finally shut its doors after a painful two decades of suffering mismanagement that had led to a significant decline in production, losses and heavy debt, Ziscosteel had been subjected to several false attempts to revive it.
One of the latest attempts, done during the last months of Mugabe’s reign, was a much-hyped deal between government and Chinese firm R&F, said to be worth $2 billion.
It is yet to come to fruition, and interestingly, it is the source of the proclamation by Mnangagwa’s government that Zisco would be open within its 100 days in office.
Interestingly, R&F, which is said to be keen to pour $2 billion into Zisco, has interests in real estate and no traceable history in metal extraction, further adding to suspicions the deal could be one of the many that government signed with the Chinese and never came into reality.
Meanwhile, Zisco remained closed, and thousands of its former workers, who had been retrenched, in batches, and live in squalor in the nearby Torwood and Rutendo suburbs, have continued to watch in anguish as years went by.
For Trevor Magwirei of Torwood, all confidence is lost.
“We have had many promises, but nothing ever comes to life. In the end, we will conclude that it is all lies,” he said.
A former worker at Ziscosteel, Magwirei is a bitter man.
“We had gone for a long time without getting paid and even when it was announced that the company would reopen, we hoped the wages we are owed would be paid first before anything. We will wait, but our hope is dying,” he said.
Aside from the direct impact the company will have to the workers if it starts operations, there is potential for many other downstream industries to benefit.
In its heyday, the company employed 5 000 workers and 50 000 others benefited in downstream industries, and this sums up the importance of Ziscosteel to Kwekwe and Redcliff and the entire Zimbabwe.
As government continues to hem and haw on the R&F deal, Mnangagwa’s pronouncements appear to be just another false dawn, one of the many that the country has suffered over the years.