BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
Troubled National Blankets’ workers are up in arms against the company’s judicial manager who they accuse of frustrating investors that have expressed an interest in reviving the giant textile firm.
The company — once of the largest employers in Bulawayo — was placed under judicial management in 2012 after it faced serious viability problems.
Philip Ndlovu of PNA Chartered Accountants was appointed judicial manager, but the workers are now accusing him of serving National Blankets’ majority shareholder Tichafa Elias Mujuru’s interests by allegedly frustrating any revival efforts.
The workers claim that despite receiving a $500 000 loan from the Distressed and Marginalised Areas Fund (Dimaf), Ndlovu had failed to turn the company’s fortunes.
“It is not true that the company is failing to attract suitable investors,” a workers’ representative who was part of a group that visited our Bulawayo offices to complain about the situation at National Blankets last week said.
“For instance, there were some Chinese investors who wanted to visit the premises sometime this month but Ndlovu refused to entertain them,” he added.
“They came through the office of Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube.”
Ncube confirmed that some Chinese investors had expressed interest in investing in the company but claimed that they were frustrated by the judicial manager.
“Yes, there were some Chinese delegation, which was keen to visit the National Blankets premises for an assessment with a view to invest in the company,” she said.
“Unfortunately, they couldn’t do that because the person in charge wouldn’t allow them. It’s a terrible thing.
I have raised the issue with the relevant authorities. Workers also came to my office and informed me about their challenges.”
The workers claimed Ndlovu wanted to liquidate the company to please Mujuru. They, however, said liquidation would not solve their problems.
“It will leave workers poorer. Ndlovu is being told what to do by the shareholder. He is not independent, he takes sides. He is there to protect Mujuru’s interests,” one of the workers said.
“We want our dues cleared. He should negotiate a package with us because we cannot go home empty-handed.”
In a notice to creditors recently, PNA Chartered Accountants requested all pre-scheme creditors to visit the company’s offices to verify the records and all post-scheme creditors to send their claims in anticipation of the company going into liquidation.
This is meant to facilitate the purchase of the company by a potential investor or the disposal of the company’s assets.
The workers said some of their colleagues had since died before the company could pay their terminal benefits.
“If they want to terminate our contracts, they should follow the right channels,” another employee said. “Some workers have died, leaving their children in abject poverty. It’s very sad.”
In 2010, Mujuru rejected the appointment of Cecil Madondo of Tudor House Consultants who was the workers’ preferred choice for judicial manager.
On the other hand, workers did not want Ndlovu to be appointed alleging that he was close to the company’s management, which they accused of mismanagement.
Ndlovu was appointed judicial manager in 2012 as per Mujuru’s wish, leaving workers clutching straws.
National Blankets failed to repay the $500 000 Dimaf loan and last year the firm was sued by CABS for $852 496, which included interest.
Meanwhile, Ndlovu said the workers must approach him if they had any grievances.
“Why don’t they come and talk to me? They came (recently) and we discussed,” he said when asked for a comment on the claims by the workers.
“I don’t know what they are talking about. I don’t respond to telephone conversations, they know where to find me.”
Efforts to get a comment from Mujuru were fruitless.
National Blankets appeared to be on its way out of the woods when in 2014, creditors agreed that all debt should be converted to equity at a rate of $0,50 per ordinary share.
The creditors, however, were not keen on putting new money into the company, which had borrowed heavily.
The firm also sold off some of its property to the National Social Security Authority and settled its debt to the now-defunct Capital Bank as well as service providers such as Bulawayo City Council, paying a combined total of $2,6 million in 2013.