IN January 2018, only a few months into his presidency and just before the general elections, President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised on the campaign trail to turn around the fortunes of the comatose economy, blaming his predecessor Robert Mugabe for the country’s economic woes.
Although he was part of the leadership which presided over the country’s affairs since 1980, Mnangagwa, upon assuming the reigns of power, promised a departure from the politics of his predecessor by being a listening President as “the voice of the people is the voice of God”.
With Zimbabwe having for a long time been regarded as a pariah state because of its poor human rights record, corruption and unbridled incompetence in the corridors of power, Mnangagwa promised less focus on politics and more focus on economics and reforms.
Bouyed by international goodwill, Mnangagwa told the international community that “Zimbabwe is open for business”. He said his new administration was going to create “jobs, jobs, jobs” for the over 90% of its population which was eking out a living in the informal sector.
“President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a straightforward and honest man who abhors corruption. It’s unlike in the previous administration when people wanted kickbacks to perform a particular task,” Zanu PF national chairperson Oppah Muchinguri told Zanu PF supporters in Redcliff in 2018 at a campaign rally.
One of the key economic turn-around targets for the Mnangagwa administration was the resuscitation of Ziscosteel.
A campaign billboard was even erected to pronounce Mnangagwa’s intention of “Returning Ziscosteel to its former glory.”
He went on to promise that he only needed 100 days to resuscitate Ziscosteel and Shabanie Mine in his Midlands home province once elected into power.
Addressing chiefs in the Midlands capital Gweru in January 2018, Mnangagwa said his government had plans to ensure that Ziscosteel became operational within 100 days since assuming power.
“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 then.
His then Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha said all was in place to resuscitate Ziscosteel.
“All the work to ensure that Ziscosteel will open within the 100 days have 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 said amid applause from Zanu PF supporters.
On the other hand, Muchinguri said Mugabe was an albatross to the resuscitation of Ziscosteel.
“Government is working around the clock to see the revival of Ziscosteel. The person who was in charge of this country never wanted to see the resuscitation of Ziscosteel. There was much corruption and underhand dealings,” Muchinguri said then.
However, with only two years left to another poll in 2023, Harare is yet to find a suitor for the former integrated steelworks which ground to a halt in 2008 following years of incompetence and corruption, highlighting the Mnangagwa administration’s failure to fulfil electoral promises.
While the government has said it is still engaging possible suitors, the situation has turned desperate at the Redcliff plant which is currently being stripped and vandalised.
So desperate is the situation that traditional leaders in the Midlands a fortnight ago decided to commit the company to the ancestors by holding a “bira”, a traditional appeasement ceremony, at the company.
“Minerals go with culture, when explorations start we should tell our ancestors so that they protect us and bless us. This has always been the tradition even when furnaces were going online. Its a shame that other companies in Kwekwe do not prioritise consulting our ancestors when conducting operations. We undertake these cultural rites so that workers will be protected and prosper when they are working at the plant,” one of the traditional leaders who attended the ceremony, Chief Wait Gwesela from Zhombe area, said.
The ceremony was held at a time when the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra has lost steam with the country going back to the default settings of human rights violations, corruption, nepotism and cronyism, among other vices.
“The rituals are meaningless as there seem to be a mixture of two arenas that do not resonate.
Ziscosteel collapsed because of high-profile corruption that became routine rather than episodic.
Its failure to be resuscitated has nothing to do with a curse from departed spirits and cannot be resuscitated by appeal to traditional leaders but corporate governance, transparency, efficiency and equity,” historian and MDC Alliance Midlands spokesperson Takavafira Zhou said.
Zhou however said religious leaders are important if things are done properly.
“Be that as it may, religious leaders are important in addressing issues to deal with droughts and famine, and appeal for intervention of supreme being to intervene and give rain. Religion also is important in fostering unity, peace and tranquillity. Rituals that resonate with religious realms would be more appropriate than performing rituals so that a company run down by thuggery and thievery can take-off,” he said.
Redcliff MP Lloyd Mukapiko said there is need for proper investment at Ziscosteel.
“What Ziscosteel needs are proper investors, not this charade,” he said.
Mukapiko said former Ziscosteel employees have endured untold suffering.
“The former employees have endured untold suffering. At first they were short-changed in terms of their outstanding salary arrears as they were given devalued bond notes. After years of toiling, workers left with nothing. Up to date they are yet to receive their pension payouts. Zisco needs real solutions, not this charade,” Mukapiko said.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions says while there is nothing wrong in honouring tradition, there is however a need to create a conducive environment for the rescusitation of Ziscosteel.
“There’s nothing wrong with our tradition, we can have as many of such as possible that is fine because that is our belief and tradition. At least our traditional leaders are reminding us of our tradition,” ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo said before adding: “However, after the biras you will still need an investor. Investors have their rules before they commit their funds, such rules as; would they get returns and be able to repatriate their investment? What is the macro-economic environment like for their investment? Unless we are looking at risk takers, but the premiums are high if we are lucky to get them.”
For many, the fact that cultural rituals are now being undertaken to resuscitate Ziscosteel points to the failure of the Mnangagwa administration, which had pledged to get things moving in 100 days.
More than three years after promises were made, the resuscitation of Ziscosteel remains pie in the sky alongside other pre-election promises.
— STAFF WRITER.
— STAFF WRITER.
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