NEWLY-APPOINTED Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Felix Mhona has challenged the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) board to come up with a sound turnaround strategy to revive the institution following successive years of loss-making.
Formed in 1897, the NRZ, then known as Rhodesia Railways, is struggling to “move the nation” as its motto suggests, due to mismanagement, political interference, poor government policies, corruption and obsolete equipment, among other challenges.
Several efforts to revive the institution have failed with the latest being the US$400 million recapitalisation deal with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group and Transnet.
Speaking after meeting the NRZ board in Bulawayo recently, Mhona said the board led by Martin Dinha should come up with a feasible and pragmatic turnaround strategy to revive the company.
“From the fiscus, the cake is very small whereby we go each year and do our bids as a ministry and at times you are given third or so of what you are anticipating. However, as a nation we are endowed with a number of resources that we can turn around ourselves and it’s not about having the money but the capacity to have ideas to generate the money which is of paramount importance,” Mhona said.
“So, I think the turnaround strategy is one of the expectations that I would expect from the board to say how you are going to turnaround the institution.”
Mhona said the government, which is the largest shareholder, was broke and could not inject more capital into the rail entity.
“The moment you go with the begging bowl to the Treasury you will be frustrated because the Treasury is incapacitated. Remember, it’s not the only ministry that is feeding from the bowl. So, at the end of the day, the turnaround strategy has to come from the board and management,” he said.
“They have to say ‘yes’, let’s enter into strategic partnerships whereby we will have build-operate-transfer and then leverage the infrastructure that we have and turnaround.”
Currently, the NRZ has about 40 locomotives, but some of them are not functional.
It requires at least 40 more locomotives, 300 new and modern coaches and 300 wagons for it to be able to meet some of the service requirements.
Mhona also revealed that the government was seeking to transport all heavy goods and metals by rail to prolong the lifespan of the roads.
“But at times it’s not even necessary to ring-fence. Imagine the resuscitation of ZISCO, the amount of loads that will come out of ZISCO will be amazing. So re-industrialisation of some of our industries that are not running currently or under-capacity utilisation now, you would see the volumes being channeled towards the rail,” he said.
At its peak in the 1990s, the rail entity moved 14.4 million tonnes against an installed capacity of 18 million tonnes annually.
Currently, it moves about three million tonnes annually.