1303-2-1-ZISCO PICIt was on Saturday January 24, that the residents of Redcliff, Rutendo and Torwood — the major constituents and beneficiaries of Ziscosteel — converged at Torwood Stadium for a day of prayer.

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During its heyday, Torwood Stadium was home to the Chamber of Mines athletics meetings, hosting football teams from across the country, being home to Safirio Madzikatire and the Sea Cottage Sisters and other live musical and theatrical acts.

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And during those days, no one foresaw that one day, now a patch of brown sand and uncut grass, Torwood Stadium would host a day of prayer for the revival of the town.

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But that’s how the times have changed in and around Zisco. Almost every other sports club, theatre or hall in the three suburbs has been turned into a place of prayer.

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“That’s how religious people have become,” remarked Paul Gundani, who, though he no longer works for Zisco, has a long association with the settlement, having been born at Torwood hospital in 1966 and made his name playing football, first for Zisco Football Club and later for the national soccer team.

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On this day he acted as our tour guide. “That is how desolate the people in and around Zisco have become, that they have since left everything in the hands of God. No human being seems to care about the state and welfare of the people here.”

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Though Government has repeatedly said they want to see the issue of Zisco resolved, with the latest such pronouncements coming from Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the residents of Torwood, in particular, and Kwekwe in general, have now taken such promises to be mere rhetoric.

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Amon Mwase, who joined the steel giant in 1962 as a general hand and was retrenched in 1993, having served for a good three decades, has seen both the good and bad times of Zisco — and is very pessimistic as to whether the steel giant will ever breathe again.

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“I doubt if Zisco will be the same as it was,” he shakes his head, rather resignedly. “When I joined the company, Zisco was the company on everyone’s lips, everyone wanted to work for the company. People came from all over the region to look for work here.”

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So what brought Zisco to its knees?

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“It has been a succession of bad managerial decisions, corruption and mostly Government’s seemingly carefree attitude towards the company. No one in Government seemed to care what happened here, as long as the company was there, and little did they know that the company was crumbling, grinding to a standstill.

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“Some of the managers that were appointed to run the company did not have the requisite experience, and as much as they could have been educated, they did not know what was expected of them regarding Zisco. Unsurprisingly, when Kurt Kuhn was recalled to head Zisco, the company’s fortunes somehow rose. But as soon as he went back to Germany, the company went back to its sinking ways.”

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Shelter Kazere (not his real name) did not mince his words, saying the current state that Zisco finds itself in is a result of poor management.

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“Why is it if Zisco is non-functional and in a state of disrepair, the senior management is not resigning? Why are they hanging on? Those are the people who have brought Zisco to its knees. Why would someone hang on to an entity that is not producing or being profitable?” he queried.

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Alois Gowo, the chief executive of Zisco, or New ZimSteel as the company is now called after it was “acquired” by Indian firm Essar, refused to shed any light, saying any issues to do with Zisco had to be commented on by people from Essar. Questions sent to Firdhose Coovadia, Essar’s resident director for Africa, had not been replied to by the time of going to print.

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For Mwase, who joined the integrated steelworks when he was in his late 20s, with Torwood becoming his naturalised home, he says his heart sinks every time he thinks about Zisco. Coming from Malawi to work as a general labourer, before becoming a weighbridge attendant, Mwase then rose through the ranks to become an overseer and later an operations leader (at the time he was retrenched), and through all those years of experience, he claims to know Zisco’s pulse rate — when and how it ticked.

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Listening to him narrate the processes of iron and steel-making, he would challenge many a Geography teacher, knowledge he claims he gained through the decades that he spent in and around the furnaces of Zisco.

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“I know Zisco like the back of my hand, and the iron ore reduction processes that happened here, not that I went to any school to learn about them but because of the day-to-day operations we engaged in. But many a time we were surprised when graduates were sent in to manage us, graduates who did not take time to learn and listen from us, the majority of the experienced workers. So that rift between the educated and the experienced might have worked against the interests of the company.”

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To cement this claim, Kazere mentions a manager who was appointed to a top post at the company, that being the first company the manager had worked for.

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“He had no experience. He worked as a magistrate, went to lecture at some university and then came here to a senior management position, without any experience in the steel industry, or worse still any industry.”

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Another layman, Killian Masundire, who joined the company in November 1990 as a labourer, said a combination of managerial decisions, especially the engagement of inexperienced managers, their (managers’) lack of foresight and commitment contributed to the collapse of the mega-steel project.

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“If we want to be truthful, some of the managerial decisions bordered on sabotage as it looked like some people made decisions that they knew would bring the company down, much to their benefit.”

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To buttress Masundire’s claim, Kazere contends that though senior management, just like the rest of the workforce, is not getting paid, they are getting allowances that are making their lifestyles much comfortable.

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“You have managers sending their children to private schools, how can they afford that when they are not being paid? But it is because they are living off allowances from foreign trips, giving each other as much as 350 litres of fuel per month, have their electricity and water bills paid by the company. That is why they are not resigning. And all these allowances when the company is not in production, that is a clear rip-off,” he said.

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The company, which ceased full-scale operations in 2006, has been living off sales of pool iron, scrap iron and slag, which has not been enough to meet monthly salary obligations.

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“The last time we got paid was last December when we were paid $100 across the board allowances and we have been living near-pauper lifestyles,” lamented Masundire.

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Dr Gabriel Masanga, the last chief executive officer of Zisco to see full-scale production, refused to take any questions, arguing that he left the company in 2006 and does not have any authority or basis to comment on Zisco.