I went into a tyre dealer this morning to have the front wheel
a truck checked. The staff were all sitting in the reception, the
the forecourt and not a customer in sight. I was attended to and in 30
minutes was able to drive out with a much-improved steering performance
the 8 tonne truck.
The Manager said to me. 'We are so quiet that we wonder how much
can carry on like this?' The City certainly was quiet - very little
and I did not have to wait or queue anywhere. Great for me - not so
for the business managers I was dealing with.
Yesterday, after leaving Hwange once the game count was over, we
north to meet MDC leaders in the town of Hwange. This town is a large
rambling place, typical of company towns all over the world. Two
working for Cecil Rhodes first pegged coal here in the late 1800's. It
three main reasons for being - the coal mines themselves, a large 840
megawatt coal fired power station built before Independence in 1980 and
Coke ovens that can be used to produce coke and asphalt for the roads.
As we arrived and climbed the hill overlooking the mines and the power
station I immediately noticed that the power station was not working.
smoke or steam from the stacks and the cooling towers. At the meeting I
asked a senior Hwange Coal Mine official who is a MDC leader, what is
happening? He told me the conveyor for coal to the power plant is
down and they did not have sufficient equipment to keep the plant
by other means.
Now that is a disaster - to stop a coal fired power station is an
and wasteful exercise. They are designed to run continuously for long
periods, shut down only for major servicing and repairs. We also only
the two main stations - Hwange and Kariba and these together are
supply the major part of our national requirements of about 2000
Take out the Hwange station and we are left with less than half our
even if Kariba is running at full capacity.
It goes beyond this of course. The mine has been unable to supply more
a fraction of national demand for some time and a common sight at the
is the large numbers of 30 tonne carriers standing waiting - sometimes
weeks - to be loaded. The coal crisis is so bad in fact that some large
consumers are importing coal from South Africa. The Coke ovens - a
wonderful, simple and profitable business are also not functioning.
need major refurbishment and relining.
Then there is the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company. A plant built in the
midlands to process local iron ore into steel at the rate of about 100
tonnes of finished product a month. The equipment is state of the art
comparatively new. The South African Iron and Steel Corporation has
eying this huge investment for years - they say it would fit in with
own South African plants well and could be highly profitable. Indian
magnates agree and some months ago a major Indian steel company was
persuaded to take up a management contract at the plant.
They were promised the full cooperation of the State, although the
negotiating the deal never discussed it with the Board or management.
Indian team arrived with facilities for up to US$400 million in new
financing. They took up residence but within weeks they knew it could
work. How do you run a plant like this in the middle of Africa with a
defunct railway system and no coal? After a futile visit to Hwange, the
of the plant left the country with his money and has not come back. I
What astonishes me even more is that those responsible for this state
affairs seem to be incapable of dealing with these situations in any
coherent way. It does not take a rocket scientist to run these
They are relatively straightforward large-scale operations that require
sound management and maintenance. The skills are there - the money has
invested and is available to turn these operations around. Those
are just incapable of doing what needs to be done.
This year will be the last year of operation for the massive tobacco
processing plants in Harare - next years crop at about 20 000 tonnes or
per cent of the recent past, is just too small to warrant keeping the
in being. There may be some rationale for bringing in tobacco from the
region to process in Harare but the pressure is going to be there to
the capacity to other countries - countries where a more rational
Unilever is downsizing in Zimbabwe, Heinz is struggling to maintain
investment. National Foods is down sizing after trying to hold their
operations together for some years. Most other firms are running on 30
cent of capacity - hoping for better days.
My own bakery is a small operation but it is closed at present - not
price control reasons but because I do not have any flour. Today in
bread was very scarce and the larger supermarkets were selling 'fancy'
loaves for Z$350 - substantially above the controlled price for the
conventional 700 gram loaf of Z$295. In my view this price is
but that is what you get when you cannot keep the shelves full.
Fuel is selling at Z$1300 to Z$1400 a litre in Bulawayo and Harare and
short supply. People are bewildered by the prices and the shrinking
the money in their pockets. Customers in my own supermarket throw away
smaller denomination notes as not worth carrying. The Z$1000 note has
the most common note traded. Remember, that is a million in the old
Silent factories, empty streets, frustrated and scared shoppers. Where
this all end? We now know that it will not end until Mr. Mugabe can be
persuaded that he has failed and must step aside for new leadership.
when that happens can we expect things to begin to improve. What a sad
situation where the man who once was the hope of a brighter future for
Zimbabweans, is now a failed leader who is the main impediment to
Bulawayo, 9th October 2006