Widening technological divide

Zimbabwe faces a widening technological gap between itself and the rest of the world as local companies struggle to invest in new equipment.

NRZ needs about $2 billion to rehabilitate its infrastructure.
NRZ needs about $2 billion to rehabilitate its infrastructure.

In its recent financials, Colcom reported that equipment failure and the cost of maintaining outdated machinery were taking a toll on its business.

“The Colcom factory suffered a five percent reduction in overall volumes processed over the prior year, primarily as a result of equipment failure. In addition, the increased costs of operating and maintaining an ageing plant were unfavourable,” Colcom said.

Less competitive

The company said it could only partially address the challenges of operating an aging facility “through the commitment to and contracting of $1,4 million of factory equipment expected to be commissioned before December 2013”. Analysts said the problems in the manufacturing sector could easily be seen in the struggling economy.

“Our lack of modern technology makes us less competitive on the export market,” he said.

Bloch added that manufacturers could not compete on the local market against imported foreign goods made at a lower cost. He said public enterprises should be deliberately targeted with the latest technological innovations to bring the country up to date with the rest of the world.

“We have a crisis of state of the art technology, particularly in the public sector, with entities such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe and ZESA Holdings. Without an upgrade of their status they are unable to deliver services to the people,” Bloch said.

NRZ said it needs about $2 billion to rehabilitate its infrastructure. The company’s communication signals are old and need to be replaced. The railway company once carried goods in excess of 18 million tonnes but reduced its load to 3,7 million tonnes in 2011. The country’s track system also needs urgent attention. New wagons and locomotives are needed.

Plans to modernise

Colcom said it would continue with plans to modernise its plants.

“The Group will continue to invest in infrastructure to supply quality water, steam and the refrigeration required to support the operation, whilst investigations to modernise the facility are at an early stage,” Colcom said. Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce President, Hlanganiso Matangaidze, warned that rapid technological advancement could come at a cost to the country’s employment figures.

“We can still work and produce something with that archaic technology. Obviously if we were to improve it would help in terms of efficiency. The reverse side of adopting new technologies would be the effect on employment. This is not desirable given the current scenario and the need for jobs in the country,” he said.

Matangaidze said investment in new technology should be complemented by the rise of the industrial sector as a whole.

“Assuming that industry rises and jobs are created then it would be appropriate to go in that direction,” he said.

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