Mine managers turn to gold-panning for survival

Managers at the troubled Shabanie Mashava Mines (SMM), grabbed from exiled Zimbabwean businessman Mutumwa Mawere by government, are now surviving on gold panning as salary debts have reached US$30.5m.

It also emerged this week that the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) had failed to resuscitate the troubled asbestos mines, although it was providing a grant to cater for salaries for those operating essential services such as pumping water out of the flooded mineshafts. A senior manager at Gaths Mine in Mashava told The Zimbabwean that they were now surviving on panning gold as the company has failed to pay them their outstanding salaries.

“We wake up every day and take up tools to go into the bush or nearby rivers to pan for gold,” he said. “If we do not do that, we will starve to death.”

According to sources most of the workers who are currently on unpaid forced leave are clinging onto company houses as security that they will get something eventually.

Benson Muchipi, a worker, said: “I was an engineer here and I know they will not be able to pay me now because my salary arrears amount to $68,000. Where will this company get such an amount? I am clinging on to the company house, which I think they will later give me as part of the payment.

“I feel sorry for those who are not living in company houses because most of them are now in the rural areas and will not receive anything, despite being owed huge sums of money by the company.”

The company needs $104m for recapitalisation and to settle its outstanding debts. A visit to Gaths Mine revealed that nearly all the mineshafts were heavily flooded and a small staff had been retained to work the pumps. Nearly all former workers are now destitute and have no other way of making a living.

Mines and mining development minister Walter Chidhakwa said ZMDC was providing a grant to pay salaries for critical staff but hinted that a lot needed to be done to resume operations at the troubled mines.

“We cannot talk of mining at the moment,” said Chidhakwa. “We need to be cautious and the amount of work needed to resume mining is very huge.” It emerged that many of the company’s assets had been looted by senior managers.

Several company houses in Mashava and other buildings have also been either sold or are being leased to Great Zimbabwe University, which now operates a campus in the ghost mining town. Analysts have said that even if Mawere is given back the two mines he would not be able to turn around the fortunes of the rundown company.

The government grabbed Shabanie and Mashava mines from Mawere in 2004 after specifying him and his companies under the Prevention of Corruption Act. During the same year, the government passed a decree placing Mawere’s companies under a government appointed administrator, Afaras Gwaradzimba.

The government, using the Reconstruction of State Indebted Insolvent Companies Act, then effectively took over, but has failed to turn around the fortunes of the company, which is now in serious financial difficulty.

Since Mawere’s departure, the government has failed to resume mining operations, resulting in huge debts and salary arrears.

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