CSC still closed, Chiwenga duped with borrowed slaughter tools

HARARE — The Cold Storage Company in Bulawayo remains closed, despite a grand “official re-opening” by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga on August 22, ZimLive can reveal.

Chiwenga, then the acting president, vowed that CSC would never again be allowed to shut down.

ZimLive has now established that CSC has no working cold rooms. The only activity is a privately-owned butchery, we can report.

The shock revelations come as questions continue to swell over Boustead Beef, a UK-registered company owned by former Marondera farmer Nicholas Havercroft, who claims to have so far sunk US$24 million after striking an agreement with the government to take over CSC’s assets and manage the meat processor’s operations for 25 years.

On the evidence, Boustead misled Chiwenga and senior government officials into believing the still defunct plant – which remains closed three weeks later – was operational.

Insiders say the reopening was staged for show by Havercroft, whose deceptions allegedly went as far as borrowing a stun gun, bullets and a brisket saw from Bulawayo Abattoirs, a subsidiary of Grills Group of Companies.

Some equipment that Chiwenga was told was new and imported had in fact been cannibalised from the company’s canning plant 1km from the abattoir, including pumps and motors that were allegedly repainted.

“Even the person who was stunning the animals was an employee from Bulawayo Abattoirs, because we don’t have qualified staff as they were retrenched by Boustead,” a source close to developments said.

“We are not slaughtering, except for six beasts last week when a customer arrived without notice; we had to rush and borrow equipment from Grills.”

Our correspondent visited the plant on Friday and observed no activity, except for half-a-dozen people working at the butchery, located close to the CSC entrance.

A retrenched CSC veteran accused Boustead of misleading the government over a critical failure of ammonia piping required to refrigerate Africa’s second largest meat processing facility.

“You cannot drive those industrial refrigeration systems without loading a certain tonnage of ammonia, it is mission critical. When they tried to load ammonia, the pipes blew. An inspection showed the pipes were worn out and leaking,” he said.

“Without restarting the cold component, there is no Cold Storage Company.”

Criticising replacement pipes that were reportedly shown to government officials: “Those fakes don’t meet ammonia system piping safety requirements … the entire network (requires refitting) … It’s not a trivial problem; nobody can work in there even with minor leaks because ammonia is toxic at low concentrations and flammable once you start going up.”

Another “mission critical” component that handles wastewater from the slaughterhouse – the effluent system – remains non-functional, multiple sources confirmed.

“You can’t run that plant without the effluent system because the water that drives the dung, blood and other waste products needs to be processed before eventual release,” said a technician, also among 800 staff retrenched by Boustead.

Boustead claims to have already invested US$24 million, promising ambitious targets to slaughter 1,500 beasts per day when it ramps up to peak.

A retrenched manager disputed the figures as incredible.

“They claimed they would invest US$400 million over five years; with that kind of money they would have installed the latest autonomous systems for hide pulling, evisceration (disemboweling) and carcass break-up. That is what we expected when we heard there was a big UK investor. Instead, they are planning on using knives for skinning,” he said.

“The numbers they are promising betray amateur thumb-sucking … At CSC’s peak, when it enjoyed a monopoly, the 7AM to 4PM day shift would slaughter 400 and the night shift would do another 400.

“Bear in mind there was a cold chain to absorb those numbers in Gweru, Mutare and Harare but right now even the Bulawayo plant has no refrigeration. Even if they slaughter 100, where are the holding chillers? The government is being taken for an embarrassing ride.”

Boustead’s capacity to invest came into question after it emerged it was registered in the UK under small companies exempted from paying tax and net assets amounting £4.

Instead of investing, Boustead is accused of asset stripping by selling CSC cattle, cutting down eucalyptus trees at the Bulawayo headquarters for resale, and collecting and externalising rentals from CSC properties.

Havercroft sold himself CSC book debts at a generous discount that saw US$33 million purchased for US$330,072, and is now well-positioned to capture CSC assets as its biggest creditor.

In a letter to President Mnangagwa, CSC workers described Havercroft as a “high-tech streetwise con artist”.

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