Thursday, September 23, 2021
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17 years on: SMM Holdings, ex-employees yet to find common ground

 …as cheap politicking takes
precedence

Clayton
Shereni

MASHAVA

Evictions, court cases and demonstrations have been the major highlights of a
raging and one of the longest civil matters in the country which has spanned
for almost 17 years now.

Shabanie-Mashava Mines
(SMM) Holdings has been embroiled in a nasty fight with its former workers over
outstanding salaries and pension funds.

Mine authorities have
tried to bulldoze and use their power to evict their workers and families of
deceased former workers in a bid to evade paying millions of dollars which they
owe them.

Court cases where
evicted former workers would seek redemption are becoming the order of the day
for the now defunct giant asbestos mining company.

Bills of unpaid salaries
have ballooned and the loss-making company has failed to pay even a single cent
to ex-employees who are demanding what they are owed.

The company, which once
employed thousands of men and women in Mashava and Zvishavane, retrenched its workers
when the country’s economy experienced perhaps its worst decline starting in
the mid-2000s

Operations were scaled
down since the market for asbestos became scarce and this caused a lot of
financial damage to the company.

According to Zimbabwe
Diamond and Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU), 991 ex-employees are owed a
total of US$17 676 537.50 while current workers are owed US$19 260 667.99 for
the period spanning from January 2012 to November 2017.

Although there might
not be consensus on the exact figures owed, it is a public secret that the
company is sinking in debt and can no longer pay outstanding wages.

The skeletal staff
which is running chrome mining activities at King Mine in Mashava are also crying
foul over poor remuneration.

Some of the employees
who are working as security guards are reportedly earning a paltry $5 000 per
month.

How
it started

SMM Holdings, which was
majority-owned by businessman Mutumwa Mawere was forfeited seized but under
controversial circumstances.

In 2004, the then
Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa invoked the ‘reconstruction law’ which
stripped owners and shareholders of companies which owed the state.

The unfortunate turn of
events saw the continuous demise of SMM Holdings, with Mutumwa Mawere losing
his asbestos mining empire.

Mawere’s downfall saw
the rise of Afarus Gwaradzimba who was appointed the company’s administrator
after the enactment of the State Insolvent Companies Act (Chapter 24:27).

However, Gwaradzimba
has faced a lot of backlash from former workers who are now demanding his head
for worsening their living conditions.

Court
cases

In a court application
filled by ZDAMWU, workers demanded the unconditional removal of Gwaradzimba
from the helm of SMM Holdings.

“Accordingly, the
applicant contends that the 1st respondent continues to hold the
position of administrator unlawfully and therefore applies for his removal from
the office of the administrator and for his immediate replacement with the
proposed candidate on behalf of the workers who happen to be the single most
significant creditor owed millions of US dollars,” reads part of the
application.

Workers nominated
Taurai Changwa, a seasoned judicial manager and corporate rescue practitioner,
as Gwaradzimba’s replacement.

Final decision on the
matter of Gwaradzimba’s removal and Changwa’s ascendancy, however, lies with
the Minister of Mines and Mining Development, Winston Chitando.

Gwaradzimba was
reportedly dismissed in 2006 by then Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa when
a Zimbabwe Mining and Diamond Company (ZMDC) board chaired by Jerry Ndlovhu was
appointed to run the administrative affairs of the company.

However, Gwaradzimba
resurfaced a few months later to answer on the litigation which Mutumwa Mawere
had started against SMM Holdings.

ZDAMWU secretary general
Justice Chinhema told TellZim that their application was yet to be responded to
and maintained that Gwaradzimba was supposed to leave office.

“Our position is that
Gwaradzimba and the entire board are no longer serving the interests of the
workers. We wrote an application to the Minister of Justice so we are waiting
for him to respond. He was brought back to settle the workers dues and clear
his name and his reappointment was just verbal, there is nothing legal in him
maintaining the administrative position,” said Chinhema.

 

Evictions,
victimisation and false promises

In the ensuing years
after the company was seized, mine authorities have secured eviction orders on
numerous occasions and families lost properties during evictions by the Messenger
of Court since 2017.

In recent years, tens
of families were evicted from mine houses at Gaths Mine but they vow to stay
put until they get what they are owed.

Demonstrations by
former workers and widows of ex-employees have been on the rise especially in
Mashava where evictions are being carried out against the government’s
directive.

In June 2018,
demonstrators stormed King Mine offices days after President Emmerson
Mnangagwa’s tour when authorities moved to fix potholes, painted the bus and a
few buildings giving a false impression of life to the President.

Although a court order
barring SMM Holdings from evicting ex-workers had been obtained, on March 24,
2020, police officers and some mine officials went on an eviction rampage
leaving many families in the open.

Many families of
deceased workers have failed to secure decent shelter after the evictions since
Mashava has been the only home they have known.

TellZim is reliably informed
that a few days ago since, a number of former workers were served with eviction
notices although Gwaradzimba had assured them that no one was going to be
evicted.

“Two days ago they came
and served some of us with eviction notices but what confuses is if someone is
doing this on their own or we are being lied to by Gwaradzimba. He promised us
in the last meeting which he held with our representatives that no one was
going to be evicted but what is happening on the ground is a different thing
altogether,” said a former worker who is facing eviction.

When contacted for
comment, Gwaradzimba professed ignorance demanding that the reporter furnishes
him with names of the people who are initiating the eviction process.

“SMM Holdings is not
serving anybody with eviction notices. You need to find the exact names of
those people first then we talk from there and see if those people are
representing the company. If there is something like that, it is not from SMM
Holdings,” said Gwaradzimba.

In July 2018, the Minister
of Mines and Mining Development Winston Chitando, blocked evictions of
ex-workers from mine houses, a move which was seen as a political stance.

Speaking during a rally
at Maglas Stadium in the run up to July 30, 2018 elections, Chitando assured widows
and former workers that there were no longer going to be evictions and that
they were going to get ownership of the houses.

“There is no employee
who shall be evicted from the mine houses until we have completed the process
that shall see current and former employees being given ownership of the houses
once the program to sell the houses has been completed.

“The widows of former
employees will not be evicted from the houses until that exercise has been
completed,” said Chitando.

The eviction orders, which
had been obtained in 2017, were put on hold for a moment but there was another
crackdown on former workers in 2019.

Mine authorities are also
sending letters to former workers which claim that they now owe the company for
their prolonged stay in mine houses.

Government has remained
silent after elections on the way forward concerning the welfare of SMM
employees, therefore raising suspicions that the government stopped the
evictions in 2018 to charm the families to vote for Zanu PF.

An end to this fiasco
still remains so near yet so far, as former workers are demanding what they are
owed but the company still maintains that some of the targeted families now owe
them for overstaying in the houses.

With no long lasting
solution to the debacle in sight, a crisis is definitely looming in Mashava
especially in some areas where young children are now doing piece works for
Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) students to sustain their families.

Some are now resorting
to illegal gold panning and crime rate has been on the rise due to the high
demand for the precious minerals.

Commercial sex
activities are soaring with young girls from Gaths mine, King Mine and
Temeraire engaging in immoral activities with makorokoza in exchange for money.

TellZimNewshttps://tellzim.com
TellZim News is the leading news organization in the Southern region. It provides candid, balanced and timely news from the communities. Keeping it real. Committed to tell Zimbabwe.

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