Saturday, March 12, 2016

Curse of An Empty Granary
March 12, 2016
Opinion & Analysis

HOME AWAY FROM HOME . . . Grain Marketing Board ex-workers have turned Dura House into a temporary home after failing to get their unpaid salaries and terminal benefits

Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe Herald

In tears, Rickson Zuze narrates the agony of waiting for his money for a whole month camped outside the Grain Marketing Board’s Dura House premises in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. As he tries to fight back the tears, he receives a text message from his wife back home in Mhondoro notifying him that the family, including her three children, slept on empty stomachs the previous night and he needed to act swiftly.

He breaks down again. He has been away from home for a month now and the call from his wife is one of many he receives each week. Mr Zuze is one of the former GMB workers who were dismissed on three months notice following a Supreme Court ruling on July 17 last year on job terminations.

Prior to dismissal, they had gone for 10 months without receiving their salaries. The affected workers from 89 depots that include Zhombe, Karoi, Chinhoyi and Harare, now stay at the GMB head office vowing to continue their protest until they get their money in full.

They have turned into “squatters” and set up tents. They cook using firewood and do their laundry at the premises. They hang their laundry on the security fence around Dura House. The GMB head office has become home to the desperate and determined former employees.

Mr Zuze, who was sent packing after working for 14 years for the parastatal, said the family unit had also come under threat because of the situation. There are fears among the affected workers that their spouses might engage in extra-marital affairs, especially women who were left home and do not have money to feed their families.

Staying at Dura House is their last plea for help and no one seems to be listening, at least for now. “I am here because of desperation. I cannot stay home when the landlord wants his money. I am sacrificing myself, living under harsh conditions so I can get my money and fend for my children,” Zuze said.

“I have three children and as any other parent, I know the importance of educating my children. I know it is their right to get decent education, but because of my situation, I have failed in my duty. “I am the breadwinner and I do not know where my wife and children back home are getting food from,” he said.

Another former worker, Mrs Rosemary Mazungunye, comes from Rusape and has been staying in a tent for the past 24 days.

“I am a normal person, but living as a destitute waiting for the promised money. Waking up in the morning I do not look forward to a decent breakfast. I wake up with no clue of what I will eat during the day,” Mrs Mazungunye.

“The situation has forced all the affected people from different districts to unite. We have been united by the same cause and we share food. If one has bread we share it so everyone can get something. Some well-wishers give us food. It has become common for many of us to share a plate of sadza and sometimes we make do with water only,” she said.

“I have a bed back home, but I endure sleeping on the cardboard box,” she said.

Even the rains have not deterred them, they have stayed put. The rains are a blessing to people with shelter. I have endured heavy rains here waiting for my money,” she said. Mrs Mazungunye said staying at the GMB was hard especially for a woman as the place did not have proper sanitary facilities.

The situation becomes complex when the women menstruate.

Mrs Mazungunye said a well-wisher allowed them to use a bathroom at his house near GMB and that is where most of them bathe. “I worry about my children back home. I always pray that they are safe. It is not easy to leave children in the care of someone else.”

Some of the women said they were afraid their children could be abused during their absence. They said they felt Government had let them down by not providing funds for their salaries.

“We are aware GMB is not making profits, but why can’t Treasury release the $4,1 million owed to farmers?” said the workers. “We are saddened that the remaining workers still get their salaries and allowances.

“The bosses are sending their children to expensive schools. They have allowances for fees, groceries and airtime while our children are no longer attending school,” they said. “Why can’t GMB as an employer strike a balance between the employed and us who were relieved of our duties?

“We are not demanding aid, but we worked for the company and we have the right to get our money,” said one former employee, Mrs Molly Gande. She stays in Harare, but has also camped at GMB headquarters in solidarity with fellow workers. The workers called on Government to intervene and address their plight.

“If it was Government’s will to retrench us then why is it taking long to release our money? GMB supplies supermarkets with maize meal, so where is the money going?” Mrs Gande asked.

The employees alleged that some of the retrenched workers had since received all their money especially those who were strategically positioned. Mr Masimba Tongo said the non-payment of outstanding salaries by GMB had emotionally and psychologically affected him. “Government should be concerned with the reason why we are here. People have become so heartless and it is disturbing,” he said.

“What is the responsible ministry doing about our situation? Society has become so cruel no one cares,” he said. GMB has failed to pay farmers on time. The parastatal relies on Treasury for funding and will only pay farmers after the release of funds by Government.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made recently told parliamentarians that the GMB management was seized with the matter. He, however, could not specify when the former workers would be paid.

“Management has been instructed to handle that matter because it was not responding to the workers. So, the matter is being dealt with. It involves financial resources. I cannot answer that.

“The matter is very specific; it involves payment that is due to the workers. It depends on when the resources are mobilised,” Minister Made recently said.

No one will starve, says Mnangagwa

March 12, 2016
Felex Share in Zhombe—

Zimbabwe will stop importing grain in the next two years if communities fully utilise water bodies surrounding them and maximise use of agricultural equipment being sourced by Government. Acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa said no one would starve this year as Government had put in place mechanisms to fend off the El Nino-induced drought affecting the country.

The Acting President, who chairs the Cabinet cluster on food security and nutrition, made the remarks here yesterday after touring Agricultural and Rural Development Authority’s Fair Acres Estate.

The estate is being resuscitated through a public private partnership arrangement.

“President Mugabe has ordered us that this business of importing grain should stop by 2018,” he said.

“Everyone in Government is focusing on food efficiency in the country and we will be food secure if we make use of the water bodies we have as well as the various irrigation equipment we continue to receive from various progressive countries. It should be farming throughout the year, no time to relax.”

On the food shortages, the Acting President said: “Government, through its structures, has people on the ground, in every ward who take into account all the requirements. Once that is done we move the grain into the needy areas, we have the grain in stock. Last week, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe released about $1 million of which $600 000 went towards the transportation of the grain.”

The Fair Acres Estate, which had collapsed because of the sanctions-induced economic hardships, has 500 hectares of land under soya beans and wheat.

Acting President Mnangagwa said the concept of value addition and beneficiation would come into fruition once the country is secure in terms of food production.

“It is from the resuscitation of these irrigation schemes and ARDA Estates that employment would be created for the locals,” he said.

“Yes, some may say we are over ambitious but the ultimate goal of value addition and beneficiation is to have everything produced locally such that we reap high returns. It is possible to have milling companies at institutions like these but everyone should play a role and not wait for Government to go it alone.”

He said the agricultural equipment being sourced by Government was not coming for free and farmers would be required to pay back once they started yielding high produce.

The Acting President said he would ensure the challenges of energy and water supply raised by ARDA board chairman Mr Basil Nyabadza were addressed.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made said the equipment had made farming effective and should not be vandalised.

“We have made an investment in this equipment because farming these days require modern technology to be effective,” he said.

“Our targets can be achieved because for the few months that we have started using the equipment in various provinces, we have managed to conserve water and applied that water in a responsible manner through that machinery. We are on track when it comes to achieving our targets as enshrined in the Zim-Asset document and enunciated by the 10-point Economic Plan.”

Mr Nyabadza said: “We are moving around reviving all our estates and here (Fair Acres Estate) we are in our third year of production through a partnership with Northern Farming. The major challenge here is little power which we share with Jena Mine and poor road network. This should be addressed because the demise of agricultural activities at these schemes has negative effects not on the local communities only but the national economy as a whole.”

Acting President Mnangagwa later toured the Doreen’s Pride Estate in Kadoma where 170 hectares of land are under maize, in another effort to resuscitate ARDA Estates.

Meanwhile, Lloyd Gumbo writes that VP Mnangagwa says the implementation of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation has scored a number of positive results with better prospects still lying ahead.

VP Mnangagwa, who is also the Acting President, made the remarks during a Questions Without Notice session in the Senate yesterday.

MDC-T Senator for Manicaland, Mr David Chimhini asked how Government intended to revive the economy claiming that Zim-Asset had failed because of lack of financial resources.

“Zim-Asset is doing very well as it is anchored on four clusters that touch on Food Security and Nutrition; Social Services and Poverty Eradication; Infrastructure and Utilities as well as Value Addition and Beneficiation,” said VP Mnangagwa.

“These are the four clusters that encompass the entire economy of the country. You can actually say in food security, we are looking at how agriculture of this country should feed this country and to do so we are aware of the El Nino phenomenon that has affected the whole of sadc region.

“We in Zimbabwe are now promoting irrigation. We are now empowering our people around water bodies.

“We are making an assessment of who lives around water bodies and once that has been done, we shall compel those people to irrigate. But it is Government which must empower them with irrigation equipment, empower them with resources, seed and fertiliser.”

He said there were a number of water bodies that were lying idle throughout the country when they could be utilised for agriculture instead of relying on rain-fed agriculture.

VP Mnangagwa said Government had concluded a deal for farm and irrigation machinery equipment from Brazil and Belarus while another deal with India was in the pipeline.

On infrastructure development, he said Government was in the process of dualising roads as well as refurbishing power plants that would see the country surpass the power peak demand of about 2, 200 megawatts.

He said Government also wanted to revive the National Railways of Zimbabwe as part of implementation of Zim-Asset.

He also said there was need for Government to come up with ways to curb road accidents which he said, the majority of which was because of human error.

“I think it is important that we introduce a system where we continuously assess drivers because some of them may have taken their driver licences a long time ago.

“We also need to introduce age limit for public transport drivers. We can’t have 20-year-olds driving a bus with 70 people. These young ones love music a lot. They may think they are the only ones using the roads in the process risking the lives of other road users.

“There is also need for many highway patrols, not roadblocks to make sure only roadworthy vehicles are on the road. These are my personal suggestions, but as a country we need to get together and come up with ways to reduce road carnages,” he said.

Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Chiratidzo Mabuwa also told the Upper House that Government was committed to reviving local industry as evidenced by various interventions.

No comments: