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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.

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