The $3,5 million deal between the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) and Turnall Holdings Ltd for the supply of pipes to construct the Mtshabezi-Umzingwane pipeline has fallen through after the former insisted that only locally produced asbestos be used in the manufacture of the pipes.
Zimbabwe has stopped production of asbestos because Shabanie-Mashaba Mines are tottering on the brink of collapse due to administrative and financial difficulties.
The development is likely to cause a long delay in the project, seen as the panacea to Bulawayo’s perennial water problems.
On July 5, Turnall wrote to Zinwa requesting that they be allowed to import chrysotile fibre from chrysotile asbestos-producing countries.
“This was after failing to secure fibre supplies from the local mines in order to guarantee delivery performance,” correspondence from Turnall read.
Zinwa however declined, “without even subjecting the fibre to tests as proposed earlier”, and that was the end of the deal. Turnall immediately returned the $1 561 923,33 that Zinwa had paid as deposit.
Minister of Water Resources Development and Management Samuel Sipepa Nkomo confirmed the botched deal and that Bulawayo was being forced to ration water because of the low levels of water in its dams.
He said Mtshabezi Dam has a capacity of 52 million cubic metres and is currently at 100% full – a situation which could have seen the city’s water woes permanently solved.
“The project was expected to be completed within 22 months based on the manufacture and installation of AC pipes,” Sipepa Nkomo said Wednesday.
“In Zimbabwe, AC pipes are manufactured and supplied by Turnall Asbestos from asbestos fibre which is mined at Shabanie-Mashava Mines.
Government paid Turnall Asbestos $1,56 million for the initial manufacture of the asbestos pipes.
However, the mines are at present flooded and no asbestos fibre can be mined out of them.
There being no alternative local sources of the same quality asbestos fibre, Turnall Asbestos returned the money it had been advanced by government,” he said.
He said Zinwa was now considering other alternatives and it appeared designs would be in steel which could be imported or produced locally.
The collapse of Shabanie-Mashaba Mines has meant that Zimbabwe has to import asbestos which was one of its biggest exports.
Owner of the mines, self-exiled businessman Mutumwa Mawere, is fighting to take back the mines which he says would never have collapsed had government not seized them from him.
The collapse sounded the death knell to the once thriving towns of Mashava and Zvishavane where residents who depended on the mines have been rendered jobless and their settlements turned into ghost towns.
The Shabanie-Mashava fiasco has now gone further to delay a crucial project which would have seen the country’s second largest city with adequate water supplies within 22 months.
The deadline may nonetheless have been achieved had Zinwa agreed to the importation of required chrysotile asbestos since it would have been of the same quality as the local product, according to the pipe makers, Turnall.
Meanwhile, Nkomo said the contractor who had been engaged to work on the pipeline would have to work on the pump houses and reservoirs along the pipeline.