Hopes for lives to be transformed for by hundreds of poverty-ridden workers at Ziscosteel appeared dashed as the giant Essar Africa Holdings which took over operations at the steel maker had reportedly failed to keep its promise to pay salaries.
There was excitement, amounting to euphoria when a few months ago, the government announced a deal had been sealed with Essar to resuscitate the steel giant with the almost “dead” Redcliff community suddenly promised a new lease of life.
But five months down the line, nothing has changed and all the excitement has turned into despair. Save for the 86 expatriates camped at the Ziscosteel plant and potential suppliers making forays to and from the plant in the hope of getting contracts, Redcliff has remained the unofficial home of a people wallowing deep in poverty.
Workers who have not received their monthly salaries for nearly a year continue to report for work daily on the strength of hope one day they would get their salaries and things would get better — but frustration is kicking in as debts mount.
More than half the houses in Torwood and Rutendo suburbs the traditional dwellings of the steelworkers, are without electricity after Zesa switched them off over none payment of bills.
The local authority has also been cutting water supplies for the same reason.
Since most of the houses had fixed load limiters, Zesa pulled them down and has put conditions that those that cleared their bills would have to foot the cost of putting up power meters.
The process costs no less than $700, an amount the majority workers cannot afford.
Water bills that have accumulated over the past year workers have not been paid, now run into thousands of dollars, while the cost of living continues to rise.
Workers Union chairman Edward Nyirongo refused to speak to the media Wednesday saying he feared for his job.
Anyone fired from the company now stands to lose over $2 000 in back pay and allowances since the lowest paid is supposed to take home $200 a month.
Redcliff mayor Joseph Matewa says he has been visiting employees of the defunct steel giant and contends they are in dire need of assistance.
“This town depends on Ziscosteel and since it has ‘gone down with a flu’, everyone including the local authority is sneezing.
Most of the workers are living on handouts while many girls here have turned to prostitution. They need aid from relief agents because things are really bad here,” Matewa says.
Sources within the workers union said at least ten of their colleagues had died before they could get their salaries. Most of them, they said, succumbed to the HIV pandemic exacerbated by poor diets and poverty.
National Employment Workers Union chairman Tonderai Zisengwe of Lancashire Steel, a subsidiary of Ziscosteel, told NewsDay moral decadency had risen among families owing to poverty.
“We have lost the authority and respect of fathers and mothers. Our children no longer listen to us and the community scorns us as we pass. Our children are now prostituting themselves to get goods that we can’t give them,” said Zisengwe.
Since coming into Ziscosteel where Essar took over a 60% stake and 80% in the iron ore subsidiary Bimco, workers only received one month’s salaries with promises that more would come once the deal was sealed.
The workers union, and management are not sure when the deal will be concluded.