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NRZ employees wallow in poverty

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THE woes of families living in squalor at the now derelict Club Hideout in Lochinvar, Harare, continue to mount as the threat of eviction persists to loom over them like a dagger.

Report by Phillip Chidavaenzi

Last week, a security team from the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) — the employer of the families’ breadwinners and owners of the premises — made an attempt to evict the families from their new settlement, but faced resistance.

One of the residents at the new settlement, Stella Chari, told NewsDay that they were prepared to resist all attempts by the NRZ to evict them because they had nowhere to go as they did not have money to pay rentals.

Chari said she had not been paid for six months and she did not understand why her employers wanted her out of Club Hideout, where she is living in the veranda of one of the buildings at the abandoned club. “They wanted us to take out our belongings and leave this place,” she said. “But where will we go? So we refused to remove our belongings. We are not receiving pay.”

The families that have settled at the old leisure spot, which is located back–to–back with Rugare suburb where many of the NRZ employees live, came from different neighbourhoods such as Chitungwiza, Kambuzuma, Budiriro and Warren Park.

“We suspect that the reason why they don’t want us to live here is because our presence exposes their cruelty,” said Vimbai Chakurira, another resident.

“They don’t want information about our situation to go out.”

Chakurira, who has been living at the club for three months, said she would only leave after the NRZ paid up the money she was owed in salaries.

Some of the people here have not been paid since September last year and are bitter that their employer was not concerned about their predicament.

Chakurira, who used to earn $190, said she was recently told that from now on, she would be getting $150. Her circumstances, and those of her colleagues, highlight the sorry state of affairs at the once vibrant railway company.

“Life has become a nightmare for us and our children no longer go to school, landlords no longer accept anyone working for NRZ. Even departmental stores have blacklisted us and we wonder when our problems will end,” said Nelson Marime* who, despite the financial hardship, has been going to work.

Most of the families are struggling to get food and most of their children have since pulled out of school due to failure to pay school fees.

Amos Chimhau, an operating clerk with the NRZ, said he formally made an application to stay at Club Hideout, but was told that it was impossible since the problem was system-wide.

“Our situation is different from that of other employees since they are house owners and some have inherited houses from their parents,” he said.

He said he moved out from the house he was renting in Chitungwiza and some of his property was taken by his former landlord since he owed him rentals.

“I have a child who should be writing her ‘O’ Levels this year, but now she only goes to school as and when I have the money,” he said.

NRZ, he said, owed him approximately $4 800 in unpaid salaries.

“If they give me that money, I should be able to buy a stand,” he said. “Now they have been telling us that we can’t stay at Club Hideout because it now belongs to the Railways Pension Fund.”

He added that they had asked the company to move them into some of its houses located in Rugare which are being used by other people who are not employees of the company.

Councillor Peter Moyo, who represents the NRZ employees in Rugare, said the company was being unfair in its attempt to evict the employees.

“They know that these employees don’t have the money to pay rentals because they have not been paid for a long time,” he said.

“So where do they want them to go?”

Contacted for comment, NRZ public relations manager Fanuel Masikati said: “The people did not follow due process of the law.”

Last month, Parliament challenged the ministries of Transport and Infrastructural Development, State Enterprises and Parastatals and Labour and Social Welfare to look into the parastatal’s employees.

Bulawayo South MP Eddie Cross (MDC-T) bemoaned how the company’s employees were now wallowing in poverty.

“The railway workers have not been paid for eight months and NRZ owes them $46 million in salary arrears. Is it government policy not to pay workers?” queried Cross.

Recently, wives of the company’s workers in Bulawayo demonstrated at the company headquarters where they wept over their fate.

*Names have been changed to protect the employees.

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