FORMER National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) chairperson Lawrence Mavhima (pictured), who was recently appointed Midlands Provincial Affairs minister, speaks to our reporter, Blessed Mhlanga, on his plans to turn the province into an industrial hub and a green belt for the country. He also sheds light on his role at NRZ.
INTERVIEW: Blessed Mhlanga
ND: Firstly, I want to congratulate you on your appointment as Minister of State for Midlands Province. Can you tell us about the challenges you see in the province?
LM: Thank you very much. The challenges that are in the Midlands are not different or unique from the challenges that are faced elsewhere in the country.
First of all, we have a high unemployment rate, which needs to be addressed.
Secondly, we have low productivity in terms of the companies that are operating in the Midlands, whether they be commercial or industrial or even mining companies, and then we have low productivity from the agricultural sector.
ND: You speak about unemployment in a province where industrial giants like Ziscosteel and ZimAlloys, which had the potential to employ thousands, have been allowed to fold.
Does that concern you?
LM: One of the things I have as part of my plans is to look at the defunct and distressed companies and to see what sort of solution we can come up with for them, which will enable them to revive or increase production capacity.
It is my intention to set up an ad hoc advisory council that will assist the Minister of State in crafting solutions that will assist the companies in accessing capital, accessing technical expertise so that they are able to get up on their feet and play their part in the greater plan for economic revival and set up Midlands on the top of the list in production.
When you look at the Midlands, you find that we are endowed with natural resources in the minerals sector.
We have diamonds, gold, copper, chrome, coal and platinum. Except for platinum and, to some extent, chrome, some of the minerals are not efficiently mined at the scale that we would want.
If we look at the gold sector, which is one of the largest resources in the Midlands, there is probably one or two really big companies, yet we could end up with very large organisations or mining houses in the Midlands.
Those are some of the things we want to achieve. We want to establish through this council methods and strategies to empower the artisanal miners so they get up and become medium-scale operators.
ND: You speak of the business component, but Midlands is generally a dry region struggling to provide adequate food for its people. What is the situation like this year?
LM: Naturally, food aid comes in from central government as and when it is required, but we do believe that as a province, we should also come up with our agricultural programmes and projects that create irrigation schemes wherever there is water available, dams, rivers or where we drill boreholes.
We want to be self-sufficient and we want to increase the capacity of those irrigation schemes that are not functional or not operating at maximum efficiency, maybe because they don’t have equipment. This is what we will be looking at to ensure that we capacitate them, so that we reduce food imports.
ND: Do you have specific targets or areas that you want to carry out such programmes?
LM: It’s a bit early for me now to pinpoint a certain area. I not only have to sit down with this advisory council, but also to sit down with the local authorities, sit down with the chiefs, the political leadership and the community leaders and be able to get the suggestions as to which areas need to be targeted first, it’s a consultative process that needs to take place.
ND: Let me take you to the aspect of health, there has been typhoid in Gweru and cholera in Gokwe. How prepared are you in terms of disaster management to handle these?
LM: It’s a point which I was actually going to raise if you had not.
Naturally, when you have diseases like cholera, these waterborne diseases are medieval diseases, as the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) has said, and we should not be in a situation, where we are having to battle with cholera and typhoid.
Currently, the medical team, headed by Dr (Simon) Nyadundu, our provincial medical director, has contained all the suspected cases of cholera in the Gokwe areas mostly, that’s Gokwe North, Gokwe Gumunyu, Gokwe Nembudziya and Simchembu areas.
We don’t have any cholera cases at all in the rest of the province. We had typhoid in Gweru, but that is under control now and I was just talking to Health minister (Obadiah Moyo), who has assured me that we will be given all the assistance that we might require in medicines and equipment to combat typhoid and cholera.
ND: You have stepped down as chairman of the National Railways of Zimbabwe board by operation of the law. Since you have been appointed as minister, what memories do you leave there?
LM: I leave the NRZ with very good and sad memories. I got there when the organisation was down on its knees and I must say I feel proud that I left when it was now beginning to walk and I believe that the people left behind have the capacity to carry the vision forward, the vision which I left, that NRZ is a key enabler in terms of the economic turnaround of the country and that it will play its role in terms of providing the goods and services required in the economy.
ND: You were among the people who structured the NRZ-Transnet DIDG deal, can you tell us where you left it and what people should expect going forward?
LM: There is nothing new about it. We have always said that right now we have completed our due diligence (and) we were waiting for financial closure.
The banks are now looking at what has been submitted to them and we hope that they will conclude their own due diligence and in the next three months or so, we should reach financial closure, where then the funds will be disbursed.
Contrary to stories that NRZ had already started spending the money, we have not started spending any money. We have not even received any penny at all. It was through our own business ingenuity that we put together the interim solution.
ND: Would you have any idea why President Emmerson Mnangagwa picked you for this post?
LM: I don’t know. He looked at the people that had the capacity and he felt that maybe I had the capacity. I sincerely thank him for picking me among many, many other people that he could have picked.
ND: I want us to talk about Ziscosteel again. Is there anything in your plan specifically targeting this sleeping giant?
LM: Ziscosteel has already started a recapitalisation programme. A few weeks ago just before the elections, we opened Zim Coke, which is supposed to come on stream anytime soon.
That is going to be a big game-changer in Ziscosteel, where they will produce coke from the coke oven batteries and export it to South Africa and indications are that this is a very huge investment that is being made in the country and we will be able to provide employment for people in Kwekwe and Redcliff, and the Midlands in general.