THE collapse of the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is one of the major reasons Bulawayo has been reduced to a “scrapyard”, as aptly described by President Robert Mugabe at his inauguration in August.
Transport and Infrastructure Development minister Obert Mpofu last Thursday revealed that NRZ, which has its headquarters in Bulawayo, has seen its workforce decline from over 23 000 in the past few years to just over 6 000.
The railway company, which enjoyed a monopoly in the sector until the arrival of the Beitbridge-Bulawayo Railway company, was said to be contemplating cutting down its workforce further because of viability problems.
Mpofu announced that he had blocked the immediate retrenchment because the government was actively scouting for investors to recapitalise the NRZ.
To demonstrate the dire situation at the once employer of choice, the NRZ is said to have about 65 locomotives, 3 271 wagons, nine cabooses and 158 coaches against the optimum average requirement of 83 locomotives, 4 262 wagons, 17 cabooses and 145 coaches.
It also owes its workers in excess of $46 million in unpaid wages and salaries dating back several months.
The collapse of the railway company has been attributed to poor management and the collapse of local industry.
There has also been a lot of political interference at the NRZ that has seen passenger trains being commandeered to service certain political interests.
Analysts believe that the only way to rehabilitate the company would be to prize it away from the State and sell it to private investors.
However, the reality is that the present government would not be willing to let go of NRZ and we can only hope that proposals Mpofu is putting on the table would work.
If the government is serious about reviving Bulawayo’s industry, it is former big employers such as NRZ and the Cold Storage Company, among others, that have to lead the way.
Once the two companies are revived and can pay their employees, the economy of the city would get a lift from the disposable incomes.
Mpofu should be aware that all eyes are now on him following the promises that he made.