A two-week-long strike has crippled operations at Zimbabwe’s two largest asbestos mines.┬á ┬á
Over 2000 workers downed tools on August 31 at Shabanie and Mashaba Asbestos Mines, located about 250 kilometers east of Bulawayo.┬á
A meeting called between the workers and government-appointed administrator, Arafas Gwaradzimba, broke down without an agreement last Friday.
The government seized the mines in 2004 from Zimbabwe-born businessman, Mutumwa Mawere, who is now based in South Africa, under a reconstruction law which he is challenging in the Supreme Court.
President Robert Mugabe and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono have both recently said the companies must be returned to Mawere but Gwaradzimba and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa refused.
One worker said: “The Company owes us eight months’ pay. It owes us a lot of money as individuals depending on one’s grade. So far┬á we have been paid only US$50 each.”
The workers said they were prepared for lengthy strike action.
Mawere was accused of “externalising” ÔÇô taking money out of the country ÔÇô some US$80 million in assets from Shabanie Mashaba Mine Holdings (SMM) and the Zimbabwean government moved to nationalise his company in 2004.
In May governor Gono wrote to SMM administrator Gwaradzimba that he┬á┬á received a directive from President Mugabe’s office saying that the government of Zimbabwe would give back the control and ownership of SMM back to its owner Mawere.
“This was a directive from the highest office in the land, coming through the office of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe]. A deal might have been struck between the President and MDM (Mawere), whereby the Government of Zimbabwe would give back the control and ownership of SMM to Mawere,” reads part┬á of┬á Gono’s letter to┬á Gwaradzimba.
In response, Gwaradzimba wrote to Justice Minister Chinamasa instructing him to resist any efforts to “give back” Mawere’s company.
Chinamasa then warned Gono against involving himself in the matter on Mugabe’s behalf.
Mawere said he does not know how long the Supreme Court case will take, nor what the outcome will be. Civil cases in Zimbabwe can take years to complete.