Zimbabwe govt officials locked out of CSC offices, meets in car park

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Members of a sub-committee appointed by Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Judith Ncube to look into what is stalling the turnaround of the Cold Storage Company, which was placed under a corporate rescue plan in December 2020, were locked out of the CSC offices and had to meet in the car park.

The CSC, once one of the biggest meat processors in Africa, was placed under corporate rescue after Boustead Beef, an investor which entered into a 25-year agreement with the government to revive the company failed to turn around the State-owned enterprise.

Boustead Beef, which claims to be a British investor, has refused to cooperate with the corporate rescuer.

The government entered into an agreement with Boustead Beef in 2019 under which Boustead Beef was supposed to invest US$130 million with US$45 million being ploughed in in the first year.

Boustead Beef, however, failed to inject any money to revive the CSC resulting in the government placing the CSC under corporate rescue.

Ngoni Kudenga who was appointed the corporate rescue practitioner (CRP) was disqualified because of alleged links to Lands and Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka and was replaced by Bulawayo lawyer Vonani Majoko.

Majoko claims that he has been unable to operate because of interference from Boustead Beef, which has claimed over the past few months that it will be re-opening the Bulawayo abattoir in a few months.

Initially it said operations would resume by April, then this was pushed to May and now it says operations will resume in August.

Masuka and Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce, Raj Modi, who is also legislator for the area, toured the CSC last week and said operations will resume in August.

Insiders say Masuka’s impromptu tour of the CSC was probably sparked by a report prepared by a sub-committee set up by Judith Ncube which painted a bleak picture of the ailing state enterprise.

The report says the sub-committee -which comprised eight government officials, two advisers, two police officers and five members from the corporate rescuer- was appointed because the government was worried about the slow progress in turning around the CSC, one of the key industries in Bulawayo.

It said that the sub-committee was also set up because the rescue process was bedevilled with “never ending legal challenges”.

The sub-committee said that the key attributes of the CSC were that it had sustained Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government as a sanctions buster and was earning the country about US$50 million a year in beef exports.

The CSC had access to off-shore facilities which were utilised by the country to import fuel. It also played a key role in developing a regulated and quality driven national beef industry and improved the quantity and quality of the national herd.

The sub-committee was assigned to undertake a fact-finding tour of the CSC facilities which included the CSC Head Office complex, the CSC Canning plant, Wetblue Industries Tannery and the CSC Bulawayo abattoir.

The report says although the sub-committee had informed Boustead Beef of its tour, it found the entrance to the CSC corporate offices locked on the orders of Boustead Beef and had to hold its meeting in the car park.

When it visited the Canning plant, it discovered that some electrical motors had been cannibalised to be fitted as spares for the Bulawayo abattoir refrigeration plant.

Two pumps for the boiler were removed and taken to the CSC abattoir where they were repainted and fitted “as newly imported spares”.

The report said a committee member, Sibusiso Sibanda who was hired to transport the two pumps was willing to testify on this “fraud”.

The report said that the Canning plant could easily be re-opened and resume operations as the corporate rescuer was discussing a partnership with a Spanish investor. Partnerships could also be explored with Colcom and Bull Brand as they had previously expressed interest.

The Wetblue tannery was currently being operated by Signature Crafts owned by Sibusiso Sibanda. Signature Crafts entered into a partnership with Boustead Beef in 2020 but this collapsed due to “issues of mistrust and misrepresentations”.

The committee said that its tour of Wetblue was interrupted by Boustead Beef managing director Nick Havercroft who demanded that Sibanda should be ejected from the premises because this was Boustead Beef property.

The property is, however, owned by Wetblue Industries which is an independent company.

The report says Havercroft name-dropped the President to the sub-committee but recanted when he was asked to clarify his statement.

Havercroft was not the first person to name-drop the President. Helen Sibanda, who was employed as a human resources officer by Boustead Beef told workers when negotiating their retrenchment that Emmerson Mnangagwa was aware of the package so workers had to take it or leave it.

The sub-committee was not able to tour the abattoir after Havercroft insisted that Sibanda and former employees of the CSC who were working with the corporate rescuer should not be part of the tour.

The sub-committee decided that the tour would be pointless if some members were excluded.