By Kenneth Mataire
Mutare, April 21, 2016 – THE railway line linking Zimbabwe and Mozambique is currently inaccessible after a locomotive from the neighbouring country derailed six of its wagons, blocking one of the country’s busiest railway lines.
The incident occurred Wednesday last week along the five kilometre peg from the Forbes Border Post.
Efforts to service the line are in vein as the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is currently rocked by a nationwide industrial action.
Close to 450 of its workers in Mutare downed tools in solidarity with their Bulawayo and Harare counterparts who are protesting the non-payment of salaries over the past 15 months.
The loaded Mozambican goods train, which was destined for Zimbabwe was, this week, still trapped at the beleaguered railway line’s provincial premises.
Workers have refused to clear the accident if they were not given their outstanding wages.
The incident has threatened trade between Zimbabwe and its eastern neighbour including other SADC countries that trade with Harare using Mozambique’s Beira port.
Similar incidents have rocked the ailing parastatal since its 4 500 workers went on strike last month.
In Gweru, a goods train, which was transporting 1 000 tonnes of nickel that was destined for South Africa, derailed 26 of its wagons while another locomotive, which transported imported maize, was confirmed to have derailed three wagons in Bindura.
Similar incidents occurred in Harare with Mutare being latest to experience the mishap.
Contacted for comment Andrew Bakasa, who is in charge of operations in the eastern region, referred RadioVOP to NRZ spokesperson Fanuel Masikati who in turn said he was still yet to be briefed about the incident.
Repeated efforts to get the position of the troubled railway company, this week, were in vein as Masikati was out of office while his mobile line was experiencing poor network.
“We have a very strict policy here (NRZ) we only have one mouthpiece. I’m sorry I cannot comment,” said Bakasa.
NRZ spokesperson Fanuel Masikati said he was still to be briefed about the Mutare accident.
The Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Priscilla Mupfumira has issued an ultimatum for striking workers to return to work.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on NRZ as derailment has caused congestion on the Mozambican side.
The seven railway lines that are at Machipanda, Mozambique are said to be currently congested following the incident.
Five to six trains ply the route daily, to and from Mozambique.
The workers said they will use the incident to their advantage to coerce their employer to settle their outstanding salaries.
They are incensed by that their managers were getting their dues.
It has emerged Mutare director technician, Lewis Mukwada was pocketing $5 666, while marketing director identified as E Mafunga earned $4 555.
NRZ is saddled with a myriad of challenges ranging from a deteriorating rail-line measuring 1 900 kilometers, ageing signalling infrastructure, locomotives and wagons coupled with one strike after the other.
It has 168 locomotives with the youngest aged 45 years old while its life expectancy is between 20 to 25 years.
The railway company also has 8 600 wagons, of which less 3 500 are still in use. The wagons have also doubled their life expectancy as they are now 50 years old.
Munodawafa attributed the loss to the railway company’s huge fixed costs and strong labour movement that forced it to keep its workforce.
NRZ is designed to move 18 million tonnes per year and managed to reach 12 million tonnes in 1999 with a workforce of 9 000.
However, owing to several challenges faced by the company, it is managing a mere 3 million tonnes with a huge workforce of 4 500 as it cannot meet the huge retrenchment packages issued by the Labour Court.