NEWLY appointed National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) board chair, Larry Mavima, says the parastatal needs to explore new business approaches to survive the difficult economic environment and remain viable.
It is not all gloomy for NRZ, says Mavima who joined the troubled entity last week.
“I’m not a railway man but a businessman. NRZ is a massive organisation and it’s sad to see it in this state. It has the largest workshop south of the Sahara. This gives one the drive to work. We need to fix the economy and have this entity running,” he said in an interview.
The Zvishavane-born businessman has conducted a familiarisation tour of the company’s headquarters and its giant mechanical workshop in the city, arguably the biggest in sub-Saharan Arica.
The quality of work and the repairs done at the NRZ workshop “shows technical expertise is still there,” he said adding: “What we need is capital and let management do the work than interfere with them.”
The company needs an estimated $400 to $700 million to regain its footing. The bulk of the amount is needed to repair the dilapidated railway infrastructure, procurement of locomotives and wagons.
NRZ is also battling legacy debts to different creditors including workers who are owed more than a year’s salary.
Mavima admitted the challenges bedevilling the economy have resulted in loss of traditional clients such as Ziscosteel and several mining firms who have either scaled down operations or shut down.
He, however, expressed optimism insisting the firm could be successfully turned around through restructuring its business model and seeking new clients.
“We need to find other clients, perhaps on the transit route in goods that are passing through Zimbabwe. We also need to offer repair services of wagons for other countries at our workshop,” said Mavima.
Without giving specific timelines, Mavima said his team would seek to craft a funding strategy for NRZ that, once in place, would revamp the company and ensure Bulawayo rises again.
“This is a perfect opportunity to revive industry in this city. With the existing team here and what I’ve seen at the workshop we all want to deliver and as management and board we’ll sit down and evaluate proposals and get the best that will give us a quick turnaround,” he said. “Naturally, we’ll not get results overnight but we need to be seen working. This is a new year and a new beginning. By the end of the year a lot of work will be done and employment of our people should be preserved.”
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Joram Gumbo, last week said the government was engaged in talks with potential investors keen to bail out NRZ but would not be drawn to disclose the details.
The previous board had pinned hopes on talks with the Development Bank of Southern Africa over an estimated $450 million package, which appears to have fallen by the wayside with the departure of former board chairman, Alvord Mabena.
NRZ is a strategic entity in the economy with the potential to employ up to 18,000 people but currently has about 5,000.