The long wait for the Cold Storage Company (CSC) to get back to work is almost over.
The Bulawayo-headquartered meat processor collapsed some 20 years ago largely as a result of European Union sanctions and to a lesser degree, poor management.
Thereafter, the Bulawayo factory, like many other industries in the city that were hit by the punitive measures, was a shell.
CSC’s other factories in Masvingo and Chinhoyi were just as derelict.
Its farms across the country were empty of livestock until a time when management decided to lease some of them to some farmers who had run out of capacity at their own properties.
So, perhaps, the bulk of the revenue into CSC were rentals. Its desperate workers continued to demand payment, never mind they had no work to do.
However, the first credible step towards revival came in 2019 when the Government engaged Boustead Beef, a British company under a US$130million deal.
It must have been an extremely arduous task for the new investor, getting the machines, the offices, the properties and everything ready for take-off after a wait which looked eternal.
Now, CSC Boustead Beef Zimbabwe looks set to get the beef carcasses rolling in August, Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, Dr Anxious Masuka told us on Thursday.
He toured the Bulawayo factory on that day and was encouraged by what he saw.
“This visit at Boustead CSC has been impromptu.
The last time I was here was at the beginning of May and I saw that there was some progress.
They promised that by 31 May they would have completed renovations.
However, because of supply chain disruptions necessitated by geo-political issues and Covid-19, they are now about six weeks away from completion,” said the minister.
“I am told that by 31 August we would be able to see the first carcasses going through.
When we walked through the plant, we saw that substantial progress has been made.
I am impressed with the progress that has been made with the resuscitation of the plant.”
Mr Nick Havecroft, a representative of the investors is also optimistic that the August 31 target would be met.
He, however, wants enough supply of animals for a sustainable restart.
“We are partnering with communal farmers,” he said.
“I have a challenge from my investors to do a minimum of 200 per day during the start-up phase.
We can slaughter 1 000 a day if we get support from the farmers and we have re-engineered the plant for that capacity if we get the supply.
We have 5.7 million head of cattle in the country and we have the export market and local demand as well.
Hopefully, if I can get 500 a day then we would have succeeded in our mission.
With a 1 000 a day we would have done extremely well.
That is our target within 24 months of resumption.
Demand for beef is there worldwide.”
It will be an auspicious moment indeed if the August 31 target is achieved.
The CSC was huge.
It was one of the brands that defined Bulawayo, along with the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Dunlop, Merlin and a few others.
Dunlop is down, so is Merlin.
Therefore, if the CSC resumes work it would feel like a rebirth of Bulawayo, a resurrection of a whole city, a former industrial hub of the country hard hit by sanctions stirring back to life.
Mr Havecroft and the investors behind him must keep the momentum and lead the meat processor back to glory.
We challenge farmers to be ready to deliver their cattle to the factory for without that feedstock, there is no CSC.
But for farmers to be encouraged, CSC must pay them competitively for their livestock.