Feeedom Mupanedemo Features Writer
On approaching Zvishavane town from Gweru, mounds of ashen grey dunes to the easterly side compete for aerial space with a towering Shabanie Mine’s main asbestos plant with 17 floors, at one point the tallest building in Zimbabwe.
The mounds form part of Shabanie Mine’s main dumpsite that has grown into a mountain, bearing evidence to years and years of silky asbestos fibre extraction — the underground resource that gave birth to the town back around 1916.
Maglas, one of the town’s oldest compounds, sits just beneath the mine dump, with its roofs hued grey by thick layers of asbestos fibre dust that has settled there as a result of mining activities over the years.
The mine compound literally casts a gloomy picture of a long forgotten human settlement and so is the site of an assortment of ancient and rusty equipment and other old mining paraphernalia scattered with reckless abandon around the mine’s main gate and backyard.
This is due to years of neglect after the mine was forced to fold in 2009 owing to a myriad of challenges that the company has faced since the beginning of the millennium.
The mine, which faced challenges since 2004, has been struggling to court investors.
The new administration led by President Mnangagwa has, however, been working around the clock to revive the giant asbestos mine.
And less than two years after the new Government took the initiative to steer the economy and turn around the mining sector into one of the country’s major economic drivers, it appears there is now light at the end of the tunnel at Shabanie Mashaba Mine.
The giant is slowly awakening from its slumber.
Government recently announced that the de-watering exercise at Mashaba was now completed and production would be resuming soon
“De-watering has been completed at Shabanie Mashaba Mine and very soon, the mine will be working at full throttle,” Mines and Mining Development Deputy Minister Polite Kambamura said recently.
There has been recycling of the Shabanie Mine dump over the last six months.
Following the de-watering exercise, which will pave way for the real work of production, there is optimism that Zvashavane will be back to its glory days.
Mr Zendo Phiri (78) of Maglas compound, who was among the first batch of miners at Shabanie Mine, has vivid nostalgic memories of the mine’s heydays.
He is pretty sure that all the economic challenges that the town has been facing, and the country as a whole, could be solved if the mine gets its footing again.
“This is a very important company, I worked for it for over 40 years when I left Malawi and until now I have never returned to my country of birth, but am retired now,” said Mr Phiri.
“I still stay in the company house because when I retired, they were still owing me some money. But am happy that if there is some life at the mine again, we hope we will be paid what is due to us.”
A senior management official told The Herald early last week that the company was in the process of assembling fresh human resource capital in preparation for production.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando told our sister paper, The Sunday Mail, recently that the mine, which has been recycling dump, will resume exporting chrysotile asbestos fibre for the first time in more than a decade.
He said at full throttle, Shabanie Mashaba Mine is expected to produce 18 000 tonnes of asbestos fibre per annum.
“Remember the roadmap we set towards the revival was hinged firstly on utilising the dump and then de-watering, which is now complete at Mashaba,” he said.
Former Shabanie Mine’s workers’ committee chairperson Mr Aluwis Zhou said the revival of Shabanie Mine was a dream for all residents of the town.
“It’s still a dream and for some of us who sacrificed a lot for this company, we hope things will be okay,” said Mr Zhou, who led the 2007 Shabanie Mine employees’ strike that later turned violent.
Mr Zhou, who has also erved as Zvishavane Town Council chairman, was injured in the melee that ensued during that strike when police intervened to disperse the rowdy crowd.
Zvishavane-Ngezi Member of Parliament Dumezweni Mawite said the reopening of Shabanie-Mashaba Mine was good news for the people of Zvishavane.
He said he had been following developments at the giant asbestos mine with keen interest.
“Shabanie Mine is the backbone of this town and its reopening is good news,” he said. “Imagine all the suburbs like Nill, Kandodo, Maglas to mention but a few were born out of this mine, and its revival is a key milestone by the new Government administration.”
Mawite said he was frequently visiting the mine to assess progress on the de-watering exercise.
“The last time they said they were on the last stage of de-watering, and I think soon we will see production at the mine. Zvishavane town will be back to its former self,” he said.
One of the biggest employers in the Midlands Province with over 2 000 workers, Shabanie Mine was closed in 2009, due to a number of challenges