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Aku Harriet

MASVINGO – While President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is busy trying to sell Zimbabwe as “Open for business”, South African-headquartered sugar manufacturer Tongaat Hulett is scaling down its operations in the economically-troubled country, a move that will lay off nearly 4000 workers before the end of this year.

The move follows latest disturbances on the company’s properties, especially plantations, where government big-wigs have been scrambling to grab the sugar cane plots.

About 4000 hectares of sugarcane plantations were recently grabbed by ruling Zanu PF officials under the guise of the country’s land reform programme.

Sugarcane, some of which had already reached maturity stage, was grabbed by party big wigs who had long demanded the company cedes some of its land to local blacks.

Although the proposed retrenchment of the 4000 workers had already been given a nod by the company’s top brass, sources said government would intervene to avoid the job loses. Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Workers Union official, Freedom Madungwe, told African Voice Global this week that workers had been advised on the intended move, although they still awaited an official announcement.

“We have heard of the impending jobs loses and what we are now waiting is official communication from the company,” said Madungwe.

Worst-affected would be workers are from the company’s security department.

“The company is talking of out sourcing security services and other non-core enterprises, hence the worst affected will be those working in the company’s security services,” said a company insider Friday.

Tongaat Hulett chief executive officer Sydney Mutsambiwa could neither confirm nor deny the intended job loses, saying instead that the company would adjust to the country’s economic conditions for it to remain afloat.

“I cannot say much but the company will respond to the economic conditions to remain viable and retrenchments would be undertaken if the need arises,” said Mutsambiwa.

“Any move we are going to take will not affect production as you know we want to increase sugar output this year.”

The affected workers according to sources have already been advised but are awaiting for official communication from the company, according to insiders.

Former President Robert Mugabe had ordered all those who grabbed the company’s plantations to vacate them, but his pleas fell on deaf ears, as those implicated in the plantation seizures refused to leave.

Trade and commerce minister Mangaliso Ndhlovu said although he was not aware of the looming job losses at the country’s sole sugar milling giant, government would intervene to avoid retrenchments.

“We will as government intervene to save distressed companies because our thrust is to create jobs,” said Ndhlovu without elaborating on how a government that cannot keep its own parastatals afloat would be able to intervene.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has been operating under the mantra Zimbabwe is open for business. The so-called new dispensation has been talking of re-engagement with the international community to attract investment and revive the country’s ailing economy.

However all the efforts have not yielded any positive results as most companies have either shut down or scaled down operations due to the harsh economic environment.

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