Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is struggling to satisfy customer needs due to crippled capacity, which hinders the company’s business growth.

Within the first six months of the year, the railway firm moved only 45 percent of the 160 000 tonnes of chrome exports by Zimasco from Mutorashanga to Beira in Mozambique.

Zimasco chief executive officer Mr John Musekiwa expressed concern over the crippled NRZ capacity during a recent function held in Mutorashanga, Mashonaland West province to handover two locomotives Zimasco has hired from Sheltan Traxtion in South Africa to capacitate NRZ’s operations in moving the mining firm’s chrome destined for the export market.

The deal to hire the two locomotives from the South African company was sealed early this year after Zimasco realised NRZ’s incapacity.

It is on account of such inefficiencies and incapacities that Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joe Biggie Matiza has directed NRZ board to expedite the restructuring of the parastatal’s management and bring in “fresh blood” to allow the country’s strategic transporter to boost its operations from low hanging fruits such as business brought by mining firms.

“Following the ramping up of our production in the first six months of this year, we have moved 160 000 tonnes from here (Mutorashanga) to port of Beira, and we are targeting to export at least 300 000 tonnes by year end.

“The NRZ has only been able to move 71 000 tonnes (45 percent) of our cargo during the six months leaving a balance of 89 000 tonnes (55 percent) which had to be moved by road,” he said.

In 2019, Mr Musekiwa said Zimasco exported 204 000 tonnes of chromite concentrates from Mutorashanga.

“Ideally all this cargo should have been moved to Beira via rail but NRZ managed to move only 136 000 tonnes, two thirds of the total. The balance of the cargo was moved by trucks,” he said.

Contacted for comment NRZ public relations manager Mr Nyasha Maravanyika admitted their business has been experiencing capacity constraints for the past decade. He said the railways firm was seeking a strategic partner to recapitalise operations after Government last year cancelled the US$400 million deal that NRZ and the Diaspora Infrastructural Development Group/Transnet consortium had entered into. As part of the interim solution to NRZ challenges, the country’s railways operator in 2018 leased 13 locomotives and 200 wagons from Transnet, a South African rail company.

“We have also been having challenges with our locomotives because of issues to do with spares and the situation was worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns which restricted imports. We had to wait for Transnet to bring in the spares,” said Mr Maravanyika.

Mr Maravanyika said to improve capacity, NRZ had gone into a Public-Private Partnership with Zimasco where the chrome miner has offered to hire two locomotives from SheltanTraxtion in SA.

“We have actually been progressive, coming up with a PPP with Zimasco and this has resulted in Zimasco receiving two locomotives, which are specifically dedicated to the chrome company.

The ailing parastatal needs US$400 million in the short-term to recapitalise operations and about US$1,9 billion in the medium to long term.

Minister Matiza believes that in the meantime, while a strategic partner is being scouted, the parastatal has potential to emerge from the woods capitalising on locally-generated business such as that brought by companies in sectors like mining and agriculture.

At its peak in the 1990s, the rail entity used to move more than 14 million tonnes annually against an installed capacity of 18 million tonnes. — @okazunga.