By Zimbabwean journalist Richard Kawazi, first published in Zimbabwe Network for Citizen Journalists.
Despite challenging economic conditions confronting rural communities in Zimbabwe, the Afrochine Chrome Smelting continues to improve the quality of life.
Afro-chine Chrome Smelting is a ferrochrome smelting plant established in 2012, and subsidiary of China’s second-biggest stainless-steel products manufacturer, Tsingshan Group.
Located in Selous, Chegutu, Afrochine’s smelters have produced in excess of 50,000 metric tonnes of ferrochrome annually since operations began.
The project consumed 120, 000 metric tonnes of chrome ore and 24,000 metric tonnes of coke during the first year of operations and continues to increase exponentially.
In addition, the project yielded success during the first year of operations where the company made in excess of US$90 million from an initial investment of US$25 million.
Having invested over US$1 billion to better the lives of the underprivileged, Afrochine Chrome Smelting pinned its hope on infrastructure development through its mining projects across Zimbabwe to create much-needed jobs to improve the socioeconomic issues of civilians in the Chegutu rural district.
According to Dan Zvobgo, a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Chegutu Rural District Council, livelihoods have improved since 2012, and the pool of employment opportunities provided by the chrome smelting giant has saved lives and bridged socio-economic disparities.
“Parents can now afford to send their children to school, digital literacy has improved with rural communities affording ICT devices, and improved health care service delivery because of the chrome smelting project,” says Zvobgo.
Zvobgo detailed that, during his tenure at Chegutu Rural District Council, the Afrochine Chrome Smelting project bestowed upon the advancement of rural communities since the adoption of Zimbabwe’s land reform program.
This collection of stories reveals how Afrochine Chrome Smelting project has taken a lead to implement socio-economic development programmes to better the lives of citizens in the under-developed rural areas in Zimbabwe, particularly in Chegutu and Ngezi rural districts.
A diverse workforce hail from impoverished backgrounds, with many of them being children of displaced farmworkers from the ineffective tobacco estates in the Chegutu and Ngezi rural districts.
The Zimbabwe chrome giant’s employment drive, is a noteworthy SinoZim investment since 2000.
James Manzou , ambassador and permanent secretary for Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Chinese investments continue to contribute towards the economic goals that shape Zimbabwe's ability to be an upper middle-class economy by 2030.
“The Chinese government has played a pivotal role in the development of our country, where Zimbabwe’s mining industry is soon approaching multibillion-dollar status," he says.
Most of the economically active population in Mashonaland West Province were left stranded and jobless following the displacement of farm workers after the land reform program was institutionalised.
The majority of farm workers were languishing in poverty and living off subsistence farming in the residential farm compounds. Only a handful of classes were able to secure accommodation at the compounds, while the majority had to look for rural settlements to live with their families without any source of income.
Only Zimplats, the platinum mining giant, was operational in the province, which mainly employs highly skilled labour. Ex-farm laborers had no chance to get employment within the platinum giant.
A unit of the Chinese Tsingshan Iron and Steel Group, Afrochine Chrme Smelting, invested US$125 million in a chrome smelting operation in the Selous, a rural region with tobacco farms more than 80 kilometers from Harare, Zimbabwe.
Afrochine’s investment created a socio-economic impact that paved the way for access to health care, rural infrastructure development, access to digital technologies and education. These are prone areas where Chegutu and Mhondoro locals in Mashonaland West Province received support from the Chinese project.
In as much as owning a cellphone, television set, and radio is not much of an achievement for urban dwellers in the millennium – the reporter has got to appreciate the digital and socioeconomic gap that exists in Zimbabwean society.
Zimbabwe Network for Citizen Journalists roped in to reveal a series of stories that highlight how access to information is a lifetime achievement for a man to be able to send his daughter to complete high school.
These are the impactful events that turned around the lives of hundreds of Zimbabweans.
Through the Chinese investment’s massive job creation, beneficiaries in the surrounding rural community of Chegutu district can now afford solar energy, ICT gadgets, brick and mortar cottages – it is a remarkable improvement for the well-being of the under-developed communities.
The year 2012 was the breaking ground of a new dawn for displaced farm labourers who were languishing in poverty.
The chains of poverty had been broken and the Zimbabwe Network for Citizen Journalists followed and uncovered how the chrome smelting project managed to create socioeconomic impact in the rural districts, permanently changing the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans for the greater good.
Zimbabwe Network for Citizen Journalists went to the ground and covered a series of stories where they discovered how difficult life was for displaced farm workers, who had a second chance to improve their lives.
Grant William, a 31-year-old man who took it upon himself to enhance the livelihood of his family, grew up as an orphan child in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe in the remote village of Chipinge. Chipinge forms part of the rural areas where investors did not prioritise technology, education, and modern transport.
Chipinge communities survive on subsistence farming and bull trading. The Ndau people from Chipinge are often classified as witches and wizards. They are also partially excluded from economic activities.
Going back to the story of Grant and how he became part of the Afro-Chinese workforce, Grant was raised by his maternal grandmother in poverty to the extent that he could not complete grade 7.
It must be considered that Grant was a typical example of a depraved child who grew up in a remote, underprivileged community. He was also a victim of child labour practices before his 16th birthday.
In 2010, at the age of 15, Grant turned his life around and became an illegal gold miner for survival.
Grant said he would travel over 700 kilometres away from his village to the gold rushes of Mashonaland-west, and he discovered the gold mining trade through his uncles as he would sneak and follow their path.
At that time, he had no hope of going back to his grandmother since he was living a life of vice without a fixed aboard. Grant was living in the shadows of death whilst he was involved in illegal gold mining and selling marijuana for survival.
He was exposed to extreme violence and diseases in the illegally abandoned mine shafts in Chegutu-Grant had no hopes of returning home to his grandmother nor had any form of communication.
This is another typical case of a depraved and broken family, shamed by poverty.
“When I arrived in Mash-west, I had no means of returning home because I was always the least paid in our mining syndicate.
"All I got was money to buy food and squat in strangers’ houses just to see the next morning," said the emotional Grant.
Grant suffered a great deal of homelessness before he was employed as a general labourer at Afrochine chrome smelting in Selous.
It was that employment opportunity that reconnected him with his grandmother, whom he had lost contact with for the past six years.
Today, he managed to bring his grandmother, who is 76-years-old from Chipenge to a house he built in Selous. His grandmother currently has access to medical health care and proper shelter.
Another displaced farmer is Christopher, whose only wish was to build and live in a brick and cement house.
In sharing his life story, Christopher says his upbringing was onerous, as he grew up as a confused and depraved child.
He was born in 1988, deep in the rural area of Gokwe, Nembudziya in the Midlands Province, where his father left to work on the farms in the early 1990s.
Christopher was raised in a mud house at a rural home owned by the family and passed down through subsequent generations.
Without a formal education, he had no hope of leaving his ancestral rural home. Christopher’s mother, a housewife, had to take care of the household while her husband worked in the Selous tobacco fields.
Christopher’s father lived with his family in a tiny cottage bachelor room at the farm’s compound with his family.
As the bachelor room could not accommodate the entire family, he opted to leave behind his family and tried his level best to take care of them back home in Gokwe.
Christopher’s father lost his job in the early 2000s, when the land reform programme was launched. After losing his job, he had no source of income and was stranded far away from his family.
In no time, Christopher had to relocate to Selous in a bid to repatriate his father before he passed away.
“When I arrived, I decided not to leave Selous. I had to come up with a plan to take my father back home in good health... I could not just load him into a bus and present him to my mother in the sickly state that he was in," says Christopher.
Christopher had taken it upon himself to fend for his father and restore the family’s pride by getting his father the medical treatment he needed.
Christopher survived as a farm labourer in the tobacco estates and became the family breadwinner whilst taking care of his ill father.
He said sometimes he developed a sense of quitting his job, but eagerness to fulfill his dream of building a house for his mother propelled him to continue with his job.
Christopher struck fortune in June 2014, when the local headman alerted the rural community that Afrochine Chrome Smelting was looking to employ locals.
“At first, I was not confident in registering for possible employment since I could not read nor write. I thought those positions were reserved for the educated," said Christopher.
After carefully considering his father’s deteriorating conditions, he decided to leave his mother and siblings at the rural home and registered his name for employment with the local headman.
In that same year, Christopher was called for an interview and was employed as a loader. That was his break of dawn to start earning a salary of US$250 a month.
That salary completely changed Christopher’s life, and he could afford to send his father back to the village.
In 2017, he started to build a two-bedroom house with a kitchen and a dining area for his family.
To Christopher, living in a brick and cement house was his childhood dream and he realised that achievement through an employment opportunity with the Afrochine project.
Gutu, the third son of a farm labourer. His father tilled the lands at Virginia estates, one of the biggest tobacco estates in the Chegutu rural district.
Gutu’s father lost his job as a farm labourer in 2002, after Zimbabwe’s land reform program. That is the time when things fell apart in Gutu’s family. That was a time Zimbabwe experienced a serious drought and economic sanctions from the west aimed to cripple the economy.
Together with his siblings, Gutu never went to school, and their dreams were shattered because they were all raised to be farm workers and the highest achievement was to be the chef or tractor operator.
“When my father lost his job after the white farmer was displaced, we were left with no place to stay or an income to survive," says Gutu.
"We had to squat in the farming compound and survive on cattle herding in nearby small plots”,Gutu explained," he adds.
Gutu’s father left the family for the Makonde gold rush and never returned.
Surviving as a cattle herder in the area, Gutu grew up as a young man as he got married as a teenager, at the age of 18.
When he became a father to a daughter, his hope was to send his daughter to school, but he was without a plan.
His life took a turn in the year 2011, when Afrochine broke new ground at the smelting plant in Selous.
Gutu received a hint from the traditional chief, Ngezi that able-bodied men could register for employment.
For the first time in his life, Gutu acquired a job as a loader, where he earned a salary in US dollars.
The cycle of poverty had been broken in his family as he could now afford to provide for his wife and their daughter.
“Getting that job saved my life. I was drowning in hopelessness that one day I would be able to care for my family and send my daughter to school,” he said. In 2012, Gutu managed to send his six-year-old daughter for early childhood development. Today, Gutu’s daughter is a teenager and running her own small grocery store.
Since then, Gutu has kept his job and is forever grateful for the employment opportunity he was afforded by Afrochine.
As a man without formal education and only raised to be a farm worker, it became a miracle for Gutu to be formally employed and to earn a living.
Gift Makwakwa, whose dream was to fully mechanise his small market gardening project.
He was also born to farm labourers. He grew up on a horticulture farm in Chegutu. His parents used to work at the industrious Dodhill horticulture farm.
Gift says his upbringing was challenging as he could not finish school after his father fell sick and had to take over the reins of the family.
Gift had become the family breadwinner at the age of 17, with a trailer of five siblings behind him. The salary at the horticulture farm was barely adequate for his family to have only a plate of a meal a day.
Their family survived on handouts, from clothing to sanitary wear for their little sisters. As time progressed, Gift developed a passion for horticulture, and his wish was to start his own market gardening business.
Unfortunately, he was not making enough and had no savings to set forth on his own business.
In 2014, Gift managed to get a job at Afrochine to work as a loader after he was advised by his cousin to apply for the advertised position. His life turned around, and he could afford to buy seeds and rent a small piece of land in the small plots in Chegutu.
His dream of running his own gardening business came to life when he established his gardening business to sell seasonal vegetable varieties.
He employed his former workmates in the horticulture industry. He also started a poultry project where he supplies the local Chinese community with duck and roadrunner chicken meat.
Although he ventured into the entrepreneurial path, Gift decided to continue with his job at Afrochine, and he continues to work to inject capital into his side business.
Gift managed to mechanise his project by purchasing a drip irrigation system for his greenhouse project.
Every morning, he supplies tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, and onions to farmers’ markets in Chegutu.
My mother is very proud of the work and progress I have made from using the experience I had at the farm. "I wish my father was here to witness who I have become," he spoke with tearful eyes.
Lynette, who is Gift’s wife, has scaled up their business by selling fresh greenhouse produce along the Harare–Bulawayo highway for a premium.
Lynette says she occasionally sells an average of US$50 – US$80. This extra money has improved their livelihoods to the extent that Lynette is now solely independent.