TENSIONS are once again running high in Chisumbanje over the re-opening of the controversial ethanol project with some stakeholders accusing Vice-President Joice Mujuru of politicising the venture ahead of crucial elections due after June.
Report by Herbert Moyo
Speaking to the Zimbabwe Independent on Monday, stakeholders accused Mujuru of poisoning the atmosphere of trust through her “reckless” utterances labelling the reportedly US$600 million ethanol production scheme a “Zanu PF project”.
Mujuru told scores of villagers the project had the full backing of Zanu PF but faced challenges after the formation of the inclusive government in 2009.
Green Fuels, a joint venture between Macdom, Rating Investments and government through Arda, closed the plant in February 2012 after reaching the maximum 10 million litres of ethanol its storage facilities can hold. It is one of the few major investments in the country in recent years.
“Procedures for the re-opening of the plant have all along been handled by an inter-ministerial committee headed by (Deputy Prime Minister Arthur) Mutambara but now Mujuru has divided stakeholders with her partisan approach,” said Claris Madhuku, the director of the Platform for Youth Development Trust.
Madhuku said tensions were simmering between rival supporters of Zanu PF and MDC-T over the project and warned this could scupper the community’s chances of speaking with one voice to ensure they receive full compensation for losses incurred when the plant was built.
During last year’s fact-finding mission by the inter-ministerial team, tempers flared as villagers complained bitterly about their loss of arable land, pollution of water sources as well as impounding of livestock by Green Fuels.
According to Chipinge South legislator Meki Makuyana, as many as 187 families were forced to cross the border into Mozambique after losing their land to the company.
Political rivalry between the main political parties over the project first arose in 2012 when Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa told stakeholders his party’s politburo had already decided the plant would be re-opened, even before the inter-ministerial committee had made its recommendations.
At one time a self-proclaimed war veteran had to be restrained from manhandling Energy minister Elton Mangoma, accusing Mangoma’s MDC-T party of instigating closure of the plant.
“We have worked tirelessly to defuse tempers and re-brand the project as a national undertaking but all of that is being undone by the posturing of a reckless politician seeking mileage ahead of elections,” Madhuku said.
While the state media claimed the plant had opened and resumed operations on Monday, it effectively remained shut as there are various logistical issues to be dealt with. Workers are yet to report for duty and company officials also say there is need to upgrade machinery at the plant.
“It is going to be a process and we are still mobilising our workers,” said Green Fuels assistant general manager Raphael Zuze. “We are still attending to logistical and administrative issues.”
Makuyana described Mujuru’s visit as an attempt to steal the limelight from the Chisumbanje community as well as Mangoma and other stakeholders in the inter-ministerial committee whose efforts to revive the project received cabinet approval.
“Zanu PF is deeply divided over the highly controversial indigenisation programme and Mujuru was here to save face by hijacking this project,” said Makuyana. “She even gave the impression that she was issuing a directive for the re-opening of the plant which had been forcibly closed down, yet the plant ceased operations only because there were no takers for the ethanol product.”