The Cold Storage Company in Bulawayo remains closed, despite a grand “official re-opening” by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga on August 22, ZimLive can reveal.
Chiwenga, then the acting president, addressed hundreds of Zanu PF supporters bused in from all over Matabeleland for the event as he vowed that CSC, which ceased operations 22 years ago, would never again be allowed to shut down.
ZimLive has now established that CSC has no working coldrooms and no capacity to store meat. A privately-owned butchery operating inside CSC is the only facility selling meat, we can report.
The shock revelations come as questions continue to swell over Boustead Beef, a UK-registered company owned by former Marondera farmer Nicholas Havercroft, who claims to have so far sunk US$24 million after striking an agreement with the government to take over CSC’s assets and manage the meat processor’s operations for 25 years.
On the evidence, Boustead Beef misled Chiwenga and senior government officials into believing the still defunct plant – which remains closed three weeks later – was operational.
Insiders say the reopening was staged for show by Havercroft, whose deceptions allegedly went as far as borrowing a stun gun, bullets and a brisket saw from Bulawayo Abattoirs, a subsidiary of Grills Group of Companies.
Some equipment that Chiwenga was told was new and imported had in fact been cannibalised from the company’s canning plant 1km from the abattoir, including pumps and motors that were allegedly repainted.
“Even the person who was stunning the animals was an employee from Bulawayo Abattoirs, because we don’t have qualified staff as they were retrenched by Boustead,” a source close to developments said.
“It was just for show; go to the plant and see for yourself. We are not slaughtering, except for six beasts last week when a customer arrived without notice; we had to rush and borrow equipment from Grills.”
Our correspondent visited the plant on Friday and observed no activity, except for half-a-dozen people working at the butchery, located close to the CSC entrance. Two security guards manned the entrance.
A retrenched CSC veteran, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused Boustead of misleading the government over a critical failure of ammonia piping required to refrigerate Africa’s second largest meat processing facility.
“You cannot drive those industrial refrigeration systems without loading a certain tonnage of ammonia, it is mission critical. When they tried to load ammonia, the pipes blew. An inspection showed the pipes were worn out and leaking,” he said.
“Without restarting the cold component, there is no Cold Storage Company.”
Criticising replacement pipes that were reportedly shown to government officials, the source said: “Those fakes don’t meet ammonia system piping safety requirements; but the long and short is they will not get that plant up and running without first refitting the entire network. It’s not a trivial problem; nobody can work in there even with minor leaks because ammonia is toxic at low concentrations and flammable once you start going up.”
Another “mission critical” component that handles wastewater from the slaughterhouse – the effluent system – remains non-functional, multiple sources confirmed.
“You can’t run that plant without the effluent system because the water that drives the dung, blood and other waste products needs to be processed before eventual release,” said a technician, also among 800 staff retrenched by Boustead.
Make-believe … Bousted Beef’s Nicholas Havercroft putting on a show for Vice President Constantino Chiwenga at CSC on August 22, 2022
Duped … Vice President Constantino Chiwenga arriving for the CSC re-opening ceremony on August 22, 2022
Boustead claims to have already invested US$24 million, promising ambitious targets to slaughter 1,500 beasts per day when it ramps up to peak. When Chiwenga opened the plant, Boustead officials claimed they would be slaughtering 60 beasts a day, initially.
A retrenched manager disputed the figures as incredible.
“They claimed they would invest US$400 million over five years; with that kind of money they would have installed the latest autonomous systems for hide pulling, evisceration (disemboweling) and carcass break-up. That is what we expected when we heard there was a big UK investor. Instead, they are planning on using knives for skinning,” he said.
“The numbers they are promising betray amateur thumb-sucking, there is no way they will achieve over a thousand slaughters per day. At CSC’s peak, when it enjoyed a monopoly, the 7AM to 4PM day shift would slaughter 400 and the night shift would do another 400.
“Bear in mind there was a cold chain to absorb those numbers in Gweru, Mutare and Harare but right now even the Bulawayo plant has no refrigeration. Even if they slaughter 100, where are the holding chillers? The government is being taken for an embarrassing ride.”
Boustead’s capacity to invest came into public question in 2021 after it emerged it was registered in the United Kingdom under small companies exempted from paying tax. Its balance sheet at the end of 2019 had net assets amounting £4.
Instead of investing, Boustead has been accused of asset stripping by selling CSC cattle, cutting down eucalyptus trees at the Bulawayo headquarters for resale, and collecting and externalising rentals from CSC properties.
In May, The Standard reported that Havercroft had sold CSC book debts to “himself” at a generous discount that saw US$33 million of CSC’s debt purchased by Boustead Beef UK for US$330,072. By making himself CSC’s biggest creditor, he has positioned his company to capture CSC assets when the deal goes south.
In a letter to President Mnangagwa in January 2020, CSC workers accused Havercroft of being a “high-tech streetwise con artist”.
Havercroft had not answered questions left for him.