Steel plant a historic milestone

23 Jun, 2024 - 00:06 0 Views
Steel plant a  historic milestone

The Sunday Mail

AS a people, we have been smelting iron from ores for centuries, as confirmed by findings at sites such as the Great Zimbabwe.

In fact, iron production shaped our societies, helping to forge implements such as hoes that were used in agriculture, as well as weapons like spears and battle axes used for defence and conquest.

Scholars are of the view that various blade forms were probably used as currencies.

According to the United States-based National Museum of African Art, “iron production, use and exchange defined social and political hierarchies”.

So, the existence of a thriving mining and iron production industry in pre-colonial Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular is unquestionable.

However, the large-scale commercial iron and steel industry began in colonial times with the establishment of the Rhodesia Iron and Steel Company in 1942, which later morphed into the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Zisco) at independence in 1980.

Before its closure in 2008, the company contributed immensely to the economy.

At its peak, it employed about 5 000 people.

One of its subsidiaries, Lancashire Steel, operated a wire and rod manufacturing plant in Kwekwe, while the Ramotswa Iron and Steel Company in Botswana processed steel billets into various steel sections.

Monarch Steel in Zambia manufactured building materials like doorframes, geysers, wire mesh, wheelbarrows and window frames, underlining the regional impact that the company had.

Its closure, therefore, naturally affected Zimbabwe’s engineering, iron and steel industry.

In 2014, the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit, a local think tank, produced a revealing study titled “Engineering and Metals Industry Value Chain Analysis”, which had been commissioned to the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre. Among its findings, it indicated that Zisco’s shutdown was prejudicing the metals and metal products sub-sector of over US$3 billion per year.

It also claimed, over the period 2008-2012, the country imported about 82 percent of value-added engineering goods, while exporting about 94 percent metals and metal products, mainly less beneficiated and value-added products.

It has to be remembered that we are presently importing iron and steel valued at approximately US$400 million every year.

In essence, this shows the deindustrialisation and financial haemorrhage that was caused by the demise of local steelworks.

All this makes the emergence of the Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Disco), which recently commenced the first phase of production at its US$1 billion plant in Manhize, critical to the industrialisation and modernisation drive being spearheaded by the Second Republic.

The plant has already begun producing pig iron, an intermediate good used in the production of steel.

It is a huge milestone in an incredible journey that began with the signing of an enhanced memorandum of understanding between Tsingshan Holdings Group — Disco’s parent company — and the Government at State House in Harare on November 29, 2022.

As the world’s largest producer of stainless steel, Tsingshan’s reputation and experience cannot be doubted.

That the Chinese firm successfully implemented a project of a similar nature and scale in Indonesia gives comfort of the positive spin-offs the country will derive from this huge investment.

Disco now employs nearly 2 000 people, with the numbers expected to swell as production expands.

Speaking during a tour of the plant last week, Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando said more stages of the production process at Manhize will soon follow.

“This is the first phase which will see several other stages, which will result in a US$5 billion industry,” he said.

“Development is a process and not an event, and this is an event which began in 2018, which is now seeing the production of pig iron, and several other stages will follow.”

Apart from producing pig iron, a 50-megawatt (MW) thermal power plant has been completed.

Another 20MW is being generated from internal heat from the ongoing production processes.

Once it hits its full stride, the plant will produce critical raw materials for the local engineering, iron and steel sector.

In addition to providing relatively cheap feedstock for the local industry, it presents opportunities to manufacture a range of products that include machinery; electrical and electronic equipment; railway and rolling stock equipment; clocks and watches; musical instruments, parts and accessories; and arms and ammunition.

In the broader scheme of things, this feeds into President Mnangagwa’s long-stated goal of establishing an empowered, modern, prosperous and highly developed country by 2030, as steel is the major ingredient for infrastructure development.

With the commencement of production at Manhize, we are a witnessing a historic milestone that will spur both our industrialisation and modernisation drive.

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