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Leibigs meat factory: Former employees living in abject poverty

By Vumani Mthiyane

Life has been unbearable for most people in West Nicholson and surrounding areas since the closure of Liebig`s beef canning factory.

Once touted as one of the biggest meat canning factories in Africa, it now lies in ruins, and most of its former employees, now live in abject poverty.

At its peak, the company used to export quality beef to the European Union.

CITE recently visited the area and spoke to some of the former employees who narrated how their lives have been affected.

78-year-old Tatshi Ncube who worked at Liebigs for 37 years and now resides at West Nicholson compound said the factory was the lifeblood of the community.

“The closure of the factory has brought untold suffering to many. The workers and the community at large used to benefit a lot from the beef canning company. 

It used to employ hundreds of workers, ranging from skinners to skilled labourers. 

I worked here from 1959 to 1996 when the factory scaled down and eventually closed,” he recalled.

Another former employee, Cephas Maseko, said since the closure of the factory, a lot of people, including himself, have struggled to find jobs.

“I worked at the meat canning factory for seven years before it was closed. Since the closure of the factory, I have not been formally employed. Whenever I pass through the factory, I feel like crying because this factory used to sustain our lives,” he said.

With a strong workforce of over 1000 employees, the factory could process hundreds of cattle per day, sourced from Matabeleland and Midlands.

Tsungai Siziba, whose late father used to work at the factory, said hunger and being chased away from school was unheard off. 

“I was born and bred here at West Nicholson compound where my father used to work at Liebigs beef factory. 

As a community, we were given offals for free and the canned beef which was said to be underweight. 

There was a place where they will nicely place those foodstuff and we would go and collect at a given time. 

Now life is miserable for my family because I cannot fend for it the way my father used to do for us. 

“Schools fees and putting food on the table is our greatest challenge as people leaving in this Liebigs compound,” Siziba narrates. 

She added that they also used to get maize from the factory while those workers who were struggling to pay fees for their children, the white managers would chip in here and there. 

However, if devolution comes into fruition, the beef factory might see its doors opening again. 

This is dream for Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs Minister, Abedinico Ncube. 

“The West Nicholson beef canning factory called Liebigs will be one of the priority projects under the devolution funding,” said the provincial minister adding that Matabeleland South is still the hub of cattle ranching. 

However, the glory vanished in 1996 when the country experienced a serious foot and mouth disease that wiped out most of the cattle. 

Besides, the biggest buyer European Union had to put a ban on beef coming from Zimbabwe. 

The situation worsened in 1998 and 1999 leading to year 2000 when the then former President Robert Mugabe’s government initiated the land reform programme.  

Most of the white farmers left the country for neighbouring countries namely South Africa and Zambia where they resumed their farming activities. 

Matabeleland’s livestock population has been on a steep decline over the years owing to the land invasions and recurrent droughts.

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