GWERU, MIDLANDS —
Some youths in the high density suburb of Torwood, in the Midlands mining town of Redcliff, are giving literal meaning to "singing the blues", producing songs about problems facing thousands in the area.
The majority of people in Redcliff have for years been dependent on the former steel-making giant Zisco Steel, now Zew Zimbabwe Steel Limited.
Locals expected a faster resuscitation of the company following a deal with Indian firm Essa Holdings.
Employees have as a result gone for months without pay resulting in very little financial activity in the town.
Enter the the music duo known as the Firehouse Family, made up of 21 year-old John Charlie and 18 year-old Kudakwashe Maenzanise, both of Torwood.
They have found fame in their own backyard, attracting both the young and the old with a music genre that is largely loved by the youth, Zimbabwe’s urban grooves. The older generation in the country is generally not inclined towards urban grooves, arguing it lacks depth and meaning.
But as they focus on problems afflicting their community due to lack of production at New Zimbabwe Steel, Firehouse is getting popular by the day.
One of the duo's songs, "Zisco maIndia", has struck particular resonance with both the young and old.
The song talks about the people's frustration over delays in the resuscitation of NewZimsteel where most of Torwood's residents work.
John was born in Torwood and was educated in the area, attaining his "O" Level certificate at a local school. He says although the duo, like other young musicians, also sings happy songs, they consider the "Zisco naIndia" song to be their most important so far.
John says they were inspired to write the song by the glaring poverty affecting Torwood residents as a result of NewZimsteel's failure to get back in production.
“As you know, most people here, including our fathers, were employed by Zisco,” he said.
“It used to be a big company and some of us had hopes that we could also get employed there after finishing our education. But now nothing is going on there; it's been a long time since things have been at a standstill. We sing other songs that have to do with love and happiness, but this song was an attempt at revealing the hardships that people here are facing.”
John says the collapse of Zisco Steel also affects young people like him. Most parents are not only finding it difficult to send their children school but also failing to take care of their families’ daily news.
Eighteen year-old Tatenda Ndaba, a friend of John's, agrees. He adds that most locals are even failing to seek medical treatment when they fall sick.
“The situation does indeed affect a young person like me in that, in my case for instance, I passed my "O" Levels but because my parents could not get any money for me to proceed to "A" Level,” he said.
“I'm now just loafing around. Another thing is that even when one falls ill, most people can no longer afford to go to hospital because they just don't have the money. Such a situation compromises one's health.”
Vincent Masiyiwa is a NewZimsteel employee. He’s also one of the councilors representing Torwood in the Redcliff Town Council.
Masiyiwa, who was once a worker representative, says the Firehouse Family's songs fully depict the extreme hardships that the workers and locals are experiencing.
Most frustrating, he says, is the fact that neither the government nor company management are providing any information to the workers about what the future holds for them.
“What these youngsters are singing about is the reality. NewZimsteel workers and other locals here are facing serious hardships. Most of them were entirely dependent on their employment with Zisco, and they have no other opportunities to look to,” said Masiyiwa.
“The company is paying allowances of $50 after about four months, so, things are really tough. Workers do not have full information about the deal between the government and Essar, but what we know is that nothing is happening on the ground. Now we are also hearing about some Chinese investors who are rumoured to be coming. No one knows what's really going on and there's no information from government or from Essar.”
In 2011 the government sold its 54 percent stake in Zisco Steel to India-based Essar Africa Holdings in a deal that saw the company being renamed NewZimsteel.
Under the agreement Essar was supposed to refurbish the plant and re-open the lines of production. But three years down the line, nothing is going on at NewZimsteel with the government still to fulfil parts of the agreement.
Elizabeth Tembo is a Torwood resident who earns a living through buying and selling says she is struggling as potential buyers have no disposable income.
Another resident, who only identified herself as Mrs Moyo, told Studio 7 that as part of the Firehouse Family's song reveal, some locals were trying to make ends meet by selling coal that they salvaged from the NewZimsteel dumps.
But this has stopped, she says, as soldiers are now guarding the dumps.
“People are clueless as to what to do about the hardships they are facing,” said Moyo. “There are some people who used to survive by selling coal from the NewZimsteel mine dumps but since soldiers were deployed there, this has stopped, because the soldiers would harass or beat up people, stopping them from collecting the coal; people are now hopeless.”
The Firehouse Family has so far released four songs including one called "Dhe nhanha dhe", which is Shona encouragement to a child who is learning how to walk.
The song advises that perseverance is the ingredient for success in life.
Producer Chrisdonald "Tripple Bees" Shato, also of Torwood, laments that his team is not as financially successful as they could be because of the poverty in Torwood even though their music is loved by many in the town.
John agrees, adding that even though they have plans to produce more songs, lack of money is a major handicap.
Torwood residents, including the Firehouse Family musicians, hope that the government will soon do its part and get NewZimsteel to work again as soon as possible so their lives can get back to normal.
Until that happens, the locals will continue to find solace in listening to Firehouse Family songs, which give a voice to their concerns.