Zimbabwean Industry Minister Welshman Ncube has dismissed as far-fetched claims that his ministry made over iron ore reserves estimated at 40 billion metric tonnes in the course of negotiating a deal with Indian-based Essar Africa Holdings to revive the moribund Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, now New Zimbabwe Steel.
Ncube said most of the iron ore claims to be made over under the agreement with Essar have been accounted for except a claim in Mwenezi District, Masvingo Province, held by a former ZiscoSteel worker named Roderick Mumbire. He is alleged to have acquired the claim by fraudulent means, and Ncube said the government is pursuing a court action.
Ncube said some in the power-sharing unity government are trying to derail the venture for personal gain. Finance Minister Tendai Biti last week said some in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF want to see the deal collapse so they can benefit personally.
A source close to the transaction, declining to be identified, said executives at the steel company who fear losing their jobs recently wrote to President Mugabe's office saying that the agreement with Essar will cost the Zimbabwean state millions of dollars.
Essar has withheld October salaries from its workers over the failure by the government to make over the ore reserves and issue share certificates under the deal.
Ncube said the mines ministry has not told him of any irregularities in the deal.
"The final evaluation process of some of the outstanding ore reserves will be done within the next two weeks," he said.
Unpaid New Zimbabwe Steel workers have since sought help in the wage impasse from the president's office and other senior government officials.