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By Wes Kruger

Traxtion Sheltam has had a successful working relationship with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (“NRZ”) and Zimasco since 2003 when locomotives were leased to Zimasco within the NRZ operating environment. For this reason we had no hesitation to engage with the NRZ and Zimasco leadership in mid-2019 regarding a need for two locomotives and a caboose to be deployed between the Zimasco site at Kildonan and Mutare on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border for the transport of chrome ore.

By the end of 2019 the companies had progressed sufficiently in order to present to NRZ and Zimasco a draft lease agreement. Meetings were held in Bulawayo and Harare and by March 2020 the agreement was in a final form.

Unfortunately the whole unknown and unpredictable Covid-19 avalanche struck and governments around the world plunged their nations into a most severe lockdown, never seen or experienced in our lifetime. Flights were cancelled and borders and businesses were shut in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus and provide time for the medical sectors, hospitals and clinics to gear up and make room to handle those affected seriously by the virus until such time as a vaccine could be developed and made available.

The Government of Zimbabwe had declared rail as an essential service and for this reason the three companies were able to conclude and sign the agreement on the 2nd April 2020. However one would only realise in the days and weeks that lay ahead the enormous and arduous task of trying to implement a cross-border rail operation due to all the additional travel restrictions (domestically and internationally) and quarantining requirements placed upon the public. For example, to avoid excessive delays due to 14 days of quarantine at Beit Bridge and obtaining work permits, Traxtion selected Mr Godfrey Tshuma and Mr Henry Dingani, two of its Zimbabwean artisans working in Mozambique at the time, to travel to Harare via Mutare/Machipanda early on in the mobilisation process.

In addition to the above, the normal locomotive driver certification, locomotive and caboose handover process which would normally take place in South Africa over a few days, now had to be carried out on the fly at the Mussina/Beit Bridge Border with a goal of entering into Zimbabwe as soon as possible in order to maintain the validity of Mr Frans Dyason’s negative Covid-19 PCR certificates. This would not have been able to be done without the dedication of the trusted and loyal Traxtion technical and operational staff. Mr Dyason subsequently had to travel isolated within the caboose all the way to Harare and continue with his quarantining process in an isolated Harare centre for a further ten days.

Despite the challenges with delays on clearing parts, performing training at customer sites and travel restrictions, the company has run well over 200 train’s trips since July 2020. As a result, it is not surprising that both NRZ and Zimasco have been complimentary thus far and for this reason we are of the view that this lease will likely be renewed, with the possibility of additional assistance for other NRZ customers along similar lines.