Jingles about Unity Day are being flighted on national television with intoxicating frequency.
Power FM, the radio station targeted at the youths, reminds listeners every hour of the number of days to go before the “big” day.
But while the unity accord of 1987 ushered in peace after five years of civil strife, it brought little joy to a group of former Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) combatants whose business venture, Nitram (Pvt) Ltd, was taken over by the government in 1982.
Nitram Holding Company was formed in 1981 by former ZIPRA combatants and their commanders who contributed $50 each from their demobilisation allowance while they were still at assembly points.
The company was to set up viable businesses part of whose profits were to be invested in Nitram Trust to assist disadvantaged “comrades and their families”, while the remainder was to be ploughed back for the expansion of projects and acquisition of new ones.
The businesses were taken over by the government in February 1982 soon after the discovery of arms caches on some of the properties and those that were owned by the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) as a party.
All in all, 13 companies associated with ZAPU, which had 29 properties, were outlawed.
At the time of the ban, Nitram owned six business units that were all operating profitably. These were the Castle Arms Motel in Bulawayo, Woodglen Farm in the Umguza/Nyamandlovu farming area, Ascot Farm in the Khami farming area, Nest Egg Farm in the Douglasdale area near Hope Fountain, Hampton Farm near Gweru, and Black Cat Removals in Bulawayo.
Records show, for example, that Nest Egg had 6 000 chickens and 100 pigs at the time of the ban and was producing thousands of eggs a day.
There has been a deafening silence about what happened to the properties after the signing of the unity accord. The Nitram file at the companies office in Bulawayo still reads on its cover: “Declared an unlawful organisation in terms of section 3 of Chapter 91 Proclamation number 9/82 dated 16th February 1982.”
Under the Unlawful Organisations Act, which was used by the Ian Smith government to ban nationalist political parties, the President’s proclamation could not be questioned in any court of law.
Anyone who defied the proclamation could be fined up to $2 000 or could be imprisoned for a period of up to five years, or could be both fined and imprisoned.
Though the amounts are insignificant today, the Zimbabwe dollar was stronger than the United States dollar in 1982. A simple conversion shows that the $50 that the former combatants contributed is equivalent to $630 000, while the $2 000 fine translates to $2.5 million.
According to documents that The Insider has, Nitram was verbally handed back to the former combatants by Vice-President Joseph Msika at a function at Castle Arms on 16 April 2000.
But this has not been formalised up to now despite the fact that the group’s patron is Dumiso Dabengwa, who has been a member of the ruling party’s supreme making body, the politburo, for years and was at one time Minister of Home Affairs.
Senior former members of the ZIPRA command, who are the custodians of the properties, are in a quandary because they were technically given back the properties but legally they belong to those who bought them when they were liquidated.
This has stalled their plans to resuscitate the businesses.
For example, some of the projects that they envisaged for Castle Arms included setting up an officers club and a troops canteen, which would comprise a bar, dining room and kitchen, and recreational clubs for retired officers.
Other projects included a bakery, butchery, a poultry scheme, piggery, a phone shop, metal fabrication, carpentry, a grinding mill, a surgery, and a library.
The former motel, whose equipment was auctioned in May 1984, remains the company’s quickest way back into business as there are few hassles associated with it. But it has been run down.
Nitram’s major handicap is that it is cash-strapped. It recovered only $113 000 from the liquidation of its business units.
The company, however, faces an enormous task to regain the other business units unless the government, which authorised the sale of the properties in the 1980s, steps in.
The Insider understands, for example, that Black Cat Removals has changed hands several times.
An indigenous businessman now owns Ascot Farm, while a white farmer owns Nest Egg.
New farmers have been settled on Hampton Farm, though it is not clear whether this was done legally or they invaded the property.
The Insider wrote to Msika’s office in August seeking clarification on the status of Nitram but he has not responded up to now.