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HawkEye: Investigating abductors, finding Impala: Let’s tell the truth and shame the devil



The NewsHawks Managing Editor Dumisani Muleya

IN the midst of the raging storm buffeting Impala Car Rental, a Zimbabwean company with operations in the region, many issues bordering on transparency and accountability have now arisen.
It must be stated from the beginning that the private sector, just like the public sector, must be accountable.It doesn’t merely exist to make profit and go. The private sector deals with the public and makes money from the public. Thus it has got to be transparent and accountable, although the requirements of so doing might be rather different from the public sector thresholds.
In the aftermath of The NewsHawks’ current  investigation which links Impala to the state security agency, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) in terms of its ownership and operations, this issue has assumed a new agency and become urgent. However, private sector companies often want to hide behind the argument that they are not public entities, hence don’t have to bear the same levels of public scrutiny when it comes to accountability.
Well, private companies may be private limited entities in terms of the law and incorporation, but their activities involve the public and thus the need for public accountability. Acting in bad faith, but within its rights, Impala last night placed a frothing advertorial in local media platforms, claiming that it “has been subjected to a sustained and spirited  online media campaign that seeks to tarnish the image and reputation of the company.”
It also repeated its earlier statement which purports to expose lies and rebuff the story that its ownership structures are shadowy and intertwined with CIO entities, particularly Chilten Trust.
The NewsHawks replied to those issues on Twitter, clarifying issues and pointing out mistakes Impala is making in self-defence. Impala has a right to defend itself, but it can’t avoid public accountability beyond financial matters.
Accountability in this case entails issues and performance in non-financial areas including social corporate responsibility and sustainability. Financial performance and profit can’t be Impala’s only important goal; its shareholders, be they Thompson Dondo’s family or the CIO, or whoever, are not the only people to whom it must be accountable to. Other stakeholders such as employees and the public or communities also require their  accountability.
The issue here is clear. Impala buys or hires cars from people and in turn hires them out to clients. So it deals with the public at various interfaces in its business model and operations.
In this case, journalists started investigating who abducted Tawanda Muchehiwa on 30 July in Bulawayo. That was the issue at the beginning.
In the process of so doing, they came across some CCTV footage showing how the abduction process was carried out by state security agents in broad daylight and indeed information started flowing in.
One of the abduction vehicles – a white Ford Ranger, number plate AES 2433 – was linked to Impala, which later confirmed it belonged to them. The real owner was also identified.
Inevitably, Muchehiwa and the public had to demand to know who had hired the vehicle during the time of abduction.
So Impala was asked to cooperate since a crime had been committed. A very serious and egregious crime. There was need for Impala to waiver its usual client-company confidentiality protocols to assist unravel the heinous crime and identify perpetrators for justice to prevail. Impala was supposed to provide that without being pressured.
But what did it do?
It strongly resisted doing so to a point of avoiding a High Court order to provide that after Muchehiwa’s Anton Piller application, while claiming to be cooperating with the victim’s pursuit of justice.
What is Impala afraid of?
The issue won’t go away by Impala merely  ranting and raving, while kicking dust. No. A lot of questions —  which need answers — will be asked.
The Impala saga is multidimensional, wide and deep, as one source told us this week. It allows people to scrutinise the company like we are doing. People will ask who really owns it? Who places cars with it for hire? Who mostly hires its cars? Do they pay duty all the time when they import their cars?
How many other abductions have been done using their cars? Why is Impala not willing to provide (Global Positioning System) GPS and navigational details of the car that abducted Muchehiwa?
And people will even go further to ask about other abductions. The car that abducted Itai Dzamara in 2015, leading to his enforced disappearance; where did it come from and where is it now? It is still there or it was destroyed?
All these are legitimate and fair questions which must be answered. They don’t need frothing at the mouth and emitting hot air without substance  
Impala was ordered by the High Court in September to provide GPS navigational details, which would show where the car — a white Ford Ranger, number plate AES 2433 — went and when through satellite signals, and where Muchehiwa was taken to and tortured. If Impala cooperates on this, most of the questions would be easily answered and justice served.
Launching a publicity blitz and taking acres of advertorial space in the media won’t help anything at all to resolve this crisis without the truth being told.
Stories being written, including that are  linked to or owned by the CIO, are a symptom of the problem, not the cause.
Only an incompetent chief executive and an inept public relations hack wouldn’t see that.
Without wasting time, Impala must release its documents, records and log books relating to the abduction car in the public interest; indeed in the interest of accountability, transparency and justice.
Let’s tell the truth and shame the devil.