WHILE the late former president Robert Mugabe’s regime was corrupt and incompetent — it allowed ministers, top civil servants and its busines cronies to loot public resources — Mugabe himself was very strict with family members and relatives when it came to accessing money-spinning tenders and public assets.
Records seen by The NewsHawks this week show that Mugabe refused to allow his family members and relatives to be involved in government contracts and deals for self-aggrandisement.
Unlike President Emmerson Mnangagwa whose family members are deeply involved in business with the state, Mugabe only allowed his family members to have farms, not tenders and public assets, the records show. The Mugabe family accumulated 24 farms as reported in detail by The NewsHawks last October.
Official records accessed by The NewsHawks this week show that Mugabe blocked his son-in-law Simba Chikore and his wife Bona — the late president’s favourite child — and nephew Leo Mugabe from using their family and political connections to seized control of Zimbabwe’s third-largest mobile operator, Telecel.
“Sometime in 2015/2016, Mugabe’s son-in-law and his wife, and also separately his nephew wanted to use their family and political connections to gain control of Telecel,” one document says.
“They approached the then Minister of Information Communication Technology (Supa Mandiwanzira) to assist them to take over Telecel. First, it was Simba and Bona, and then later it was Leo Mugabe.
There was a list of about five individuals, consortiums and companies of those who were interested in the 60% stake which the Russians were disposing of in Telecel. So the minister went to see Mugabe to discuss the issue.
“When it came to Simba and Bona, Mugabe said NO. They mustn’t be on the list and the minister should not allow them to take over the company. On Leo, President Mugabe gave a BIG NO; remarking ‘he (Leo) failed to pay for his shareholding in the empowerment consortium in the first place’. Mugabe said
Leo’s cheques bounced on his initial attempt to become a key player as part of the empowerment consortium in Telecel. He then told the minister that none of his family members and relatives should be involved.
“Mugabe later went on to tell his relatives that they should not be involved. Leo actually called the minister to say ‘you have sold me out’, suggesting Mugabe had talked to him to stay out of Telecel.”
Back then, Isabel dos Santos, at that time Africa’s richest woman as the eldest child of Angola’s former President José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country from 1979 to 2017, also wanted Telecel through her telecoms company Unitel.
Isabel is now entangled in serious corruption allegations which have ruined her business empire.
Leaked documents obtained by the Platform to Protect Whistle-blowers in Africa, shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in the United States, reveal how Africa’s richest woman made her fortune through looting her own country, and corruption.
Isabel got access to lucrative deals involving land, oil, diamonds and telecoms when her father was president of Angola, a southern African country rich in natural resources, but poor.
At the height of her power, Isabel wanted to extend her busines tentacles to Zimbabwe.
“Isabel flew to Harare to meet Grace Mugabe at her farm in Mazowe over the Telecel deal. They discussed the issue, suggesting a partnership between them, Isabel brought that up, but then Grace seemed uninterested and referred her to Mandiwanzira.
“However, while Isabel was on her way from Mazowe to the minister’s office in town, Grace called Mandiwanzira to say she did not think it would be a good idea to sell the majority equity to the Angolan businesswoman. Grace in fact suggested to Mandiwanzira that Zanu PF should buy the 60%. Mugabe did not want his family involved. He was only comfortable with government taking over Telecel.”
As a result, government later seized control of Telecel after concluding a US$40 million deal to buy out international telecommunications giant VimpelCom, which ultimately held 60% in the local company.
The government, through its wholly-owned dodgy entity Zarnet, concluded the controversial and complicated deal in which it acquired 60% of VimpelCom shareholding in Telecel Zimbabwe and US$40 million of the global investor’s shareholders’ loan of about US$100 million.
After securing a structured financial deal from local banks and other funders, government, fronting Zarnet, was able to raise a US$10 million deposit to pay VimpelCom, with the remainder expected to follow in due course.
Telecel Zimbabwe was owned 60% by Telecel International which, in turn, is controlled 100% by Global Telecom Holding, a VimpelCom subsidiary.
The government’s intention was to eventually own Telecel Zimbabwe 100% even though it already owned NetOne, the country’s second-largest mobile operator.
VimpelCom, listed on the Nasdaq, the second-largest bourse in the world by market capitalisation behind only the New York Stock Exchange, is a global provider of telecom services incorporated in Bermuda and headquartered in Amsterdam with 223 million customers in 14 countries.
Its subsidiary, Global Telecom, is an international telecoms company operating GSM networks in the Middle East, Africa, Canada and Asia. In addition to its indirect equity in Telecel Zimbabwe, it operates networks in Algeria, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Telecel Zimbabwe was jointly owned by Telecel International, which has 60%, and Empowerment Corporation, a Zimbabwean consortium made up of a number of local companies and investors who control 40% of the company.
Zarnet was founded in 1997 and has been operating as an internet service provider. According to a report on parastatals by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri for the financial year-ended 31 December 2014, Zarnet was a broke entity.
Prior to government taking over Telecel, various consortiums were jostling for the company, including investment holding and advisory company Brainworks, a US-based group led by former Telecel chief executive Francis Mawindi, Shingi Mutasa’s London-listed Masawara and a local partnership involving Old Mutual, CBZ and the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) which has a US$1.2 billion balance sheet. Nssa generates surplus contributions in excess of US$10 million per month, which it is authorised to invest.
The consortium comprising Old Mutual, CBZ Bank and Nssa vigorously pushed to take over Telecel Zimbabwe until it was elbowed out by the government.
While various groups were scrambling for the 60% shareholding in Telecel, there are other entities which were battling for the EC’s 40% stake. These included Brainworks and Kingville Investments, which expected to be financed by a New York investment bank.
Efforts to get a comment from Mandiwanzira were unsuccessful as he said he was travelling and could not talk properly.