South African company sues Zimbabwean Zanu PF linked business tycoon

JOHANNESBURG – John Bredenkamp, 69, the Zimbabwean tycoon who made – and allegedly squandered – several fortunes and established convenient relationships in President Robert Mugabe's regime, is being sued by a South African company in the Harare High Court for allegedly failing to honour a debt of nearly $4-million (about R35-million).

Bredenkamp is also a South African citizen, and mostly lives in his luxury home in Knightsbridge, London, as he has recently been refused permission to renew his Zimbabwean passport, as confirmed this week by his spokesperson Costa Pafitis.

Bredenkamp’s riches grew from selling newly independent Zimbabwe’s Virginia tobacco crop internationally. He then moved into controversial military deals, sometimes securing products from SA parastatal arms company Armscor during the apartheid era. His colleagues in this business were mostly former Rhodesian soldiers and Special Branch policemen.

Bredenkamp was, until recently, on good terms with key Mugabe cronies, some of whom he assisted financially – in particular top Zanu-PF official Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is tipped to succeed Mugabe.

The two fell out in February 2004. His most recent Zanu-PF contact is Security Minister Didymus Mutasa.

A South African company, Sahawi International, claims it lent Bredenkamp $22,272-million in 18 separate tranches, from 2001 onwards, but only 10 percent has been repaid.

Sahawi, based in Linbro Park, Joburg, filed papers in the Harare High Court on August 25 claiming Bredenkamp was to have repaid the money after he had made a fortune in June 2006 by selling a mine he had been given in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Eight years ago, Bredenkamp had invested in a mine in Katanga province given to him by the late Congolese leader Laurent Kabila as spoils of war, apparently because of his involvement with the Zimbabwean National Army (ZNA), which helped to put Kabila in power.

Bredenkamp was a major conduit for provisions to the ZNA and guaranteed DRC payment for Russian helicopters during the conflict.

The tycoon began borrowing money when he took over the Katanga mine, but rented it to Zimbabwean businessman Billy Rautenbach, who is wanted in SA for fraud.

At the time of the alleged loans, Bredenkamp was in regular trouble with creditors and started cutting back on his lifestyle, which was costing him about $750 000 a month to maintain.

At his lowest point, Bredenkamp sold off his DRC assets to Israeli mining entrepreneur Dan Gertler for $60-million in 2006 – much more than market value.

Bredenkamp owed a group of senior politicians in the DRC about $15-million of the sale money, but he had nevertheless made a massive profit out of the DRC.

Among other assets recently offloaded, he sold his cigarette factory in Wadeville, Germiston, for R70-million, after having paid only R17-million for it.

Bredenkamp is one of a handful of white farmers whose land holdings and farming operations in Zimbabwe remain intact.

His UK offices were raided by British police three years ago in connection with investigations into the SA arms deal. He was not charged, and the probe continues.

Pafitis said this week he knew nothing of the claim by Sahawi against his boss, but said he would pass on questions put to him. – Independent Foreign Service