Zuma help tycoon get sweet with Mugabe again

A Zimbabwean-born South African business mogul, whose multibillion-rand business empire was nationalised by Robert Mugabe in 2004, is on the verge of getting his empire back, thanks to President Jacob Zuma.

And all that Zuma had to do was to invite Mutumwa Mawere to his May inauguration, at which a chance interaction happened between Mawere, Mugabe and former president Thabo Mbeki.

Mawere had tried to sue Mbeki in the Constitutional Court to force the former president to intervene in his case because he was a South African citizen.

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke had dismissed Mawere’s case against Mbeki. Mawere became a South African citizen in 2002, a year before he fled Zimbabwe after his battles with Mugabe began.

It is not clear in what capacity Mawere was invited to Zuma’s inauguration. But at a luncheon hosted by Zuma for invited heads of state and government and other special guests, Mawere bumped into Mugabe, who had once labelled the businessman a "crook".

A friendly discussion began in the presence of Mbeki. Mawere took advantage of the interaction to argue his case that the seizure of his SMM business empire, valued at more than $350-million (R2,7-billion) and which included the third-largest asbestos mines in the world, telecommunication, agro-manufacturing, property and financial services firms, had been unjust. He again met Mugabe before he left and presented him with a pile of documents.

Mugabe said he had not been apprised of all the facts when he approved the seizure of Mawere’s business empire and promised to look into the case upon returning to Zimbabwe, which he did. Mugabe promptly appointed Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono to look into Mawere’s case and recommend a way forward.

In a dramatic U-turn, Gono, who had earlier led the state case against Mawere after accusing the businessman of contravening the country’s foreign exchange laws, then recommended to Mugabe that Mawere’s companies be given back to him because the circumstances in which they were seized were unjust.

Gono’s full report to Mugabe has sparked a fierce battle between Gono and Mugabe’s ministers opposed to giving the companies back. Several meetings have been held in the past few weeks in which Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa have opposed Gono’s report. Sources close to the meetings say Mnangagwa and Chinamasa are shocked at Gono’s U-turn because he formulated the charges that led to the seizure of Mawere’s companies. Zimbabwe had, in fact, sought Mawere’s extradition from South Africa to face trial in Harare after he fled the country in 2003 on the strength of Gono’s charges. The extradition bid was dismissed by a South African court.

But in his report, Gono argued that the main premise on which Mawere’s companies were seized had been illegal. The government had passed a "Reconstruction Order" to seize Mawere’s companies because they were "insolvent" and indebted to the state.

But Gono argued that the companies were not insolvent and the entities to which they were indebted were not state entities as claimed.

"It is recommended that your excellency approve the de-specification of Mr Mawere and his companies, so as to pave the way for a new beginning, particularly in the context of investment promotion and empowerment in Zimbabwe," Gono’s report said.

Alfas Gwaradzimba, who has been the administrator of the seized business empire, has hit back at Gono, accusing the central bank governor of trying to absolve Mawere of his alleged criminal deeds for sinister motives.

Gono has, in turn, accused Gwaradzimba, a close ally of Chinamasa, of creaming off Mawere’s companies by collecting six percent of gross proceeds from the business empire and disposing of assets.

The ferocious battle among Mugabe’s cronies and information emerging over the goings-on in the operations of the SMM empire have clearly exemplified the nature of the relationship between politicians and businessmen in Zimbabwe.

Since Gono is Mugabe’s closest ally, sources say his recommendations will soon be implemented and Mawere will get his companies back. For all that, Mawere will have to thank Zuma for enabling his chance meeting with Mugabe which kickstarted the events that have resulted in Gono’s recommendations. IOL