Strive Masiyiwa spurns amnesty offer

Masiyiwa’s company, Econet Wireless Holdings (EWH) held its annual general meeting followed by a major product launch on Friday.

Officials at Econet did not respond to e-mails sent to them about Masiyiwa’s non-appearance nor could they shed light on whether or not the flamboyant businessman had addressed shareholders via live video link as he has done since he fled into exile in South Africa in 2004.

However, sources at Econet confirmed that Masiyiwa had not been seen at the company’s Msasa, Harare headquarters where the AGM was due to be held or at the Meikles Hotel where the company launched its prestigious internet to mobile service known as 3G on Friday.

Econet Wireless last week launched the Third Generation (3G) service becoming the fourth mobile operator in sub-Saharan Africa to offer such a service.

Although it will initially be offered to a limited market, it is expected that 3G services will eventually be expanded with the arrival of a new band width.

The government in June announced that it would pardon Masiyiwa and other businessmen and company executives who fled Zimbabwe in 2004 when Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono launched a campaign against government critics disguised as an anti-corruption crusade. Masiyiwa was at that time owner of The Daily News which had just been banned by the authorities. The paper had its equipment, including a printing press and dozens of new computers confiscated.

Masiyiwa’s media associate, Jethro Goko was, however at the Econet product launch last Friday and told a source that The Daily News would soon reappear after it was granted verbal guarantees by the information ministry.

In June, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said it was wrong for the authorities to continue persecuting Masiyiwa who is reputed to be Zimbabwe’s richest black man with interests in telecommunications, banking, tourism and many other sectors, operating through front men. His mobile phone company recently surpassed the million subscriber threshold.

Masiyiwa, a known associate of Econet chairman Tawanda Nyambirai is also said to be the force behind Nyambirai’s TN Bank and a major shareholder in the RTG hotel group through links with the group’s chairman Patterson Timba.

Mutambara said at the time that a way must be found to make the charges against Masiyiwa go away. Others mentioned in the amnesty proposal made public at a re-branding conference are former Barbican Bank founder Mthuli Ncube, who is now a professor of business at Wits University in South Africa, former NMB Bank executives Julius Makoni and James Mushore, Telecel chairman James Makamba and ENG director Gilbert Muponda. Muponda recently wrote to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai accusing Gono of victimizing him and others in order to take over their businesses.

It was not clear if a formal offer had been made to Masiyiwa. So far the authorities have failed to strip him of leadership of Econet as current laws do not forbid anyone from running a business from outside the country. However, new corporate governance regulations being mooted will make it mandatory for company heads to appear physically at board meetings at least four times a year. The Zimbabwean