Gift Phiri/Chris Goko
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe this week broke his silence on the extrajudicial expropriation of self-exiled tycoon Mutumwa Mawere’s agro-processing business, FSI Agricom (FSI), alleging
that the businessman was a front for wealthy Chinhoyi white commercial farmer, Clive Nicole.
Mawere yesterday shot back at Mugabe in a damning letter seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, accusing “small-minded” people of taking over his properties illegally. He said the farms were bought on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis.
In the letter Mawere accused Mugabe of telling supporters at a rally in Chinhoyi that he was working with the “racist Nicole family” to reverse the gains of the land reform exercise.
The Nicole family used to be a large-scale farming dynasty, operating its own silos and producing about 30% of the country’s wheat in the Banket area before the government’s sullied agrarian reforms. Mugabe accused Mawere of using FSI as a personal enrichment vehicle.
The official line is that government has taken over FSI as a result of mismanagement and corruption.Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa even issued an order in terms of the Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies regulations last year, asserting state control over the company, among other SMM Holdings’ firms. Chinamasa not only cited mismanagement, but said government was moving in to save over 5 000 jobs.
However, Mawere’s letter shows that government’s black empowerment rhetoric was not matched by actual support for commercial agriculture. The asbestos and financial mogul says he was arraigned several times before Agriculture minister Joseph Made and later before Mugabe to answer charges of colluding with white commercial farmers.
Mawere says in 2003 he was summoned to Mugabe’s office where he was quizzed about FSI’s interests in agriculture and whether the company was a front for white commercial farmers. Jailed Finance minister Chris Kuruneri also attended the meeting.
“We explained to you the history and background of FSI programmes but the meeting was inconclusive principally because your understanding of the role of commercial agro-processors in agricultural transformation was at variance with commercial reality,” Mawere wrote to Mugabe yesterday.
“We pointed out that without property rights, it was unlikely that the land reform could succeed. To this end, FSI had chosen to purchase its own farms and cooperate with former white commercial farmers in its programmes.
“You raised the issue of the Nicole family and how it was possible for you to reconcile our collaboration with this family knowing their alleged racist past. However, we explained that without the Nicole family agreeing to sell their equipment, FSI’s mechanisation programme would not have taken off. In other words, without equipment, there is no prospect for commercial agriculture to succeed,” he said.
In a telephone interview from Johannesburg yesterday, Mawere said the land reform programme was a farce, pointing out that ruling Zanu PF fat cats had helped themselves to FSI equipment.
He said senior government officials had expropriated Allan Granger and Old Citrus farms, both owned by FSI Agricom. He said the rest of the FSI farms and operations had been taken over by government.
“Taking over my businesses illegally may be in the national interest for small-minded people,” Mawere wrote to Mugabe.
“I am not sure whether nationalisation of businesses furthers the national cause but it is up to the public to judge. I hope that one day, a day will come when government respects its citizens to an extent that the highest office in the land can be used for promoting good corporate citizenry and governance. If the office is now being used to displace the judiciary and parliament then we have a cause to be concerned.”