Govt eyes Absa stake in CBZ

Godfrey Marawanyika/Chris Goko

GOVERNMENT and indigenous business players have emerged as the keenest buyers of Amalgamated Bank of South Africa (Absa)’s 26% stake in the Jewel Bank of Zimbabwe (Jewel

Bank), businessdigest learnt this week.


Government is said to be keen to shore up its shareholding in the bank because of what it regards as its people-oriented investment and lending policies.


Government already owns 17% of the bank, formerly trading as the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) and now Zimbabwe’s second largest commercial bank after Standard Chartered.


Sources this week said government would bankroll the multi-billion dollar transaction and distribute at least 50% of its stake to chosen emergent groups in keeping with regulatory shareholding thresholds to empower blacks.


Under Zimbabwean banking laws, institutional investors can only take up to 30% of any institution, but a takeover of Absa’s stake would see government’s direct interest topping 43%.


“What we hear is that government is keen to buy Absa’s 26% stake in CBZ although this is yet to be confirmed,” said the sources.


“We also hear that it will give half of the shareholding or 13% to indigenous investment groups.”


Talk of government increasing its stake in Absa came amid claims that the Jewel Bank itself — through its holding company — wanted to buy the shares. This was however disputed by the bank’s chief executive officer, Nyasha Makuvise.


He said it was not only impractical but also presumptuous to talk about buying Absa’s stake when it does not intend to sell.


Absa was unreachable for comment this week although news of its pull-out from the Jewel Bank has heightened on the back of its largely-guaranteed merger with British bank, Barclays, also operating in Zimbabwe.


The takeover speculation also comes on the back of statements by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono that the “national interest” will take precedence over commercial benefits.


Finance minister Herbert Murerwa yesterday told businessdigest that government’s stake in the Jewel Bank was “for keeps” and no divestiture was in the picture.


Apart from funding local businesses and interest groups, the Jewel Bank has been at the forefront of numerous bailout initiatives for government, especially related to the tricky fuel supply situation.

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