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Telecel battle hots up

Dumisani Muleya

THE battle for the control of one Zimbabwe’s three cellular telephony companies, Telecel Zimbabwe, is heating up as government steps up efforts to oust tycoon James Makamba from the firm.

Sources said the authorities were determined to push out Makamaba, currently facing further allegations of breaching the Foreign Exchange Control Act by trading on the black market. He is due to appear in court on August 31.

The sources said the Telecel issue was the subject of a cabinet debate on Tuesday. It was said while most ministers felt it would be difficult to shut down the company on legal grounds, others said it could be done. Sources said the Attorney-General – an ex-officio member of cabinet – has been tasked to investigate “legal” ways of dealing with the issue.

Sources said the escalating campaign to seize Makamba’s properties now epitomises a coordinated effort to confiscate assets of entrepreneurs out favour of with Zanu PF.

Businessmen who fled the country in terror as government cracked the whip on companies accused of engagement in unethical deals have forfeited their assets. Business magnate Mutumwa Mawere has had his mines and other properties seized and nationalised.

Mawere has condemned the seizures and nationalisation. He is currently fighting in the courts to retain ownership and control of his confiscated companies.

Makamba is a major shareholder in Telecel and its non-executive chairman. Telecel is owned 60% by Telecel International and 40% by the Empowerment Corporation of Zimbabwe, a local business consortium.

Telecel International is in turn 100% owned by Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian conglomerate listed on the Cairo and London stock exchanges.

Sources said there were “political, business, and personal” issues at play in the Makamba saga. The personal “hot potato” was said to have attracted the wrath of the political authorities.

President Robert Mugabe’s nephew, Leo Mugabe, was said to be trying to muscle into Telecel to get more equity with the support of Transport minister Chris Mushowe and the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz).

Makamba was understood to be trying to play close to Leo in the hope of getting political protection.

But sources said Makamba -currently in Johannesburg, South Africa – was under pressure to quit Telecel.

A Zimbabwe Independent journalist bumped into Makamba at Rosebank and Sandton City in Johannesburg last weekend. Makamba was first seen with a group of Zimbabwean businessmen at Park Hyatt hotel in Rosebank and then at Michaelangelo hotel in Sandton.

Sources said Mushowe and Potraz officials have held a number of meetings on the Telecel issue since last year on ways to gain control of the firm.

Mushowe and Potraz have gone to extent of writing to Telecel International in Egypt, threatening to withdraw the licence unless Makamba was removed. The Egyptians have so far resisted the blackmail.

Sources said Mushowe and Potraz officials travelled to Cairo in June in a bid to sort out the crisis. No solution was found and hence authorities’ renewed effort to allow its favoured investors to take over or to close the company down.

Sources said Leo and his business partners were closing in on Telecel but the problem was that government wants a new shareholding structure without Makamba.

The siege on Telecel last year in August forced Telecel International CEO Jim Bailey to fly to Harare with his lawyers to meet Potraz. After that meeting a compromise deal was struck which was to see 11% of Telecel Zimbabwe shares offered to Leo and his Empowerment Corporation.

Leo was said to have convened another meeting after Bailey’s trip where he allegedly claimed President Mugabe had issued a directive that ownership of Telecel be restored to his IEG company and indigenous empowerment lobby groups.

Makamba’s shareholding in Empowerment Corporation would be reduced from 98% to 24% and in Telecel from 37% to a mere 14%. Jane Mutasa, a Telecel director and shareholder, demanded through her lawyers to see the President Mugabe’s directives in writing but they were never produced, sources said.

Leo said the crisis at Telecel has been resolved. “The problems ended sometime this year. As far as we are concerned, its all over. We no longer have any problem with Makamba,” he said. Efforts to contact Mushowe were unsuccessful. His deputy Hubert Nyanhongo said the minister was in Victoria Falls.

Makamba, who last year spent six months in remand prison, has already lost Joy TV, which was switched off air by authorities, Maryvale Farm in Mazowe, a plot along Mutoko road, and his Blue Ridge Mazowe supermarket was closed on Wednesday.

Makamba said he was removed from Maryvale Farm by three employees in President Mugabe’s Office. He said a war veteran named Chingwena seized his 32-hectare plot at Poultry Farm which he bought for $14 million several years ago.

Makamba blamed state security agents for closing his Blue Ridge Mazowe Supermaket which he valued at $9,5 billion.

“I think this is one of the failures of the human race: unnecessary hatred,” sad Makamba. “This is pure and simple naked hatred. Zimbabweans know my track record, from being a radio presenter, to an insurance broker, to a councillor, to a Zanu PF MP and provincial chairman and businessman,” Makamba said in an interview yesterday.

“I worked for all the properties I have. People know my assets and God knows they are mine. Even if they take them they will remain mine. What have I done?”

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