EMBATTLED business mogul Mutumwa Mawere has engaged former Zambian and South African presidents â€” Kenneth Kaunda and Thabo Mbeki respectively â€” to negotiate with government for the return of his seized companies.
The South African-based Mawere lost his companies to government in 2004 when his SMM Holdings (Pvt) Ltd was placed under reconstruction for indebtedness to the state, amid allegations that the tycoon spirited huge sums of foreign currency out of the country.
Since then Mawere has been battling to regain the companies that had interests in the mining, petroleum, telecommunications and agricultural sectors.
Talks between Mawere and government that commenced in May have since collapsed after Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and SMM administrator Arafas Gwaradzimba prevailed over central bank governor Gideon Gonoâ€™s earlier advice to President Robert Mugabe to return the firms to the tycoon.
The Chinamasa group insisted that Mugabe and Gono should not interfere with court processes as â€œit will set a bad precedentâ€. Mawere had several court cases against government in Zimbabwe and abroad.
The collapse of the negotiations, impeccable sources said,Â prompted Mawere to engage Kaunda and Mbeki to negotiate for the return of the firms, amid reports that the Chinamasa camp had vowed that he would not get his assets back.
Kaunda, the sources said, had since met Mugabe over the Mawere saga.
â€œMawere has asked Kaunda and Mbeki to engage Mugabe for the return of his companies,â€ one of the sources said. â€œKaunda met the president last month when he came to Harare to pay his respects for the late Vice- President (Joseph) Msika.â€
The sources said the Chinamasa group met on Wednesday and vowed to resist any future moves, even by Mugabe, to give back the companies to Mawere.
Gono wrote an advisory note to Mugabe on May 14, urging him and government to return Mawereâ€™s assets in the â€œspirit of the inclusive government and reconciliationâ€.
The central bank boss said charges against Mawere must be dropped and his companies returned because government had acted improperly during their seizure.
He said although he was aware the issues were before the courts, a negotiated settlement could be a better way to resolve the dispute.
Gono has since withdrawn the note after â€œvital consultationsâ€ with Mugabe, Chinamasa and Gwaradzimba in June and decided that he â€œhad no other role to play in the caseâ€.
In documents lodged with the Supreme Court last month in the possession of the Zimbabwe Independent, Chinamasa insisted that there were no talks between government and Mawere, although he claimed that the businessman had â€œmade contacts with certain people in responsible positions including some ministers, particularly from the MDC-T and MDC-Mâ€, to lobby for the deferment of cases related to the reconstruction of SMM.
Chinamasa said Mawere had â€œmanipulatedâ€ Gono by giving him â€œselected material, information and data, half truths and lies, basically in order to lobby the governor like he has done with othersâ€ to support the return of his companies.
â€œThe governor formed a view, albeit ill-informed, by Mr Mawere, at the time, and without having had audience neither with me nor with the administrator,â€ read Chinamasaâ€™s notice of opposition filed with the Supreme Court on August 21. â€œWhen the governor had the benefit of my views and indeed then administrator he was better informedâ€¦In any event, any views that the government would hold including his advice, would simply be his opinion of the time and no more. The governorâ€™s mandate would not extend to such matters, which are the domain of me as minister responsible.â€
In his answering affidavit, Mawere denied meeting ministers from both formations of the MDC and Gono, but confirmed he met Mugabe on May 10 at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria.
The meeting, he said, was a follow up to a discussion he had with the president the previous day at South African President Jacob Zumaâ€™s inauguration and was requested by Mugabe to brief him about the details and circumstances leading to the reconstruction of SMM and his specification.
Mawere said he gave Mugabe the pertinent information and was informed that the presidentâ€™s officials would get in touch with him to expeditiously deal with the matter.
The tycoon said Gono became his government point man and on several occasions he communicated through cellphone short message service (sms) on the progress of the negotiations.
The sms are part of Mawereâ€™s answering affidavit and reveal that Gono briefed the businessman of all meetings he held with Mugabe, Chinamasa and Mnangagwa.
Gono in the sms promised to fight in Mawereâ€™s corner and assured him that Mugabe was also on his side.
â€œIt was Dr Gono who showed concern about the reconstruction of SMM and my specification and that it is also a concern of His Excellency the president that I was unfairly treated,â€ Mawere said. â€œAccording to Dr Gono, the respondent (Chinamasa) had fears that any attempt to interfere with court processes would set a bad precedent against other persecuted people such as (Roy) Bennett, Jestina Mukoko and others. From this statement, it is clear that the reconstruction is a political and not legal issue as the respondent would like this honourable (court) to believe.â€
Mawere said until his meeting with Mugabe, he had assumed that the president was at the centre of his harassment, â€œbut it becomes very clear that when the respondent (Chinamasa) is making reference to the government of Zimbabwe he is in fact limiting the players to a selected few with him playing a central and pivotal role in this matterâ€.