ALMOST two decades ago a handful of ambitious young men met and talked business. They decided to have an organisation representing them.
The Affirmative Action Group (AAG) was a result of such meetings. AAG made a lot of noise and did not seem to care if it was the right kind. Before they knew it they had become rich almost overnight in the guise of affirmative action and empowerment.
Saviour Kasukuwere, currently Empowerment minister, Phillip Chiyangwa, the late Peter Pamire, and the who’s who of business were members at inception or belonged to like-minded organisations.
Some opted for a relatively mature outfit such as the Indigenous Business Development Centre (IBDC) led by John Mapondera. Some of IBDC alumnis are Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa and Chemist Siziba, a technology expert currently attempting to launch a voice over IP service he claims will put mobile phone operators out of business.
Many other organisations with similar objectives –– black economic empowerment –– emerged on the business scene. The Indigenous Business Women’s Organisation (IBWO) and Zimbabwe Indigenous Economic Empowerment (ZIEE) organisation also came into play.
And before IBDC knew it, younger and more ambitious business people were making the most noise and making deals. To the young, IBDC represented an old guard sauntering slowly towards black economic empowerment. The AAG viewed the older guard as too slow, less ambitious and prone to manipulation by whites.
This was evidenced by AAG’s swiftness in deal-snapping while the IBDC thought big and focussed on venture capital projects.
Chiyangwa, Kasukuwere and Pamire bought anything that could spur them on or give them value while its peers at IBDC thought bigger. For instance, when Masiyiwa was mulling a mobile phone business, Chiyangwa was picking up the late billionaire Lonrho Corporation chairman Tiny Rowland’s troubled engineering company and any other assets he could find on the market.
But as the years passed Chiyangwa and Pamire made more money and became the most publicly visible figures of the AAG crowd. They had exquisite fashion style and top-of-the-range cars. The success of Pamire, Chiyangwa and Kasukuwere marked the arrival of new money.
Under his holding company –– Native Investments Africa Group –– Chiyangwa owns G&D shoes, Belmont Leather, Crittal Hope, and ZECO Holdings (now on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange). Of late he has moved into properties and is said to be holding a significant chunk of residential and commercial stands in the capital through Pinnacle Properties.
IBWO founder Jane Mutasa bought some shares in mobile phone operator Telecel. She has continued investing in other businesses. Pamire died in a car crash in the late 1990s but his business buddy –– Chiyangwa – rose in wealth, fame and power. He became an MP for Zanu-PF and provincial chairman but was later fired from the party on allegations of espionage.
Masiyiwa is possibly the richest of the empowerment bandwagon. Unlike his peers, who targeted existing businesses, Masiyiwa opted to go venture capital, and it paid off. After making his start up –– blue-chip Econet –– he has bought into hotels, insurance and bottling businesses among his most notable business ventures.
Kasukuwere joined politics and now sits in Zanu-PF’s powerful body, the politburo. Not everyone was happy in the outfit. Some felt they had been hard done. Accusations of personal enrichment surfaced. The winners took all and the losers got little to nothing.
Paddington Japajapa of ZIEE might have come too late on the empowerment scene. He pales in comparison to Chiyangwa or Kasukuwere. He is now a football administrator.
Others either died or have disappeared from the corporate map. But Chiyangwa and Kasukuwere are possibly the most notable characters of the AAG.
At the peak of empowerment activism, volunteers to the cause such as the late Lawrence “Warlord” Fambainesu Chakaredza would also emerge and ride the gravy train.
Chakaredza would be seen around town in the company of an energetic young white man laden with heavy sophisticated briefcases and the AAG alumni’s numerous files.
Chakaredza, known as “Warlord” in his formative student activism days at University of Zimbabwe and later as Munhumutapa III, had a point to make for the admiring Zimbabwean public. “I make this white man carry heavy baggage for me.” For him, it was definitely a reversal of roles that pleased him. Judging by his age group, Warlord had seen aspects of the repressive regime of Rhodesia. The same mentality that drove the self-appointed Munhumutapa to hire a white servant it seems is back again and now running policy.
Instead of pursuing broader economic policies that benefit the majority of the people and its citizens, government officials seem bent on ensuring that the policy goes ahead to feed narrow esteem and race issue 30 years after Independence.
And then the affirmative action days seem to have ended in the late 1990s.
Now a new breed has taken over the AAG. Like their predecessors –– Kasukuwere, Pamire and Chiyangwa –– they are very ambitious and want one thing –– money. A sequel came with the enactment of the wealth redistribution law in 2008. Another group of young men, possibly more ambitious than the original AAG, met again and decided to resurrect the Affirmative Action Group. The plot is still the same. The characters have changed a bit but with some of the old actors occupying positions of power. The game is certainly in their favour. They have a compassionate ear in government from a former AAG official.
The new AAG is led by journalist Supa Mandiwanzira, an articulate and ambitious businessman. He has set up a thriving advertising, production and public relations firm. He is said to have interests in construction and trucking industries.
Above all Mandiwanzira’s years rubbing shoulders with Zimbabwe’s politicians and very rich could come in handy. But like his predecessors in the organisation, he needs money or economic empowerment. In the next five years, according to indigenisation regulations, the exercise should be completed. By the end of that exercise, old money will be pushed aside by new money. Little is known about Tafadzwa Musarara, the current secretary- general. But he also has his eye on the ball.
Temba Mliswa, a fitness trainer cum businessman, is also a key figure in the new AAG. Last year Mliswa was part of a consortium that bought a 10% stake in Meikles Africa Ltd after a shareholder dispute between Nigel Chanakira and KMAL chairman John Moxon. He also owns a farm and is a major tobacco player.
Last year he claimed he had acquired a stake in Premier Banking Corporation.
Mliswa is said to be politically connected and wants things done as soon as yesterday, a go getter quality that will see the group being the first on the line at the empowerment feeding trough.
The stage has been set and AAG will once again be in the limelight for buying this, selling that.