AS the economic collapse worsens, a number of high-profile Zimbabwean businesspeople have sunk into oblivion, while a new breed of business persons — the lumpen or dodgy variety — with questionable records is emerging from the rubble.
By Taurai Mangudhla
The new extravagant, flamboyant and loud ilk of business people have an edge over others, not because of their business prowess, acumen, access to capital or technical expertise, but almost entirely because of their political connections or proximity to the corridors of powers.
They are part of the nexus and attendant close relationships between business and politics — networks between businesspeople and government officials. And they are well-known, not for their enterprising ideas or entrepreneurship, but largely for conspicuous consumption — spending on and consuming luxuries on a lavish scale in an attempt to enhance their reputations and prestige.
Venality — the quality of being overly motivated by money and open to bribery — is their currency. They are also not shy to flaunt their political connections, giving the impression — to both friend and foe — that they are untouchable or above the law.
Some may be mere middlemen or fronts, but what this breed of business people has in common is the propensity to boast about their ill-gotten wealth, especially on social media these days — unlike the old-school business executives who built empires through hard work, determination and perseverance.
These “tenderpreneurs”, as they have come to be known in many circles, more so in South Africa where the term originated, often lack experience and in some cases education, but somehow get awarded multi-million-dollar tenders for projects of national importance such as road construction, power generation and other critical infrastructural development schemes.
It has also become common that project costs involving the tenderpreneurs are often inflated, resulting in the state losing huge amounts of taxpayers’ money.
The bulk of the tenders are messy and riddled with corruption, costing the country billions of dollars as they are normally not transparent. In a way, tenderpreneurs are parasites who will do anything to get a tender without the necessary capital or expertise.
Unlike celebrated businessman who have established companies that employ thousands and pay millions in taxes annually like Strive Masiyiwa who founded Econet Wireless and Moses Chingwena who championed Croco Motors, today’s tenderpreneurs do not produce or sell anything and hardly make any contribution to the fiscus.
All they have is a nexus with politicians and bureaucrats who will stop at nothing to take bribes while facilitating deals for the nouveau riche to cream off the economy.
They religiously post their first-class flights to European capitals and other preferred destinations, while giving people an inside glimpse of their lives. From cars to their lunch, their lives are a public affair.
Controversial youthful businessman Wicknell Chivayo is perhaps the best example of these tenderpreneurs. Unlike Masiyiwa, for example, whose business history and track record is known, very little can be said about the source of the so called millions which the youthful ex-convict boats about.
Chivayo rose to fame as, perhaps, a socialite or successful streetwise dealer because of his posts on Facebook about his lavish lifestyle. After finding himself on the wrong side of the law which eventually led him to serve time, Chivayo now enjoys the attention when he is seen driving the latest expensive cars and showing off glitzy jewellery, shoes, watches, clothes, electronic gadgets or indeed anything else that be used to bolster the impression that he is living the life.
Despite his show of wealth which has seen him funding the Zimbabwe senior soccer squad, Chivayo’s businesses interest outside the dodgy tenders remain a mystery. He has only publicly linked himself to Intratrek, a foreign company in which he is a director and is at the centre of messy multi-million-dollar Zesa tenders.
As reported by the Zimbabwe Independent, Intratrek has no previous experience or proven record in power projects but was awarded the US$113 million Munyati Thermal Power Station rehabilitation and modernisation contract on November 12 2015. Despite not having capital or experience Intratek is supposed to rehabilitate and modernise the 61-year-old thermal energy power plant to bring its generated capacity to 100 megawatts.
This is in addition to the US$200 million 100-megawatt solar power plant in Gwanda, Matabeleland South province, in which Chivayo was paid US$5 million without a required bank guarantee.
Chivayo has publicly claimed that he is related to the late vice-president John Nkomo and hobnobs with many other top political figures.
The young Chivayo has also previously posted pictures of himself in private meetings with President Robert Mugabe, First lady Grace Mugabe and her children, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangwagwa and even former prime minster Morgan Tsvangirai apparently to show how far and wide his political tentacles spread.
Another controversial businessman Agrippa Masiyakurima, popularly known as Bopela and owner of the Bopela Group (Pvt) Ltd, has also attracted attention for his lavish lifestyle. Although Masiyakurima is not as big as Chivayo on social media, the businessman frequents upmarket nightspots where he reportedly spends thousands at a go.
Receipts in possession of the Independent show Masiyakurima has a weakness for the expensive Johnny Walker Blue Label whisky which cost at least US$350 per bottle in retail shops and as much as double the retail price in hotels and upmarket clubs.
Masiyakurima’s Bopela Group is in the eye of a storm following the unearthing of a financial scam in which it was awarded a US$3,7 million deal without going to tender by the counrty’s second largest mobile network operator NetOne.
Masiyakurima has also been linked to street solar lighting projects across the country. He is said to be a close ally of Grace amid claims he hugely funded the First Lady’s controversial meet-the-people series of rallies.
He donated US$91 000 for Mugabe’s birthday bash in 2015 and an undisclosed amount in 2016.
Despite these dodgy business people’s inability to produce or add value on anything, they continue to get new contracts and fatten their pockets through taxpayers’ money.
Economist Evonia Muzondo said the tender irregularities in government and state enterprises have become a culture which is fast-spreading to the corporate world, costing investors and taxpayers millions through procurement malpractices.
“Commitment towards quality control and accountability appears to be low in government due to the apparently minimal due diligence processes in awarding tenders with little or no background checks on companies or persons bidding for a contract,” Muzondo said.
Muzondo said officials who are proven to have abused the system must be brought to book either through dismissals or be arrested for criminal acts, adding tender awards should be withdrawn from those who do not qualify or have secured tenders through the back door.
“Unfortunately, this has not happened and it has escalated the problems. People should simply follow procedure,” Muzondo said. “Tender systems should be modernised by using ICTs to make it more efficient and transparent, while members of the tender board must be rotated annually in an effort to eliminate corruption. Appointments must be based on competence and not political affiliation.”
Another economist John Robertson said Zimbabwe’s tender system is notorious for being generally flawed and needs to be improved in order to save the economy billions of dollars that are lost through irregularities.
“It has been happening for a long time and this dates back even as far back as the Harare International Airport tender which was awarded to Leo Mugabe,” Robertson said. “People in government seem to have no obligation to follow whatever procedures are in place and we have lost a lot, in fact the exact amount we have lost over the years you can only guess. We have had the same problems over and over and nothing has changed except that people are now starting to challenge some of the awards.”