President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s name has been dragged into the Hwange Colliery Company mess after it emerged that shadowy character Sherphered Tundiya had usurped the power of the board, railroaded decisions past Mines minister Winston Chitando and effectively took over control of the coal-miner using the head of state’s name.
Kuda Chideme/ Nkululeko Sibanda
The company, saddled with debts in excess of US$350 million and misappropriation of US$6,4 million, was beginning to show signs of recovery after creditors agreed to a scheme of arrangement in 2017, but it has slipped back into distress as a messy fallout between management and the board reached catastrophic levels. This prompted government to place it under reconstruction this week. The two camps have been trading allegations and counter-allegations of corruption and undue interference.
Yesterday, chairperson of the board Juliana Muskwe appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and detailed how Tundiya, who is contracted by Hwange to transport coal from the mine to Munyati Power Station, had taken over as the de facto chair. In the past, Tundiya has been at the centre of violent mine grabs in the Midlands province. “He (Tundiya) phoned me and said he was calling from the Office of the President and directed me to come to the State House. When we got to the State House we went into an office (belonging to a director identified as Mr Tapfumaneyi). Tundiya took out some papers and said we were not paying him, then I said to him that it was a management issue, not a board one. I told him if he wanted the payment resolved he could bring the papers to the mine. After the meeting, Mr Tapfumaneyi said I should go and work well with Sherphered. From that day he took control, he would tell us what to do. He said he could phone President Mnangagwa directly,” Muskwe said.
parliamentarians for protection, adding that she feared for her life. “Forgive me, I just want to be open because I don’t know where to stop. It was bad. It was just going on, he was in control.”
Muskwe went on to recount another incident where Tundiya directed Chitando to reinstate her. “I was summoned to the ministry by the permanent secretary (Munesu Munodawafa), by then I was certain that I had been called to be relieved of my chairmanship. When I got there, Sherphered told me not to worry and said he would speak to the minister to reinstate me. After about two hours, when I went inside the office, I found the minister there with him. He said ‘you cannot speak to the minister directly (to hear) what the minister wants, you will hear from me. He is not going to say a word because we have agreed’. I was scared. I was shaking while the minister just stood and watched quietly,” Muskwe said.
Muskwe also described how Tundiya got the company’s finance director, Tawanda Marapira, who had been suspended on allegations of misappropriating company funds, reinstated. She said Tundiya told her that Marapira’s parents were neighbours with Mnangagwa and therefore Hwange could not be seen to be firing him.
Marapira had been suspended alongside three other Hwange managers after it was discovered that he had been making payments to former managing director Thomas Makore. “We found out that from the day he resigned he was still getting his salary and cash advances. There are documents that show that he was double dipping. The monies he was entitled to through his salary such as housing allowances were also being paid by the company for him. So that’s when we suspended the finance director and started investigations. We found out that from the time that the US$6,4 million was deposited into the fund earmarked for exploration of the Western area, it never rested, they were using it from the first day it was deposited,” she said.
Another board member, Edward Tome, also told the committee of a dramatic incident in which Tundiya abducted company secretary Alan Masiye and internal auditor Ignatius Mudenda.
Tome said Tundiya, in the company of six men, stormed a meeting between the board and the company’s lawyers which was supposed to deliberate on a disciplinary hearing for Marapira, and bundled him into an unmarked Toyota truck.
Hwange was this week placed under reconstruction in terms of section 4 of the Reconstruction of State Indebted Insolvent Companies Act although shareholders are contesting the legality of the move given that the company is listed. Government is the main shareholder with a 37,1% stake in the company while British tycoon Nicholas Van Hoogstraten controls about 22% through his investment vehicles Messina Investments and Hamilton and Hamilton Trustees.
Other major shareholders in Hwange are state-run pension fund, the National Social Security Authority (6,23%) and Mittal Steel of South Africa (9,68%).
Acting chief executive of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) Martin Matanda told the Zimbabwe Independent that the bourse was “surprised” by the placing of Hwange under reconstruction.
“For a company that is listed on the stock exchange, there are some things that the company or its shareholders cannot just do without informing us,” said Matanda. “One such move is where a company like Hwange Colliery would just wake up one day with changes to its management like what we are seeing today as a result of the statutory instrument without this having been communicated, prior, to us.
“We were taken by surprise to read about this change in the newspapers. We are concerned, as the bourse like any other stakeholder by this. We shall be following the developments keenly and, at the same time, we are processing our response to this. We will be communicating our position very soon,” Matanda added.