Plot to drive Mashamhanda out of business

HARARE - Harare multi-millionaire and MT&N Distributors Alex Mashamhanda is the next target on the hit list of Zanu PF hardliners with a grudge against big businesses and the wealthy men who run them, the Daily News can report.

After the arbitrary cancellation of Mashamhanda’s water treatment chemical supply contract by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo after charges that he had delivered poisonous sodium cyanide to Harare’s city water treatment plant and endangered millions of lives, the Zimbabwean prosecutor’s office is under pressure to launch a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, there is a parallel probe by a commission handpicked by Chombo into how the company that made part of Mashamhanda’s fortune could be made to pay.

It comes after Chombo has also stopped Mashamhanda — alleged to be a funder of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC — from constructing a $1,2 million service station and food court next to Matapi Police Station in Mbare.

He denies any association with the MDC whatsoever.

Chombo has blacklisted Mashamhanda as a chemical supplier, after alleging that this was the second time he had delivered the wrong product after allegedly “fraudulently” delivering salt to the city in 2011 instead of aluminium sulphate.

Mashamhanda has said both allegations are totally false, and the minister should retract the accusations levelled in the media over the past month that on July 24 this year he negligently delivered sodium cyanide to Harare’s Morton Jaffray water treatment works.

Chombo has refused to retract, and says he stands by everything he said. He says he has a duty to protect the public from such “negligence.”

The blacklisting of Mashamhanda resembles the start of the investigative procedure against him and many think it is politically motivated. Chombo denies that he has a political vendetta against Mashamhanda.

Mashamhanda’s blacklisting was the first move against big business in Harare believed to be sympathetic to the MDC by Zanu PF hardliners.

Mashamhanda’s previous political responsibilities, including being one of the PM’s campaign agents during the 2002 presidential vote, infuriated Zanu PF, which has an unwritten pact with the oligarchs for them to stay out of politics or face having their businesses probed.

But Mashamhanda quit politics after the 2002 elections and focused solely on his businesses, which include Mashwede Diesel — a property developer and fuels company.

His previous association with the MDC angered Zanu PF officials who disliked the idea of businesspeople investing in anything other than Zanu PF.

Now Mashamhanda says Chombo is waging a battle against him, with the former trying by many accounts to pry control of the lucrative water chemical supply contract away from MT&N Distributors.

It is speculated that Chombo wants to hand the contract to pro-Zanu PF businesspeple.

Chombo has been steadily inserting himself into the operations of Harare’s local authority with what many believe are plans to eventually seize control of the water chemicals supply contract, currently worth millions.

There has been a sustained attack on Mashamhanda, from police raids at his Mashwede Towers headquarters ostensibly to search for dangerous weapons, seizure of water treatment chemicals from his Norton warehouse and the artful use of rumours — all tools used in trying to take over the businessperson’s most profitable ventures.

The battle over the $1,2 million service station and food court he was building in Mbare has been going on for nearly a year now.

Mashamhanda claims a Zanu PF minister (name supplied) wants to build a service station there in partnership with the Lebanese.

When whispers that on July 24 Mashamhanda’s firm had “negligently” delivered sodium cyanide to Harare’s Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Works came out, Chombo saw a new opening.

The latest scheme is a proposed takeover of the contract — which the minister says is necessary to deal with what he claims are glaring capacity strains.

But Mashamhanda says MT&N Distributors has been supplying water treatment chemicals to the city of Harare since 2003.
Chombo is trying to step in and direct the issue of the project on behalf of the city council, effectively allowing Zanu PF to go ahead with the consolidation of Harare.

But this being Zimbabwean business, the government’s targets are not themselves blameless.

Mashamhanda admits that a freight company he had hired sent a truck carrying sodium cyanide to the Harare water works, although the delivery note for aluminium sulphate was clearly addressed to MT&N and not to the city water works.

So the supplier sent the wrong product, but it was destined for MT&N Distributors warehouse. It was never offloaded at the water works and there was no delivery effected or even attempted.

The error, which was duly noted by all stakeholders present, immediately opened up Mashamhanda once again to Chombo’s scrutiny.

Then Chombo threatened to have MT&N owners punished and an investigation was launched by the probe team.

Two months later, the investigation gave Chombo enough of an opening to wrangle the contract, accusing MT&N of having malicious intent in delivering poison to the water treatment works.

“The city of Harare gave a public statement on the issue in which they advised that there was no way sodium cyanide could have been accepted into their works and in the very unlikely event of it being accepted, there was no way it could have been used in the water treatment works,” Mashamhanda said.

Emmanuel Chiroto, the deputy mayor and Ward 42 Councillor for Hatcliffe, said the issue has been politicised and urged politicians to find another platform to criticise each other.

“At no time did we receive a wrong chemical,” Chiroto said.

“Thirteen steps are taken when receiving chemicals for use at Morton Jaffray.

“Only two steps were taken before it was discovered that the consignment was flawed.

“At no time was the containers unpacked or off-loaded for use. We will continue to give residents clean and safe water.”

Harare Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi said at no time were the lives of people in danger because employees at Morton Jaffray never received the consignment.

He said council has robust procedures to handle the delivery of chemicals.

“Alarm is raised when two things happen. First, when packaging is not normal and when the labelling itself is wrong. If it is poison, we say to our employees, “don’t sample, send it out,” he said.

According to the Town Clerk, it was not the first time that council has rejected deliveries at its water treatment plants.

Chombo’s manoeuvres against MT&N could provide the most blatant example of government terminating a contract for one of Zimbabwe’s indigenous and most successful private enterprises, and doling out the contract to companies owned by Zanu PF cronies.

No matter what is going on in the battle for the water chemicals contract, Mashamhanda has few tools with which to fight off the government.

He has filed a defamation legal case against Chombo, after the minister defied demands for a retraction. - Gift Phiri

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