Zhanda consortium for Telecel equity?

HARARE - A group of local investors is reportedly eyeing a 20 percent stake in Telecel Zimbabwe (Telecel), as the battle for control of Zimbabwe’s second largest mobile operator escalates.

However, Paddy Zhanda — one of the key parties linked to the consortium — has denied knowledge of the planned acquisition and said his little knowledge of the telecommunications industry precluded him from taking an interest in the James Makamba-led company.

Amid suggestions that the group had the backing of Empowerment minister Savior Kasukuwere, the planned bid also comes as government has threatened to cancel Telecel’s operating licence over its “non-compliance” with the country’s indigenisation laws.

“Threats have been made… that failure to comply will lead to the cancellation of Telecel’s licence, yet there are ongoing discussions between Telecel International (TI) and Transport and Communication ministry to effect indigenous majority ownership of the company,” said a source close to the developments, adding Kasukuwere himself was fully appraised of these localisation talks.

“Government is also fully aware of a binding agreement between TI and its local partner Empowerment Consortium (EC) to comply with this licensing agreement, yet we hear there are shadowy groups being lined up or on the wings,” they said.

Apart from Kasukuwere, Telecel executives were unreachable for comment this week.

Although several founding shareholders, including the Affirmative Action Group and Magamba eChimurenga, had sold their stake in the company, it is understood that some sitting shareholders were amenable to the idea of that consortia reinvesting in Telecel — a vision, which Makamba had when he put together EC.

“The process towards the attainment of a majority local ownership of Telecel must be an honest and transparent one, which complies with the law and binding agreements between the parties and not these clandestine manoeuvres where we understand TI is being coerced to sell its shares to shadowy groups,” the insiders said.

Apart from Zhanda’s unproven group, Makamba and company have had to fend off persistent takeover threats from a clique led by ex-Zimbabwe Football Association chairperson, and businessman Leo Mugabe.

While Kasukuwere has snubbed opportunities for comment on whether his perceived support for the pig baron were not at odds with President Robert Mugabe’s broad-based empowerment crusade, there are also fears that the Telecel chairperson has fallen foul of Zanu PF’s factional fighting.

A former Mashonaland Central provincial chairperson and party founder, Makamba is seen an ally of Vice President Joice Mujuru due to his one-time business links with the late general Solomon Mujuru.

This dispossession, it is believed, would deprive Mujuru of one of her alleged sources of funding for her assault on power.

“It is these relationships… which make it both a financial and political imperative for some people to want to push him out of Telecel, and replace him with surrogate groups who will do their bidding,” said one observer. - Business Writer

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