SOUTHERN NEWS | Mphoko slowly losing Choppies' battle

BULAWAYO - Former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko is slowly but surely losing grip on the ownership and control of supermarket chain Choppies Zimbabwe, run by Nanavac Investments.

Choppies entered the Zimbabwean market in 2013 in a partnership between a local investment Nanavac which had a 51 percent stake jointly owned by Mphoko and his son Siqokoqela and, Botswana’s listed Choppies Enterprises Limited which is backed by that country’s former president Festus Mogae with a 49 percent stake.

To date the supermarket chain has 32 operational shops across the country.

Mphoko seems to have lost grip of the business since former president Robert Mugabe was toppled by the military last November in a soft coup.

Apparently taking advantage of his fall from grace, the Botswana shareholders led by chief executive Ramachandaran Ottapathu who holds 34,2 percent equity in the group have for the past two months been on a drive to reclaim 100 percent shareholding of the group.

The Botswana-headquartered business recently claimed that the Mphokos only own 7 percent of the shares in the company with their purported 51 percent having been “unfairly” facilitated under the now-defunct Indigenisation law.

While Mphoko recently declared that he would not accept a “Gupta-style” hostile takeover bid by his Botswana counterpart, events on the ground indicate that the former VP is slowly losing the battle.

While so many events have happened in the past few weeks with Ramachandaran at the forefront of the takeover, the recent hauling of Mphoko’s son Siqokoqela and his wife to court over 170 fraud counts and extortion respectively, indicates how powerless the Mphokos have become.

In both cases, their family lawyer who is also MDC president Welshman Ncube is representing the accused.

Siqokoqela is a shareholder and one of the six directors of Nanavac Investments where he is also a non-executive director.

First to be dragged to court last month was Siqokoqela’s wife, Nomagugu, 36, for allegedly ordering 15 Choppies Supermarket managers to unlawfully allot more than $30 000 cash from their point of sale machines.

According to the court papers, Nomagugu would threaten the manager with either dismissal or deportation to those who are of Indian origin.

She was released on $200 bail and her trial date has been scheduled for September 14. Nomagugu appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Sithembiso Ndlovu facing 49 counts of extortion.

Just last week, her husband, Siqokoqela was also standing before the same magistrate to answer to charges of 170 counts of theft and fraud.

He reportedly prejudiced the supermarket chain of a total sum of $51 945,53 and nothing was recovered. He was remanded to September 14 on $200 bail.

However, above all, the court documents seemed to expose the Mphoko family that their controlling stake in the big supermarket chain was ineffective after all.

“The accused person had given the impression that he is at the helm of the company to the extent that he does not answer to anyone but himself.

“As such all the employees in Zimbabwe were labouring under the misconception that the accused person is the owner of Choppies Zimbabwe.

“He even threatened the employees with dismissal and deportation, the court heard,” read the court papers.

The court further heard that on various dates, Siqokoqela without board authority from the complainant or agreement with any of the shareholders or directors and without seeking their consent proceeded to various supermarkets of the complainant where he demanded for and looted cash, goods or services.

This, he did by deceiving the employees into believing that he was at the helm of the company with the authority to demand or collect anything he so wished from the business and that he could collect goods on a credit facility which was itself a misrepresentation, the court heard.

On various occasions, it is alleged Siqokoqela misrepresented to the employees from whom he collected the cash, goods or services that the value therefore was to be deducted from his monthly salary.

At the same time he would instruct the finance department of the company not to deduct any amount from his salary.

As the battle for control rages on, it all stands to be seen who will be the victor.

Councillors’ chief whip defends councillor

BULAWAYO - Bulawayo councillors’ chief whip Silas Chigora has defended ward 24 councillor Arnold Batirai who was harassed by rowdy residents for using Shona while taking oath of office saying this was uncalled for and tantamount to xenophobia.

During the councillors swearing-in ceremony last Friday, Batirai first took the oath of loyalty in English which the rest of the councillors had used, but surprisingly went on to recite his oath of office in vernacular.

This did not go down well with residents and activists who had come to witness the event.

After protesting using tribal slurs, the residents later manhandled Batirai inside the council chambers as they accused him of disregarding them.

Council Chamber secretary Sikhangele Zhou said it was Batirai’s constitutional right to use any of the 16 languages recognised by the country’s supreme law.

However, Chigora who is councillor for ward 4 said the actions by the residents and activists were unfortunate.

“For political activists to come inside the council chambers and attempt to drag and beat up an elected councillor on grounds of tribalism is unprecedented,” he said.

Chigora identified some of the activists as those from the Mqondisi Moyo-led MRP.

“MRP had candidates during the last elections and were rejected by the same residents they purport to represent because their secessionist agenda is not supported by people of Bulawayo. They are antagonists”.

Chigora said these were just a few extremists who “are bent on dividing instead of building, they prefer driving looking through the rear view mirror.”

“MRP wants to effect the equivalent of xenophobic attacks and we can’t condone that. It is not tolerated and can’t go unchallenged.

“Right minded people of Bulawayo must not allow to be divided and be used by this retrogressive force.

“Such hooliganism against elected officials is undemocratic, intimidative and tantamount to attempting a coup,” he fumed.

Adding: “MRP can accept English which is a foreign language but are quick to attack a councillor who has spoken in a local Zimbabwean language embodied in our Constitution what hypocrisy is that?”

MRP’s Moyo denied the allegations saying; “It’s not MRP leading the demo but it is the residents of Bulawayo who were disrespected by the drunk councillor who called the residents hooligans,” Moyo told Southern News.

“MRP as a big stakeholder and the voice of Bulawayo and Mthwakazi is only supporting the noble cause by the aggrieved residents not forgetting that outside politics MRP members are also residents of Bulawayo,” he said.

Meanwhile, Southern News got hold of Batirai who said despite the negative publicity he remained in good spirits and ready to work for the people regardless of ethnic issues.

This comes as activists here have lately been calling for Batirai, a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) youth leader to be recalled from council as a result.

A PDP  official has indicated that his party is still looking into the issue.

But Batirai is unfazed.

“Firstly, I should dismiss the allegations that I was drunk, honestly what time could I have got drunk that early?” Batirai said.

“Those were just reports to assassinate my character as a new councillor, maybe perhaps due to my tribe, but I am strong as a fiddle and raring to go.

“Secondly, I only received the council invite for the swearing-in ceremony an hour before the event and I was relaxed at home, that’s why I arrived a bit late for the ceremony.”

On the reason why he used Shona to recite the oath of office, Batirai said: “Since when did it become a crime for us as Zimbabweans to use our mother language? We are all Zimbabweans who are proud of their culture.”


Employee sues BCC over promotion

BULAWAYO - Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has been dragged to court by one of its senior employees who is accusing the local authority of snubbing him after a higher post arose in his department.

Nkanyiso Ndlovu, 35, who is a senior environmental health officer at BCC, this week approached the High Court seeking an order directing the council to nullify the previous appointment which he says was not done on merit.

According to the court papers, Ndlovu who had applied for the assistant health services director is querying why his superiors defied recommendations made by the General Purposes Committee to have him upgraded after interviews.

The management instead upgraded Charles Malaba who was working in the same department with Ndlovu.

Ndlovu who is being represented by Ncube and Partners cited BCC and Malaba as respondents.

He argued that he was the rightful candidate for the post judging by his history in the organisation as well as the fact that he met the requirement in terms of the post as advertised.

“This is a court application for a declaratur in terms of section 14 of the High Court Act and consequential relief in terms of section 4 of the Administrative Justice Act,” Ndlovu said in his founding affidavit.

“I seek a declarature that the decision of the Bulawayo City Council’s sitting at an ordinary meeting held on December 6, 2017 to decline to appoint me assistant director of health services, Grade 13 as recommended by the interviewing panel and the General Purposes Committee through the Town clerk and instead appoint the second respondent to that position is unreasonable, unfair and unlawful.”

According to his submission, Ndlovu says he came first in the interviews while Malaba who came third was appointed ahead of him, in the process raising questions.

He dismissed the issues raised by the local authority that he was not yet ripe for the post.

“The council took the view that while I excelled in the interviews and had relevant qualification, I allegedly lacked experience and exposure,” he said.

“Instead of appointing me as per results of the selection interviews and recommendations of the General Purposes Committee the council instead decided to appoint the second respondent to the vacant post without any recommendation.”

As a result, Ndlovu appealed for the post to be declared vacant and he be deservedly appointed as the assistant health service director.

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