By Sij Ncube
Matabeleland business community is pinning hopes of the revival of stagnant industries on newly appointed Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko saying as a politician with footprints in business he is likely to have the political wherewithal to push for solutions for the comatose economy in the southern region.
President Robert Mugabe appointed Mphoko, a member of the Zipra High Command, his second lieutenant in Zanu PF and government, ahead of the party’s former national chairman Simon Kaya Moyo who most Zimbabweans had tipped for the position.
Mphoko is the outgoing chairman of the Botswana listed supermarket retail Choppies Private Limited and holds a stake in the firm which has opened 18 shops in Zimbabwe. In Bulawayo alone the company has 15 retail outlets. Choppies entered the Zimbabwean market in October last year when it
bought into Bulawayo businessman Raji Modi’s Sai Enterprises (Pvt) Ltd
through Nanavac Investment.
Choppies has a 49% stake in Nanavac while local entrepreneur Siqokoqela Mphoko holds 51%. The retailer took over Modi’s 10 outlets before adding three more at the beginning of this year.
Last month, the former Solomons Supermarket in the city centre became the 14 store of the group amid pomp and fun fare.
Choppies has 63 stores in Botswana and 13 outlets in South Africa. It is reportedly planning to expand into Zambia, Mozambique and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the near future.
The retailer says it plans to expand to Harare and other parts of the country.
Choppies Group of Supermarkets was recently honoured by the African Leadership Network in this year’s Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship after scooping the outstanding transformational business award ahead of entrepreneurs from 33 African countries.
Choppies market capitalisation now stands at P4,9 billion. Former Botswana president Festus Mogae is the chairman of Choppies Group of Supermarkets.
Members of the Matabeleland business community canvassed by VOP said they were rubbing their hands in glee following Mphoko’s appointment, pointing out that he had shown before his elevation in Zanu PF and government that he was an astute businessman in his own right.
There is a general consensus the new VP, previously regarded as a political nonentity despite an impressive curriculum virtue as an astute Zipra cadre during the war of liberation, has a full grasp of challenges bedevilling the Matabeleland business community.
Affirmative Action Group (AAG) Matabeleland chapter president, Roy Sibanda, said the black economic empowerment pressure group is looking up to the new vice president to open closed doors in business.
“We appreciated his appointment, he has a full grasp of the economic challenges of Bulawayo and Matabeleland as a whole,” said Sibanda.
“The problem in Bulawayo has always been the leadership which we believe has been unable to take our problems and articulate them well to government at national level.
“Now that we have a government leader who understands business here, we believe this challenge will be a thing of the past,” Sibanda said. “When I heard that our new vice president is part of Choppies I was very happy because I have faith he will address such issues which should have been bothering him as well.”
A recent survey by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions revealed 75 companies shut down between January to May this year in Bulawayo alone, throwing about 9 000 workers into the streets.
There is hope among the business community Mphoko would move with speed to address job losses in the region despite Mugabe mandating him to deal with national healing and reconciliation, a portfolio previously held by his predecessor former vice president John Nkomo.
Economic analysts and business lobby groups blame the collapse of business in the region on a myriad of problems among them the prevailing severe liquidity crunch afflicting the economy, high cost of production, erratic power supply, high taxation, policy inconsistencies, particularly the discord over the indigenisation policy which has seen potential foreign investors sitting on the fence.
Lucky Mlilo, the chief executive officer of the Association for Business in Zimbabwe, said business hoped the new appointment would improve the lot of Matabeleland businesses which have been characterised by closures and job losses.
“He is a businessperson first before being a politician. It is the hope that he pushes the Matabeleland agenda of development,” said Mlilo.
Economist John Robertson dismissed the optimism saying the only impetus for positive developments was policy change, he said was not likely at present.
“What we need for this economy is money which will not come until there are policy changes. Mnangagwa has pledged total support to President Robert Mugabe while Mphoko, in spite of his diplomatic credentials, will not be able to deviate from the status quo,” Robertson said.
“We are practically in a feudal State with a feudal overlord and if you challenge him you will be in trouble. Whatever all the people in Zanu PF do doesn’t matter because the only person allowed to think is the president,” he added.
He said all political and economic decisions were still made by Mugabe while his deputies would only wait for instructions.
“Such strategies as the indigenisation policy are the major setbacks in attracting foreign investment and since everybody in the government has to be supportive of the president’s beliefs, and he created these policies, they are not going to be removed,” Robertson said.
But his cordial relations with South Africa President Jacob Zuma forged in Zambia during the war of liberation are seen auguring well for the development of Matabeleland. He met Zuma in 1975 in Mozambique when he was part of the Zipra contingent in the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) during the war of leberation. He also has strong ties with the family of former Mozambique president Samora Machel as he married his sister Luaurinda. Zuma was the best man at his wedding to Machel’s relative in 1977.
Mphoko served as Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Russia, Botswana and South Africa. While in Botswana he caused a storm when he said the brutal Gukurahundi was a a creation of the west.