Planned Telecel Acquisition: Entrenching Zim State Capitalism

By Prince Tongogara

HARARE-The state is slowly beginning to take control of all facets of the economy as the Zanu(PF) government is copying the Chinese model of state-capitalism albeit with the same ethos particularly zero tolerance to corruption and unproductivity among those deployed to lead the state enterprises.

The government has over the years strengthened its control on the economy in areas such as mining through the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe. It has been playing a big role in the financial services sector with significant stakes in Banks such as CBZ, AgriBank, ZB Bank and POSB.

It will soon become the biggest player in the diamond mining industry after the conclusion of the consolidation of mining companies in Marange where it will own a 50% stake in the consolidated enterprise.

However, last week Information Communication Technology and Courier Services minister Supa Mandiwanzira statement to parliament that the state was ready to save Telecel by buying the mobile telecommunications company through ZarNet further points to the state’s appetite to engage in state capitalism.

The development is set to consolidate government control in the communications industry. The state already owns NetOne, TelOne, Powertel (a ZESA subsidiary), ZarNet and ZimPost. The government also controls the broadcasting sector with the few privately owned stations still kin the hands of Zanu(PF) politicians.

The takeover of Telecel raises a few pertinent questions about the credibility and accountability of the Zanu(PF) regime. This is one private company the government helped form and fund as a means to block Econet from having a mobile licence.

Control of Telecel has since its formation mirrored the power stakes in Zanu (PF) formations over the years. The power struggles in the board also reflected the same.

Recently, majority shareholder,broadcaster James Makamba recently shot down the Brain Works Capital offer to buy 40% of the company for a $20 million consideration. Speculation in the industry is very high that the Brain Works (a relatively new company with links to Zanu (PF) stalwarts) has been rampaging on the market buying all valuable assets it can. It recently gained control of African Sun and Dawn Properties.

Could the purchase of Telecel be simply for warehousing purposes as Zanu(PF) politicians take time to raise capital to buy the company from government? This is not a new phenomenon. It has been well played out in Russia where the oligarchs bought oil companies for a song and are now billionaires.

It remains a public secret that Zanu(PF) politicians during the fast track land reform rushed into highly developed farms which today are just shells after they stripped them of all movable assets like irrigation equipment, tractors, lorries, generators and submersible pumps.

The reason to takeover Telecel can only be understood in one view that some politicians are eyeing it later when the dust has settled. It boggles the mind why private enterprises were not given an opportunity to buy the company or even a management buyout.

With unbridled corruption, Zanu(PF)may have opened a new avenue for patronage and siphoning of state resources. We wait to hear at what premium price Telecel would be acquired and who will get it later at a discount.