By Gift Phiri
Britain’s immigration authority has denied a ministerial delegation from Zimbabwe visas to attend a key investment conference in London convened to discuss investment opportunities in the southern African nation.
Three ministers and a deputy minister were set to be speakers to the Zimdaba London 2018 Conference that opened Thursday, but were denied visas by the United Kingdom authorities.
Industry, Commerce and Enterprise Development minister Mike Bimha, Energy and Power Development minister Simon Khaya Moyo, deputy minister of Finance and Economic Planning Terence Mukupe and chairperson of the Special Economic Zones Authority Gideon Gono had applied for five-day visas to attend the Zimdaba London 2018, which runs for two days from Thursday, and hosted at The Royal Geographical Society in London.
Only Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando was reportedly granted a visa and arrived in London yesterday.
Chitando is a former executive chairman for Mimosa Mine — a joint venture between Implats and Acqurius and was appointed Mines and Mining Development minister in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Cabinet in November, with his appointment sending positive signals to business and investors.
The Daily News understands there were also efforts to issue Bimha a visa late yesterday.
Earlier, two other ministers had opted not to travel to London for the conference after it became apparent that the UK administration was not going to grant them visas.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister (retired Lt-General) Sibusiso Busi Moyo — who appeared on State television on the morning of November 15 to announce the military intervention with the memorable words “the situation in our country has moved to a new level” — had been invited to the London indaba together with Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement minister (retired Air Marshal) Perrance Shiri, but were removed as speakers at the last minute after their visa denial reportedly prompted an angry reaction from the two military men.
Shiri is a former head of the air force who led the Fifth Army Brigade during the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983-84.
The UK Visas and Immigration did not respond to applications for visas or give reasons why the ministers were not permitted entry to the UK.
A British embassy spokesperson in the Harare told the Daily News yesterday: “We do not comment on individual visa cases.”
Munyaradzi Majoni, the director of Consolidated Africa Services (CAS), which is organising the conference, said the ministerial delegation was not denied visas but there was a delay.
“There has been a hold-up,” Majoni told the Daily News yesterday.
“We have been talking to the British Embassy in Harare and London and they have okayed everything. We are awaiting for Pretoria. We have nowhere where we have been told that no one has been denied a visa, but there was a delay in the process.”
Asked if they are postponing the conference which was set to open today, Majoni said: “We are not postponing, we will change the programme. We will amend and adjust the programme for those that have been delayed.”
He said the indaba has been fully subscribed.
“It’s over 100 percent oversubscribed. In our delegate list, we were looking for 350 people to attend, across Europe, UK, the Americas and Asia. At the moment, we have over 700 delegates registered and others on the waiting list. We cannot postpone.”
Majoni said besides the ministerial delegation, there were directors standing in for various ministries and some from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
“They have already travelled,” Majoni said. “So the conference will go on and successfully so.”
Asked why the Foreign minister Moyo had been scrapped from the programme, Majoni said “he has been highly engaged elsewhere”.
“He has another engagement in London in a couple of weeks from now,” he said.
He said Shiri had decided not to travel over the visa hassles but has delegated “his director of agricultural economy,” to stand in for him.
All business players earmarked to speak at the conference were issued with visas and allowed to travel.
These include the president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Sifelani Jabangwe; president of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Divine Ndhlukula; Andrew Gaines, managing director of DeRisk; Edward Haslam, the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Lonmin Plc; John Siko, head of Business Intelligence, Africa, Risk Advisory Group; Chantele Carrington, chief operating officer of PwC Africa Business Group.
Other business players travelling and speaking at the indaba are Bob Diamond, chairman and co-Founder of Atlas Mara; Andrew Moorfield, head of natural resources at Exotix Capital; Nico Bezuidenhout, CEO of Fastjet; Ana Hajduka, CEO of African GreenCo; Narrotam Somani, chairman of Surface Wilmar; Reason Machigere, head of planning and investment promotion at the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority; Gerald Mlotshwa, senior partner at Titan Law; Ross Alexander, CEO of AML; Hopewell Mauwa, director of global markets and Mining & Metals EY; Tobs Strong, CEO of Rift Valley Corporation; Mark Tunmer, CEO of Imara Capital Zimbabwe; Igor Higer of Great Dyke Investments; Alexander Mavros, director of Mavros Safaris & Explore Zimbabwe and Alan Gullan from the private sector.
Britain, Zimbabwe’s former colonial power, has previously stood at the forefront of efforts to isolate Zimbabwe, but the Mnangagwa regime has been keen to mend relations as a critical step towards re-establishing ties with the West and international financial institutions.
Diplomatic ties between the UK and Zimbabwe soured during the turn of the century over charges that the ruling Zanu PF party had rigged elections and used violence to cling to power.
British conglomerates also divested from Zimbabwe during the 2000-2008 period at the height of an economic crisis, put off by Britain’s frosty ties with its former colony after the ruling party’s often-violent grab of commercial farms belonging to white farmers.
The Zimdaba London 2018 brings together business leaders and investors from the UK and Europe, together with a high-level business and ministerial delegation from Zimbabwe, to discuss and action investment opportunities here.
It is the largest gathering of Zimbabwe ministers and business leaders outside of Africa since Mnangagwa took office in November 2017 in a soft coup that toppled long-ruling despot Robert Mugabe.
Formally endorsed by the OPC, the event has been marketed as an opportunity for investors from around the world to attend and hear firsthand about the numerous business opportunities available in Zimbabwe.
But Britain has refused to issue visas to the Zimbabwean ministers, in a move being interpreted as a shift in Whitehall’s engagement with Harare. Daily News