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Soiled business brands – Ferreting the Impala

By Tendai Chabvuta

Big brands that do not take care when dealing with their business run the risk of soiling their brands to a point of no return or leaving them with unpleasant dents. This could be said about the recent saga with the Impala Car Rental’s brand.

Tendai Chabvuta
Tendai Chabvuta

The case is quite interesting because it calls for an examination of the relationship between politics, state and business in Zimbabwe. Its is a case of the impala being hunted by the ferret. An examination of what has transpired is necessary.

How Impala got embroiled in the torture saga

A public show of disapproval was called for on 31 July 2020 by Jacob Ngarivhume and several other political entities such as Job Sikhala buoyant from the constant information on the corrupt activities of ZANU PF officials and other people linked to the party by journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was incisive.

While politically motivated and state sponsored violence in responding to such calls by the public is a given in Zimbabwe, I do not think the masses were ready to even fathom the callous acts of violence that then followed the calls for the demonstrations.

Reports of state orchestrated abductions and violence were all over the place. What is peculiar though and what caught my attention was the abuse of one, Tawanda Muchehiwa by suspected state agents known as the Ferret team and the subsequent efforts by Car Hire Company, Impala Car Rentals to try to distance themselves from allegations that one of their cars had been used in the heinous act.

Impala tried to defend its brand

Impala Car Rentals has tried over the last two weeks to distance themselves from the whole saga by issuing out a statement that they are not in control of private individuals who hire their vehicles and then go on to commit crimes.

While, the argument looks sane at face value, it clearly does not make sense when examined from a due diligence perspective. It is true that Impala would not have known that the individual who hired their vehicle would go on to commit such a heinous crime.

What is important however, is their response and duty of care to the ordinary citizen in Zimbabwe. For Impala to try to absolve themselves from this one is irresponsible and unbecoming. What if for example, the vehicle had been involved in a road accident, would they still hide behind a finger and argue that they have nothing to do with the incident?

The need for duty of care by Impala

Impala Car Rentals has a responsibility to Tawanda Muchehiwa, to the justice system as well as the rest of ordinary citizens who at one time have been their clients directly or indirectly through companies or relatives who hire their vehicles.

The first port of call with regards Impala Car Rental’s duty of care is providing the police, and Tawanda Muchehiwa information on the individual who hired the vehicle from them.

To argue about client confidentiality in a matter such as this one is unacceptable. Tawanda Muchehiwa deserves to know the identity of the person who hired the vehicle from Impala and the information must be made available without any conditions.

Impala does not need to be political

It is important to point out that no one is asking Impala Car rentals to side with Tawanda Muchehiwa or any of the people in Zimbabwe who are asking for justice to be done. If at all, there is truth in the fact that the vehicle was used when the said abduction and torture was committed, then of course Impala Car Rentals could be dealing with darker forces and they have every right to be worried about their own business. This is a common occurrence in Zimbabwe.

However, Zimbabweans should now be tired of businesses that play to the chimes of the regime and are used to commit such egregious crimes and then they hide behind a finger in the hope of protecting their business interests.

Morally it would be wrong for Impala Car Rentals to play ignorant. The company has admitted and positively identified that the vehicle used in the abduction of Tawanda Muchiwa was theirs. It would be a betrayal to their customers if Impala were to continue playing this game they are engaged in.

What Impala could do to help the situation

Impala Car Rentals needs to do the right and release the identity of the person who hired the vehicle from them for purposes of ensuring that the culprit is caught and to aid the wheels of justice. More importantly, the role that could be played by Impala Car Rentals would be to ensure that whatever other information that is in their possession is made available to Tawanda Muchehiwa and the police.

For example, it is a known fact that car hire companies track their vehicles for mileage, usage as well as locations. The geo locating tools have rich data on where the vehicle in question was taken to at all times from the time it was hired, the time Tawanda Muchehiwa was abducted and tortured as well as when it was returned.

Impala car Rentals would play an important role by providing such information because the geo locating tools will be able to cross check Tawanda Muchehiwa’s testimony. If indeed, the car is located at the scene of the abduction, where Tawanda was tortured and where he was dropped it would confirm that indeed the vehicle was used in the crime.

Moreover, the information would aid the justice system and virtually every Zimbabwean to identify some of the locations used as torture chambers by the suspected state security agents. Impala Car rentals is not being asked to be a snitch here, but just to do the right thing!

By identifying the individual, even if he or she gave a fake identity, the information would aid the investigation. Furthermore, information held by Impala Car Rentals would be able to help the police and the judiciary in knowing what sort of payments (cash, card, mobile money) were used and these would also assist in tracking the culprits.

What Zimbabweans can do to defend themselves from corporates who want to play politics

Impala Car rentals benefits a lot from Zimbabweans who hire their vehicles. While the ordinary Zimbabwean might not be able to afford the luxuries of hiring cars, it is also true that the companies that do human rights, humanitarian and other related activities are their main customers. Individuals who come from then diaspora on holiday and hire cars are the same relatives of the people who are now being tortured with the assistance of vehicles from Impala Car Rentals.

Would it not be folly if all these people stopped renting out vehicles from Impala Car Rentals until this matter was resolved? Infact, it is irresponsible for any right-thinking Zimbabwean be it corporate or individual to continue doing business with an arrogant company that refuses to do the right thing  – “Zimbabwean Lives Matter” – Impala must be Ferreted until the information about what actually happened to Tawanda Muchehiwa is out.

Impala Car rentals is not being asked to do anything extraordinary – it is just releasing the information on the identity of the individual who hired the vehicle and where the car was taken to.

No press statements, no intimidation of human rights defenders on social media nor arrogance will kill this matter. Impala car Rentals must do the right thing and respect its business values. The lesson learnt here is that in future Impala might have to tell its future clients that when they hire their vehicles out, they have every right to release information especially if it concerns cases where crimes are then committed.

If Impala cares for its business, it will have to release the much-needed information Tawanda Muchehiwa and the police both, not just one party.

Impala car Rentals needs to heed the advice that has been given here. They might come out of this one feeling victorious and invincible but their brand might never be able to recover from the soiling of being associated with torturers and abductors.