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Letter from America with Ken Mufuka: Is Tagwirei a reflection or a victim?

By Ken Mufuka

I want to confess my biases at the beginning. As a patriot who has lived for more than forty years in the US, I naturally see things from a different perspective than my brothers in Zimbabwe. As I indicated in a previous letter, my daughter, Dr. Rumbi, who specializes in governance issues, advised that our focus on individual corrupt operatives is misplaced.

Ken Mufuka
Ken Mufuka

The real issue is that what we call corrupt practices are a reflection of the governance systems in African countries. In this case, Kudakwashe Tagwirei is probably as much a victim of the African governance systems rather than a villain.

Background

There was once a brash, brilliant young man by the name of Mutumwa Mawere. At the age of 35, he had acquired the wherewithal to persuade Turnall and Turnall (Zimbabwe) to transfer ownership of Shabani Mashava Mines to his name. There was much jubilation among the Philistines. Mawere was co-opted as treasurer of ZANU-PF in Masvingo province.

When I interviewed the late former Deputy president Simon Muzenda, sometime at the turn of the century, I was shocked to hear very harsh words. “Kenny, we are going to take over the company. Mwana wakanganwa kumusha.” (Mawere has forgotten where his bread is buttered).

I naively interpreted it to mean that the young brash capitalist had not given enough respect to the elders. It was beyond respect.

To cut a long story short, if Mawere had paid his tithes and given due respect to the elders of the nation, including one Arafas Gwaradzimba, who was at one time his accountant, he would not have been in the predicament he found himself.

They nationalized his mines, thus leaving him with a loss of over U$400 million. Over 2 000 workers lost their jobs and a town which had supported a population of 60 000 went into decline.

Now I will tell you a secret. Tagwirei was a long suffering oil products importer, working long hours but as soon as the sun shined upon the brother ZIMRA was on his heels with never ending audits and harassments and threats. At one time he faced closure.

Then the Holy Spirit came to him one night. “Please give some respect to your brothers who are rulers of this earthly kingdom, and pay them some mind.”

After that date, his applications received quick attention. Do not believe me. There are three reports, two from Maverick of South Africa and the third one associated with the US Treasury. In trying to find out damaging information on Tagwirei, the US treasury officials found that the brother was shielded from hostile investigators at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

There is another way to look at the brother’s business activities. When the British South Africa Company started building Mazoe Citrus Estate Dam Wall in 1922, Sir Godfrey Huggins was prime minister.

It soon became clear that Rhodesia needed a native company which specializes in earth moving. That is the origin of Costain of Africa. After the Second World War, Salisbury was growing in every direction and there clearly was a need for a high rise builder with special skills. Thus was born Murray and Roberts Construction Company.

The point I am making here is that these are para-national zaibatsus, which are supported by government and their contracts are padded to ensure their continued survival.

In the great city of Atlanta, Brother Mayor Maynard Jackson did not hide his bias in favor of black companies. When building the largest airport in the world, he made it clear that any white company that wanted a piece of the pie would not be considered unless it offered 15 percent of its contract to black entrepreneurs.

I can give you a 100 examples. The writer, Bob Woodward, says that when he interviewed US vice president Cheney, there was on his table a map of all the oil wells of Iraq. Cheney’s intention was to call all his buddies in the oil business and carve out concessions in Iraq in their favor.

He was stopped by the United Nations. Oil wells in Iraq were sovereign wealth belonging to the Iraqi people, not war booty of the US to parcel out as they wished.

The real argument

In his younger days, Tagwirei would have gone the way of Mawere. The argument is not that the Brother is corrupt. The argument should be, which of the two businessmen had the acumen to survive the Zimbabwe matrix, Mawere or Tagwirei?

Tagwirei did not formulate the matrix in which he found himself. He does not have a US passport, which is my privilege. He watched while his investments were being eviscerated in broad daylight by ZIMRA.

Before leaving, I will make one more confession. Sometime in 2016 I informed Tagwirei’s manager that I was coming home and wanted to pay some respect. He was out of the office, but he had left a few nice words in my favor. The words were as follows.

“Ken, I will miss your visit. Have a good time. Keep on doing what you do. We love you.”.

Is it possible that my perspective has been colored in his favor?

Further, I am of the opinion that it is government’s duty to make sure that indigenous companies get a share of the market. Is Tagwirei the problem or is it the government that does not umpire the game in a fair and transparent way?

US Sanctions bite. Again, I am a witness to their effect. I stopped taking American students to Zimbabwe in 2002 because the US State Department had placed a red flag on the country.

Further, it was not customer friendly to book for hotels in Zimbabwe. South Africa was their conduit at 20 percent takes each booking.

I do not have a closed mind, and I would like our readers to challenge my perspective. Or at least, having read the above, I hope readers will be sympathetic to the brother.

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