• Zimbabwean consumers boycott Choppies
• Choppies linked to President Mugabe
Problem Masau & Lawrence Seretse report.
Choppies is a business empire ran by a motley crew of billionaires and powerful individuals, among them those that do not always see eye to eye nor support each others’ interests. This bunch is glued together by the billion pula daily retail float which is doled by unsuspecting people in places like Mutare and Masunga.
Choppies’ business relations include state presidents, former presidents, ministers, ambassadors and a state spy chief in Botswana; this emerges following an ongoing campaign to boycott the chain store by Zimbabwean human rights activists.
Zimbabwean consumers are boycotting the giant retail supermarket in protest of the country’s Vice President Phekezela Mphoko’s continued stay in a lavish hotel at the expense of the taxpayer.
Investigations also show that President Ian Khama and President Robert Mugabe have subsidiary business interests in the Gaborone headquartered multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer.
The Mugabe Connection
Mphoko holds a 51% Nanavac Investment, the Choppies holding company in Zimbabwe. Nanavac buys most of its dairy products from Alpha Omega Dairy (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of Robert Mugabe’s business empire, Gushongo Holdings. Mphoko’s son, Siqokoqela is Choppies country director.
“We are buying 75 percent local. All our house brands are done locally,” the young Mphoko told the media during the launch of the retail chain’s 17th branch in Bulawayo.
Mphoko, who is former ambassador to Botswana and is a former Zimbabwe military commander, has been staying in Harare’s Sheraton Hotel since President Robert Mugabe appointed him Vice President in 2014; gobbling over US$300 000 (P3,3 million) of tax payer’s money in the process. He refused to stay in a US$3 million government mansion (P330 million) saying it is “substandard”.
Prominent human rights activist Stan Zvorwadza who is leading the campaign to boycott Choppies Supermarkets says their intention is to force Mphoko to leave the hotel.
“Consumers have many alternatives, and they cannot continue to support the businesses of heartless individuals like Mphoko. We have protested at the hotel and the police have harassed and beat us. The citizens have suffered enough and this is the only way to show our disgruntlements,” he said.
#BoycottChoppies has been trending on social media with many people supporting the move, mostly the urban population which has constantly voted the opposition since 2000.
Mphoko in an apparent public relations gimmick last Sunday told journalists in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, that Choppies was still the ordinary people’s choice.
“We run Choppies, it is a people’s shop. Our low prices have forced every retailer to reduce theirs. They can’t overcharge because people would opt for Choppies. They want to tell lies and say I’m corrupt as a justification so that when they go and attack Choppies, they would have misled people,” he said.
He said there were people who were on a smear campaign to tarnish his image.
“I know the people who are responsible. They know that I’m not corrupt. I have a very clean record throughout my life and that is the biggest problem they have. I don’t have any record of transgression. For them to carry out their plot they need to soil my name first but it won’t work,” he argued.
Choppies Zimbabwe has in the past months hit headlines for all the wrong reasons. An employee of the company, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Zimbabwean publication, the Southern Eye, early this year that they were working in fear.
“The problem which all workers at Choppies are facing is that we are living in fear after being threatened with retrenchments by the vice-president’s son who is the director of the company, if we ask for our overtime money,” said the worker.
He said they were forced to work overtime during the festive season and they expected to be paid. The employee said they were surprised at the end of January to receive a message informing them that no overtime was going to be paid, but that the hours would be converted to off days.
“After that the workers committee demanded to meet the management over the issue and this is when the director (Siqokoqela) indicated that he was not paying for overtime and anyone who wanted the money should approach him in person and get his or her money, and thereafter be retrenched,” the employee said.
The Khama Connection
*INK Centre for Investigative Journalism and Mail & Guardian reported that Choppies’s annual reports show that, from 2011 to 2014, the chain bought goods worth P3-million from Montrose (Pty) Ltd, whose sole directors are President Khama and his sister, Jacqueline. While Khama’s office remained mum on the allegations, Choppies major shareholder Ramachandrath Ottapathu heavily disputed this, stating that: “Nonetheless, [Choppies] has the right to do business with any legitimate entity in Botswana.”
*Choppies’s Botswana listing prospectus shows that former president Festus Mogae was appointed a Choppies nonexecutive director in 2004, while he was in office, Choppies claims he was appointed after he stepped down from office.
*Investigations have revealed that in 2009 Choppies transferred shares allegedly worth P4-million to Botswana’s Director of Intelligence and Security, Isaac Kgosi in efforts to upset an investigation into alleged violations of food, health and safety law by the store.
According to a Botswana Stock Exchange source, Kgosi sold them over the counter in June 2014, three years after the listing, for P16-million, INK reported.
In a leaked interview in 2012, Kgosi told Botswana’s Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) he had not fully paid for the shares, but was repaying the debt from dividends.
“I pay back what I owe from the dividends,” he told a puzzled Australian DCEC investigator, Don McKenzie, who left Botswana a few months later.
*In 2007, current Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry Sadique Kebonang was appointed Choppies’ Group Executive Director while Botswana’s ambassador to India, where the billionaire business founder Ottapathu originates from, Dorcas Kgosietsile is a nonexecutive director.
Masau is a Zimbabwean journalist
INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit newsroom to develop investigative journalism, produced this story. Visit www.inkjournalism.org for all our stories.