The report reviews the thorny business career of Telecel Zimbabwe founder James Makamba in post-colonial Zimbabwe. Makamba’s associations and his high profile attracted close media scrutiny. It has been alleged, for instance, that he had an affair with Robert Mugabe’s second wife, Grace Mugabe, and had to flee Zimbabwe as a result. Makamba was also charged, on three different occasions, with violating Zimbabwe’s Exchange Control Act. On all three occasions, he was arrested and spent lengthy periods in prison before the trial but all the cases were thrown out.
I HAD the privilege to attend a fundraising dinner hosted by the Africa Union (AU) Foundation on Saturday, 13 June 2015. President Mugabe in his capacity as the Chairperson of the AU addressed the guests not specifically on the subject at hand i.e. resource mobilisation for the Foundation but on a wide range of issues including the alleged role of colonialism and imperialism in limiting post-colonial development options. Although President Mugabe is one of the longest serving heads of state in Africa, it was significant that he could not mention any post-colonial business success story, choosing to characterise the experience that he has presided over as a painful journey in which, under his watch, African resources have continued to be shipped out to other destinations for less value. The majority of the audience seemed to enjoy the history lesson. The dinner was organised ostensibly to raise much needed funds from the private sector yet the content of the narrative was to the effect that the process of private capital accumulation must not be trusted to resolve the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Indeed, President Mugabe’s populist take on historical events tainted by a Pan Africanist stance has traction with many people as was evident during the dinner. The role of politics in business is a subject matter that occupies many conversations not only in Africa but throughout the world. The very purpose of business and its actors is a question that requires critical examination. The speeches by President Mugabe, including at the AU meeting, expose the fundamental fault lines in appreciating the true nature of capitalism and its operating architecture. The independence struggle was meant to usher in a new era of freedom and self-determination underpinned by a doctrine of exchange of value yet in reality the experience has undermined the purpose of the struggle. The concept of exchange of value plays itself constructively in any society in which freedom, the rule of law and respect of property and human rights prevail. The link between freedom and prosperity is often overlooked and, on the contrary, the link between politics and business is conveniently presumed to be the creator of value. To the extent that President Mugabe holds the strong view that imperialism still limits and distorts Africa’s development trajectory, it is critical that any facts and circumstances that exist to challenge this notion are used to inform and educate the people who naively conclude that the present is a perpetual victim of the past. The present and past of Telecel Zimbabwe (TZ) occurs in the post-colonial realm of our experiences. TZ was born like its competitors during the post-colonial era. Indeed, media and public myths have been created around Mr. Makamba and his alleged relationship with the First Lady, Mrs. Grace Mugabe as part of the company’s narrative. Although Makamba has been outside the country for just over 10 years, the legend that continues to cling to his name is the alleged affair with the number one citizen’s wife. His absence from the Zimbabwean corporate and social stage is rightly or wrongly largely associated with this allegation. Mr Makamba, a black business actor, has had to endure this allegation since the 1990s when along with other actors of means; he chose to associate himself with the first family by assisting in fund raising activities. Makamba is a well-known public personality whose fame as a radio and TV personality started in the 1970s. In fact, Makamba had assisted President Mugabe’s first wife in similar fund raising activities without attracting the same allegations. Makamba, naively thinking he was playing his duty as a citizen in mobilizing resources for the vulnerable members of the Zimbabwean society, could not have had any idea that such interventions could fatally undermine his name and reputation. Notwithstanding the enduring belief held by President Mugabe that post-colonial Zimbabwe has been characterised by a strong adherence to the prescripts of the law, implicit in the allegation that Makamba and the First Lady had an affair is an idea that President Mugabe operates above the law and even a personal injury to him and his ego can assume a national character worthy of criminal prosecution under the guise of crimes against the state. A view has been peddled and now accepted as fact that Makamba’s fate was sealed when he allegedly tasted the forbidden fruit. However, Makamba has denied the allegation yet very few ears are willing to listen. The mere fact that the allegation is linked to the unfortunate purge of financially influential black persons in Zimbabwe that were authored and prosecuted by Dr. Gono the guise of a war against alleged financial indiscipline and externalisation exposes the hypocrisy that informs President Mugabe’s pan-Africanist ideas and worldview. In this case, the victims were black business actors and, with respect to Makamba, his major crime in the world of public opinion is that he strayed into the First Man’s bedroom. One would have expected the primary duty of the post-colonial state to be the protection and promotion of indigenous business actors. Charges that were invented to undermine the business affairs of indigenous persons included violations of Zimbabwe’s exchange control regulations. With respect to Makamba, he spent more than six consecutive months in prison, without trial, leading many rational persons to conclude that his case had nothing to do with what appeared on the charge sheet. Some go further to conclude that Makamba, a former Zanu PF member of parliament, mayor of Bindura and a central committee member of Zanu PF, would not have been subjected to the treatment without the knowledge and blessing of the First Man. Even his friends were and remain afraid to associate openly with Makamba’s cause for fear of the political contagion effect. Some of his fellow indigenous shareholders have opportunistically sought to take advantage of Makamba’s legal and political disability to assert non-existing rights in TZ. It is significant to mention that all the cases against Makamba were thrown out of court. The previous association of Makamba with Zanu PF political actors did not help his case. It became convenient to locate Makamba’s ordeal outside the box of lawlessness and a revolution that had lost direction. Makamba was also accused personally of failing to return roaming fees in respect of TZ. Such accusations could only be valid in the case of TZ yet in this unusual case, the charges were made against him as if to suggest that the TZ corporate veil had been lifted outside the four corners of the court. Once again, the allegations against Makamba in his personal capacity were dismissed by the court. Makamba skipped bail and left the country on 16 June 2005. He was uprooted from Zimbabwe not by the ghosts of imperialism but by the real fear that if it could happen and his freedom could be limited in the manner that it was, the same could happen with no let or hindrance if he dared get back to Zimbabwe. During his first five years in exile, Makamba sought refuge in England and not in any African state. He knew and ought to have known that his safety and security could not be secured in Africa. The sad part of the narrative is that if Makamba was the first and last victim, one would be tempted to gloss over the experience as some kind of aberration. The character and personality of TZ took a political context and content largely because of perceptions. It is striking that the alleged improper relationship between Makamba and the First Lady was also informed by perceptions and suppositions. No one has come forward with personal knowledge of the affair yet people have gullibly accepted this affair to have occurred. It is difficult to delink Makamba’s ordeal from the impact of perceptions but in post-colonial Zimbabwe allegations can easily mean convictions as the rule of law that independence promised is easily cast aside in preference of kangaroo courts. It must be accepted by any rational Zimbabwean that a collective and costly systemic failure occurred when President Mugabe assumed the larger than life personality resulting in people telling him what he wants to hear. The same has happened in the AU and SADC where his fellow heads of state have been reduced to spectators instead of dealing with the caustic effect of any leader staying too long in the corridors of power. If Makamba was guilty of encroaching into someone’s bedroom, then surely the law should have been allowed to take its own course in resolving this question. The injured party, if any, should have used the same remedies available to every citizen. With respect to the allegations of violating Zimbabwe’s exchange controls, there would have been no need to change the laws to permit the incarceration of an individual beyond 48 hours without a trial. More importantly, when the charges against Makamba were withdrawn, one would have expected some legal consequences. The mere fact that after 10 years of being in exile, no apology has been received from the regime confirms that the President has not sought, in the quietness of his time, to question the kind of society that would allow a person to be on remand for 6 consecutive months then end up being acquitted. We all had dreams of a post-colonial dispensation, but the nightmares that it has caused; have yet to register in President Mugabe’s DNA for he still believes that he has done no wrong and his longevity in power is an open expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe. In imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe, the Western Nations have failed to take cognisance of the personal and corporate injuries that have been inflicted on black persons. On the contrary, they have sought to limit their focus on the injuries perpetrated against white persons and, as a result, created a fundamental fault line in the argument for regime change. Far too many examples exist, that expose the true nature of the post-colonial administration yet even President Mugabe would hardly recognise the true character of the regime that he has presided over the last 35 years. This week, on 18 June 2015, I was visited by a young Zimbabwean businessman who narrated a horror story in respect of a business that he was running. He told me that he had literally ran away from Zimbabwe following the demise of his business and the consequential actions of creditors to his company who chose to open criminal cases against him personally instead of using the courts to recover debts from the company. He lamented the breakdown of the rule of law and the abuse of the state organs to recover debts. I told him when it happened to Makamba, we all chose to close our eyes refusing to learn from the experiences and now that the practice has now become the norm, there is no one in Africa who would come to the rescue of Zimbabweans. I told him that: «you are on your own nigger!!!!.»