HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsAfrica 2012: When minds meet — loan shark dines with presidents

Africa 2012: When minds meet — loan shark dines with presidents


On February 18 2012, an article entitled “Loan Shark Dines With Presidents” was published by the NewsDay newspaper presumably as a rebuttal to an article published by the Sunday Mail on February 12 2012 in which it was alleged that Frank Buyanga, a Zimbabwean businessman, was on the police wanted list in connection with over 500 properties owned by companies, Hamilton Finance (HF) and Hamilton Properties (HP) in which he is a shareholder, pursuant to financial arrangements concluded between certain individuals and the companies concerned.

The choice of words for the heading of the article is significant in that an attempt is made to establish, without the assistance of any independent tribunal, the identity of Buyanga as a loan shark who is playing it large with the rich and powerful while the victims of the alleged fraudulent financial arrangements are exposed to loss of their properties.

My name must have been mischievously invoked in the article to generate an atmosphere designed to depart from the issue at hand whether in truth and fact, the financial arrangements concluded between HF and HP with the complainants violated any laws of Zimbabwe in their construction and performance.

The authors of the article knew the irrelevance of the characters including the presidents to the matter they sought to interrogate, but as typical of contemporary Zimbabwean journalism, a story will not be complete if it does not connect dots that are not connectable.

We, therefore, find ourselves in the narrative of a matter in which we do not have any constructive knowledge about other than our association with the main character in a story that at best exposes our collective underinvestment in improving financial literacy.

President Robert Mugabe has just turned 88 years old and been in power for 32 years roughly the age of Buyanga who now occupies the front pages of Zimbabwean papers not only for his choice of lifestyle and instruments of motion ie cars, but for being a key player in transactions that must have been conceived and executed by willing market participants.

The fact Buyanga is now a serious player in the capital markets of Zimbabwe at a young age could be a source of pride for the nation because at the core of the alleged dispute is an acknowledgment that through his instrumentality real cash passed hands.

It is common cause the transfer of the title, right and interest in the properties in question must have been negotiated between the parties on a voluntary basis and there was an exchange of monetary value from Buyanga’s companies to the former property owners.

The journey of independence that happens to be almost the same as Buyanga’s life journey has produced its own distortions and contradictions including the fact many older Zimbabweans find themselves in a vulnerable financial position to the extent that traditional financial institutions are not able to bridge the financial gaps created by a combination of bad policies and other factors without the intervention of players like HP and HF.

The question that remains unanswered in the article is the connection, if any, between Buyanga and the characters mentioned.

With respect to my relationship with Buyanga, a colleague and fellow member of Africa Heritage Society (AHS), a not-for-profit organisation that I helped found in 2003, introduced him to me about 18 months ago.

He then joined AHS because he subscribed to the view Africa’s better days can only come if we change the way we think and do business.

I then learned subsequently about his business affairs and the challenges he was facing. His experiences are no different to mine when you critically unpack them.

He is alleged to be a front of Nick Van Hoogstraten, no different from how I am perceived. Is it not strange that it has become customary in Zimbabwe to see a shadow in every face where prosperity is revealed?

It is alleged in the article Buyanga is on the run from the police and the same description was used for me.

Precisely what the interest of the police in the affairs of Buyanga and his companies is never explained properly in as much as the interest of Honourable Emmerson Mnangagwa and Honourable Patrick Chinamasa in the matters of Shabani Mashaba Mine Holdings (Pvt) Ltd.

We also learn that it is Buyanga they are after and not the companies he holds shares in. The personalisation of corporate matters is not new in Zimbabwe.

After 32 years of independence, it is evident that an investment in the understanding of corporate citizens, their rights and obligations has not been made.

Even when the Prime Minister recently said people of Zimbabwe must pray for their leaders to have the right wisdom to govern the country, it is not difficult to appreciate the worldview where the thought process comes from.

Notwithstanding the fact that leaders have not found a mechanism to cheat death, there is still a belief leaders actually govern countries and must necessarily possess superior wisdom and they alone should have hegemony over the State ignoring the abundant evidence that the longer one stays in power the higher the risk of moral decay.

It is easy to understand why the progress made by non-State actors like Buyanga is easily misunderstood.

A view widely held is that only State actors must have the mind that is clean, productive, benevolent and progressive.

Instead of encouraging people to pray for everyday people, we are increasingly being asked to look at State actors as principal sources of salvation yet the Buyanga matter suggests otherwise.

The beneficiaries of HF defy the logic that when one most needs help one must look to State actors. Even prominent Zimbabweans were beneficiaries including ministers.

By targeting the few points of light while celebrating instruments of darkness (Manheru), what kind of Zimbabwe do citizens really want to create?

A Zimbabwe, for instance, in which people can receive funds today and then tomorrow like chameleons turn against the very people from whom other people may find solutions if everybody does what they promise to do, can surely not be the Zimbabwe that many fought and died for.

Buyanga is a victim of his own generosity. When people wanted money from his companies they knew what to do and State organs were never involved yet today State organs are taking the centre stage in resolving what appears to be purely civil disputes.

In my own case, the police was borrowed to do the hatchet job and the victim, ultimately were the thousands of direct and indirect beneficiaries of the companies I was associated with.

As we look back at the last 32 years, we find the absence of a moral centre in Zimbabwe.

People who misbehave must be afraid and yet the leadership that we have has allowed bad behaviour to take root to the extent that villains can transform themselves into saints with ease and impunity.

It is and should be irrelevant whether Buyanga is connected to Van Hoogstraten in dealing with the untenable situation where people, who have received value from companies, want to use the State to entrench enrichment acquired unjustly.

It is correct that a morality now exists in Zimbabwe where commercial disputes can be resolved through intimidation intermediated by law enforcement institutions.

I have no doubt that Mugabe will be told that a fraudster in the name of Buyanga is mischievously using his name to create an impression of connectivity to hide criminality, instead of being given the correct version that under his watch morality has eroded and people like Buyanga, who have been there for people when most in need, are being thrown out of the bus that is surely going nowhere.

Zimbabwe needs more entrepreneurs and the Buyanga story, like that of many others, provides yet another opportunity to reflect on what has gone wrong in post-colonial Zimbabwe and what needs to be done to create a kind of society that is inclusive, progressive, just and equitable.

Today is Buyanga, only God knows who is next, while we refuse to see where change must begin.
The State must remain neutral to be credible and bad behaviour must be punishable.

If HF is paid what is due then I see no need to criminalise or involve Buyanga.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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