BY TAWANDA MAJONI
Some of the things that happen at State House these days! Hmm, you really wonder…
People jump straight out of bed and rush for a photo shoot with the president in boxer shorts and petticoats. More photo shoots with crooks who come to announce fake donations. Even more photo shoots with all manner of gutter characters. At this rate, roaches will be climbing up your trousers just for going through Borrowdale Road, past State House.
There seems to be no vetting taking place at all. There is neither decorum nor finesse. State House is no longer heavy, as they say in Mbare, Mufakose, Mabvuku and other ghettoes. Some say it’s now cheaper than a Blair toilet — complete with the stink — but I don’t know much about that.
There is this young dude called Pedzisayi Sakupwanya. They call him Scott. Last week on Tuesday, he was at State House. He now knows the way to the presidential joint even with his eyes closed. President Emmerson Mnangagwa gifted him with an award—the Best Gold Buyer of the Year for 2021—in the presence of his one and only VP, Constantino Chiwenga, and the Mines minister, Winston Chitando.
That made the occasion a pretty big occasion. As you know by now, Scott is a gold dealer. Strangely, you always find it difficult to think of him as a proper miner. “Dealer” is a more suitable word, considering its connotations and what the young guy has been doing all along, but more about this in a little.
Ordinarily, you would say Scott’s sun is rising quite fast. Ordinarily, that would make him a role model. Back in the dry days, he was a mere gardener, digging up the worms and clipping the roses at some plush place.
But now, Scott is a multi-millionaire. Last year, his company, Better Brands Jewellery (BBJ), sold a whopping 7.8 tonnes of gold to Fidelity Printers. That was a humongous — if not mysterious — increase from the 800kg the previous year. The BBJ model is that the company buys from small-scale artisanal miners. “Small-scale” also includes the illegal makorokoza, of course.
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Just recently, Scott was elevated to the presidency of the Affirmative Action Group. That small, elitist club of eaters that the ruling Zanu PF would want us to believe is an empowerment group when we all know it isn’t. Last year, he was appointed the Gold Buyers’ Association of Zimbabwe president, and he is already the head of this shady grouping called Upfumi Kuvadiki.
That must mean that Scott is a hard worker. Hard workers can easily win your admiration. But then, it’s not every hard worker that is a good worker. You know too well about Lucifer, right? That chap doesn’t mind the super heat of hell. He works in it every day, every hour, every minute. He is always busy receiving, documenting, cursing and roasting all the poor chaps that would have been condemned by St Peters at the Pearl Gates. And nobody likes Lucifer.
Again just recently, Scott won ward 21 in Mabvuku during the by-elections. He grew up in that hood so it must be a sweet experience to become a councillor in his home area.
But, as his sun is rising, something noble must be sinking. You can’t belabour the argument. While it is everyone’s wish to see young Zimbabweans growing and making it in life, President Mnangagwa erred by accepting to officiate at last Tuesday’s award giving ceremony at State House. How is that? You see, Scott doesn’t deserve an award.
Let’s go east to start with. Scott isn’t the best reference where gold mining is concerned. Talk to the people in Penhalonga if you don’t believe this accusation. His other company, Better Brands Mining Company, has left a trail of destruction at Redwing. At the last tally, local civil society and community members say, Better Brands had dug up in the region of 5 000 pits in search of gold at Redwing. And all those pits remain like sores on poor Lazarus’s body.
The company is not worrying a single thing about filling up the pits that have been dug up in a mining area that is reserved for underground rather than surface mining. And you know just as well that damaging and then failing to reclaim damaged land is a crime. It’s a pity that the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) — which has visited the area on countless occasions and condemned the environmental damage — has not been able to do anything about this carnage.
The EMA guys seem to be too scared to at least fine Better Brands. People out there in Penhalonga whisper that Scott is untouchable. They say he is too close to the Mnangagwa family. You can forgive them for such a speculation. Despite Scott being a regular visitor to State House, he hangs around with the Mnangagwa kids a lot. It’s not like these are casual meetings at the local pub, no.
The police in Penhalonga are, literally, sick and tired of Scott and Better Brands, which we hear had its activities stopped in December last year and then replaced with what looks like a face-veiling proxy, Duatlet Investments. They haven’t been able to act against Scott for all his alleged misdemeanour in Penhalonga.
There was fury and thunder at Redwing last year. Militias sourced from as far as Kwekwe descended on the mine, beating up people and doing all sorts of mischief. You know those militias now. They don’t hesitate to spill blood. They were chasing away all perceived rivals of Better Brands. Nobody is accusing Scott of anything here. What you don’t understand is why these machete-brandishing goons were fighting from Scott’s corner and defending what Better Brands insisted was its. Who hired the murderous “mercenaries”?
Even if it wasn’t Scott who was sponsoring the militias, fact is that people ended up believing that he was the sponsor. That’s in the court of public opinion, and public opinion is supreme. That’s why organisations like the Centre for Natural Resource Governance and the Centre for Research and Development are fuming that Scott got an award. Ultimately, that complaint is aimed at the president. For he endorsed someone widely considered a war-monger and slayer of the environment.
But Scott’s sins go beyond the above. His company was using cyanide and mercury to purify the gold. You know this now; the government banned the use of mercury in gold production and so on. Better Brands has been using mercury and probably continues to do so. That means Better Brands has been doing and probably continues to do criminal work in the gold sector.
Add to that the fact that Better Brands illegally acquired the 132 gold claims at Redwing and was mining illegally too, considering that the company had no licence for surface mining. People know too well by now that procedure wasn’t followed when Cecil Madondo, the Redwing Mining Company judicial manager then, gave Better Brands the claims in December 2020. Madondo had, two months earlier, given the same claims to Probadek Investments. And, by the way, Madondo was arrested and taken to court for this. His case is still pending, at the last check.
Curiously, Scott wasn’t arrested alongside Madondo. That gives credence to the speculation that he is receiving protection from high offices. And when President Mnangagwa, against all odds, endorses Scott’s shady gold dealings, you have every right to suspect that the protector is the president.
So, it seems Scott and his company or companies are criminals. If you reward a criminal with an award or at least endorse an award obtained through criminal means, you are guilty of the same. That means President Mnangagwa is guilty of the same. Your common law will tell you that at a basic level. In other words, the president erred when he presided over the award ceremony.
But the damage stretches beyond the images of State House and President Mnangagwa. The whole absurdity that accompanies these decisions get to haunt the national economy and the people of Zimbabwe. Simply because the highest office on the land lacks tact and wisdom.
Because of people like Scott, Zimbabwean gold keeps being regarded dirty where it matters in international circles. The London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) is a case in mind. Zimbabwe was banned from trading gold on the LBMA way back in 2008. For the reason, then, that gold production had plummeted to around three tonnes a year, way below the minimum 10 tonnes that LBMA required.
Now, the LBMA is a strategic international marketing platform and the Zimbabwean authorities know this. That is why, over the years, the government has attempted to get back into the association rather having to sell its gold only through the Rand Refinery in South Africa.
Ordinarily, you would say the LBMA is being racist and too selective to keep rejecting Zimbabwe’s requests to be readmitted. After all, one would say, we are now producing well above the 10-tonne threshold.
But even if the LBMA may not be saying this directly, minimum gold tonnage is necessary but not sufficient. There are other factors that must be considered. And one such big factor is how we are producing our gold. The LBMA would always be queasy to readmit Zimbabwe given the environmental, legal and human rights violations that are associated with gold production by the likes of Scott Sakupwanya.
Fidelity Printers and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe are fully aware of the fact that all the gold it is receiving from artisanal gold miners like Better Brands is illegal, because it is produced illegally using mercury that has been banned by our very own government.
No-one is complaining that gold production is increasing. We all need that to resurge the economy. But there are certain things that must be done, and certain mistakes that must be avoided. Particularly by the leadership. Endorsing a Scott gold award is one such mistake.
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on [email protected]