The Herald (Harare)

29 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Espionage - President Speaks Out

Photo: Mabvuto Banda/IPS
Small scale tobacco farmers

PRESIDENT Mugabe yesterday expre-ssed concern at allegations that British American Tobacco was collaborating with South African tobacco firms to engage in corporate espionage to sabotage local cigarette manufacturers.

He warned that individuals involved would face the wrath of law.

The Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces said police were already investigating the matter.

He was speaking at the official launch of the BAT employee share ownership scheme.

The President said security informed him this week on the goings-on at the company.

"The good thing you have done today, I hope reflects the good ethics and good practices of BAT. But I am dismayed by information we have received over the week that BAT, operating with groups in South Africa, have been taking illicit action against another group called Savanna and a lot of things have been happening.

"Matrucks carrying fodya yeSavanna have been disappearing. Police are handling the case just now. These are briefings we got from security this week," he said.

The President's remarks come in the wake of reports that South African tobacco firms could be hiring hijackers to pounce on export cigarette consignments in transit to that country.

In the past years or so, indigenous cigarette manufacturers exporting to South Africa have lost an estimated R100 million worth of their products to the organised armed gangs.

Among the hardest-hit firms are Savanna Tobacco, Breco (Fodya Private Limited), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.

BAT, which dominated the market for decades, is spared from the hijackings.

The syndicate also involves former policemen, military, intelligence individuals, Zimra officials and the judiciary.

Investigations by The Herald show that one of the country's leading courier services provider is reportedly co-ordinating the espionage.

"I hope all will be well. In a bid to kill competition, you try to undo a competitor in that way? It is not acceptable. Some people will answer for it. It is quite a huge case. I will say it might affect you very soon," President Mugabe said.

He hinted that police could have been corruptly involved the scam too.

"That is the information we have. I hope management was not aware of it, but I know you were. It is not good to do those things.

"Let us be straight-forward and honest. Your product should be good and honest," he said.

However, BAT Zimbabwe spokesperson Ms Shungu Chirunda, denied claims that the firm was involved in any possible espionage to fend off stiff competition from indigenous cigarette manufacturers.

"We deny the allegations. Our position is we wait as the President said the matter is under investigations," said Ms Chirunda.

"We wait until we have been approached. Our position at this time is we deny the allegations. We will wait until we are approached for our position as part of investigations the President said are already underway."

BAT yesterday ceded 10 percent shareholding to its 170 employees, amounting to two million shares worth US$9,2 million.

Another 10 percent, amounting to two million shares worth US$9,9 million, were ceded to a tobacco empowerment trust earmarked for youths and women involved in tobacco growing.

BAT, which hopes to have relinquished 51 percent shareholding in line with the law by 2015, said 5,2 percent shareholding would be retained by indigenous shareholders.

It donated six tractors to the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment to be handed over to young tobacco farmers in the country.

BAT also donated 50 computers towards the Presidential schools' computerisation programme.

President Mugabe once again rallied Zimbabweans to embrace the black economic empowerment programme.

"We must re-adjust as Zimbabweans. You are greater than what you think you are in your circumstances . . . Let us be masters of our own destiny," he said.

President Mugabe said Zimbabweans should urgently move out of the mentality that they were born to slave in foreign owned companies.

He said the time was now ripe for indigenous Zimbabweans to form and successfully run their own companies, as economic empowerment was one of the goals of the liberation war.

"The process of taking 51 percent shareholding is only a process of empowering our people in companies that exist. The greater part is of our own people forming their own companies, to do that on their own not just taking what has been done by others. Establish your own mining enterprises, this is where I have a battle with you educated young people," he said.

President Mugabe urged the indigenous Zimbabweans already in business to be disciplined and castigated a tendency by some to engage in corrupt activities in a bid to "get rich overnight".

"Please, my people, getting rich is not possible in a stroke. You have to work for it. It is a process. You cannot do it in a day," he said.

He took a swipe at some bankers who have helped themselves to depositors' money saying such behaviour was unethical and unwanted.

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