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Choppies drags Mphokos son to Court

Former Zimbabwean Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s son and non-executive director of Choppies Zimbabwe, Siqokoqela, has been charged with 170 counts of fraud after allegedly making unauthorised cash pick-ups of up to $52,000 from Choppies retail outlets in Zimbabwe.

This ongoing court case has also been linked to his ongoing shareholder dispute with other Choppies shareholders in Botswana. Siqokoqela, 40, has already appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Sithembiso Ncube and was remanded to September 14 on $200 bail. The case was expected to go for trial this week but was postponed to next week after it emerged that some files were not duly served on the defence.

Furthermore, Siqokogela’s wife, Nomagugu, 36, was charged with 49 counts of extortion. She is accused of swiping-for-cash at 15 supermarkets and threatening to have managers of Indian origin sacked if they refused to give her cash, which is scarce in Zimbabwe. They are both represented by Professor Welshman Ncube of Mathonsi Law Chambers.

Siqokoqela, being a shareholder and director of Nanavac Investments Private Limited trading as Choppies Zimbabwe, is accused of deceived employees that he was entitled to receive certain amounts of money and services. Choppies Zimbabwe is represented by Ottapathi Ramachandran who is the group CEO for Choppies Distribution Centre Private Limited and Choppies Enterprises.

Siqokoqela is a shareholder and one of the six directors of Choppies Zimbabwe. He is currently disputing the shareholding structure as presented by Ramachandran and other directors. Siqokogela is claiming that the 51% he holds has capital interest while the Botswana based Choppies directors point out that he only has 7% economic interest.

THE SHAREHOLDING DISPUTE EXPLAINED

Choppies was approached by Raj Modi who is currently deputy Trade Minister in Zimbabwe to buy 7 stores from him. At the time he had won 7 Spar outlets. After agreeing on a price to buy the business from Modi, Choppies had the task of looking for a local partner to satisfy the Zimbabwe law at the time which stipulated 51 percent for locals and 49 percent shareholding split for locals.

Siqokogela who was by then working for Capital Management Botswana (CMB) as a clerk approached Choppies and promised to deliver a local partner in Zimbabwe, who was his father Phelekezela Mphoko. At the time Mphoko was Zimbabwe Ambassador to South Africa and had indicated that he will be retiring in six months’ time and relocating to Zimbabwe. Choppies proceeded by acquiring a $20 million loan in Zimbabwe and pumping in P5 million from its Botswana operations. 

This was in 2013 and 8 stores were opened to start the business. Today Choppies Zimbabwe operates 35 stores, employs 2200 employees with 85% of the products sold in outlets sourced locally. At this stage Mphoko (who had returned to Zimbabwe in December 2013 as a retiring diplomat) still had 7% economic interest and 51% shareholding in Choppies Zimbabwe to satisfy the country’s regulatory environment then.

The other Choppies shareholders remained with 93% economic interest and 49% shareholding for voting rights. Communication between Choppies Distribution and Mphoko indicates that he was given shareholding on silver plate, he did not contribute a dollar, furthermore he was not holding any political office at the time he was given the shares. Choppies Distribution Centre was given the full control to operate the business.

HOW MPHOKO’S SON CAME INTO THE PICTURE

Siqokogela was somewhere between 2014 and 2015 given a job as a Business Development Manager in Choppies Zimbabwe. There were a number of political twists in Zimbabwe at the time and his father, Phelekezela was later appointed Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe in 2015. This then forced Choppies shareholding to push him to step down as director because of his political office, although there was a bit of resistance, he ultimately resigned. However he continued getting his 7% economic interest.

Government changed in Zimbabwe in 2017 after Robert Mugabe was removed from the Presidency and Emmerson Mnagagwa ascended to power. With some of his changes, the 51/49 percent legal instrument was no longer applicable and Mphoko was informed by other shareholders that the shares arrangement needed to be fixed.

There is back and forth communication on this subject, with the Mphoko side avoiding deliberating or engaging on it until he was removed from the Vice Presidency. This is where Mphoko’s son started getting involved on the matter indicating that they were not agreeable to the proposals from the other shareholders.

With cash running dry in Zimbabwe and Phelekezela having retired with no consistent income, the war for the control of Choppies Zimbabwe economic interest was inevitable. Weekend Post gathers that the Choppies CEO, Ramachandran was instructed by Choppies chairman, Festus Mogae fly to Zimbabwe and lay fraud charges against Siqokogela after they discovered that he was cashing money from Choppies outlets. The Zimbabwe Commercial Crimes Unit has slapped him with 170 charges. At no point during this business relationship were the Mphokos signatories to the bank.

During this tiff with Mphoko junior, Choppies found itself in accusations of money laundering and false investigations being linked to their business. Choppies Zimbabwe has a restraining order against Siqokogela so that he does not enter the outlets or come near employees. It has also emerged that the other shareholders have an option to buy 44% of his shares for $1. The company has two classes of shares – the economic interest and voting rights shares.

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BTC launches the 3rd Francistown Marathon 2024 and handover proceeds to the 2nd Francistown Marathon beneficiaries

8th December 2023

Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTC) has announced that its 3rd Francistown Marathon will be held on Saturday 20th April 2024 at Obed Itani Chilume Stadium in Francistown. The BTC Francistown Marathon is officially recognised by World Athletics and a Comrades Marathon Qualifier will offer race categories ranging from 42.2km, 21.1 km, 10km, 5km fun run, 5km peace run for children and has introduced a 5km and 10km categories for wheelchairs athletics.

BTC also used this opportunity to announce beneficiaries who received donations from proceeds made from the 2nd BTC Francistown Marathon that was held on April 23rd 203.  BTC donated a play area, plastic chairs and wooden tables for pupils worth a total of thirty eight thousand, one hundred and three pula, fifty thebe each (P38, 103.50) to Monarch Primary School, Tatitown Primary School, Mahube Primary School and Gulubane Primary School. Ditladi and Boikhutso clinics each received a donation of benches, television sets and 10, 000 litre water tanks worth thirty seven thousan, eight hundred and ninety eight pula (P 37, 898.00). Additionally, BTC also donated seventy thousand pula (P70,000.00) to their marathon technical partner, Francistown Athletics Club (FAC) which will be used for daily operations as well as to purchase equipment for the club.

The BTC Francistown Marathon aligns seamlessly with BTC’s corporate social investment programme, administered through the BTC Foundation. This programme is a testament to BTC’s dedication to community development, focusing on key areas such as health promotion. The marathon, now in its third year, not only promotes a healthy lifestyle but also channels all proceeds to carefully chosen charities as part of BTC’s commitment to impactful and sustainable projects.

Speaking at the launch, the BTC Managing Director Mr Anthony Masunga stated that the marathon underscores BTC’s commitment to community upliftment and corporate social investment. He stated that “the annual event which has been in existence since 2016, having taken a break due to the covid and other logistical issues, is instrumental to the economic upliftment of the city of Francistown”. He congratulated all the beneficiaries for having been nominated to receive the donations, adding that “the donation of proceeds from the 2023 marathon aims to highlight BTC’s commitment and heart for Batswana and our continued impact in the different industries”.

He further stated that through this marathon, “we demonstrate our steadfast commitment to having a good influence on our communities, this event is a manifestation of our dedication to promoting education and a healthier, more active society”.  He concluded by stating that “BTC looks forward to another successful marathon that will leave a lasting positive influence on the greater Francistown community and the country at large” he said.

Giving welcome remarks, the Councillor for Donga, Honourable Morulaganyi Mothowabarwa stated that “he is ecstatic that BTC is collaborating with the City of Francistown on yet another installment of the Marathon”. He continued to offer his support to BTC to enable this marathon to continue over the coming years, stating that the “CSI element is a welcome development that helps empower our communities”, he said.

The 3rd BTC Francistown Marathon is officially open for registrations and athletes may use the following platforms to register and pay; through Smega by dialling *173# and choosing opton 5, then choose Option 3 for the Francistown marathon, at any BTC store or by visiting the BTC website and clicking on the BTC Francistown Marathon and choosing the relevant options.

 

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Letsholo lauds President Masisi’s digitization in fight against corruption

8th December 2023

Thapelo Letsholo, Member of Parliament for Kanye North, delivered a moving speech at the United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day commemoration, praising President Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi’s digitalization initiative in the fight against corruption. Letsholo highlighted the importance of embracing digitalization in governance as a crucial step in curbing corrupt practices.

According to Letsholo, the implementation of digital systems in government services can significantly reduce direct interactions between citizens and officials, which often serve as fertile grounds for corruption. By minimizing these opportunities for illicit activities, the efficiency and transparency of public services can be enhanced. Letsholo pointed to Estonia’s success in digital governance as an example, where public services have become more transparent, accessible, and efficient.

The MP commended President Masisi’s commitment to digitalization and E-Governance, emphasizing that it aligns with global anti-corruption standards. He called for full support and active participation from all sectors to ensure the success of this initiative.

Letsholo also stressed the importance of improving detection methods and refining whistleblower laws to effectively combat corruption. He highlighted the unseen and unspoken facets of corruption as its lifelines, emphasizing the need for robust detection mechanisms and a system that encourages and protects whistleblowers.

Addressing the societal role in fighting corruption, Letsholo focused on the crucial role of everyday citizens and civil servants who often witness corrupt practices firsthand. He acknowledged the existing reluctance to report corruption due to the perceived risks of repercussions. To change this narrative, Letsholo advocated for creating an environment where staying silent is deemed more detrimental than speaking out. He called for a cultural shift where the potential benefits of exposing corruption outweigh the risks, ensuring that whistleblowers are protected and feel secure in coming forward.

Letsholo called for collective responsibility and action in creating a system that not only detects and reports corruption but also supports those who stand against it. He expressed hope that under President Masisi’s digitalization initiatives, the future of governance in Botswana will be characterized by integrity, transparency, and accountability. Letsholo’s speech resonated with the sentiments of hope and determination that permeated the commemoration, emphasizing the need for unity in the fight against corruption.

In summary, Letsholo lauded President Masisi’s digitalization initiative in the fight against corruption, highlighting its potential to curb corrupt practices, enhance efficiency and transparency in public services, and align with global anti-corruption standards. He emphasized the importance of improving detection methods, refining whistleblower laws, and creating an environment where speaking out against corruption is encouraged and protected. Letsholo called for collective responsibility and action in creating a future characterized by integrity, transparency, and accountability in governance.

 

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FaR property assets value clock P1.47 billion

6th December 2023

FaR Property Company (FPC) Limited, a property investment company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, has recently announced its exceptional financial results for the year 2023. The company’s property asset value has risen to P1.47 billion, up from P1.42 billion in the previous year.

FPC has a diverse portfolio of properties, including retail, commercial, industrial, and residential properties in Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia. The company owns a total of 186 properties, generating rental revenues from various sectors. In 2023, the company recorded rental revenues of P11 million from residential properties, P62 million from industrial properties, and P89 million from commercial properties. Overall, the company’s total revenues increased by 9% to P153 million, while profit before tax increased by 22% to P136 million, and operating profit increased by 11% to P139 million.

One notable achievement for FPC is the low vacancy rate across its properties, which stands at only 6%. This is particularly impressive considering the challenging trading environment. The company attributes this success to effective lease management and the leasing of previously vacant properties in South Africa. FPC’s management expressed satisfaction with the results, highlighting the resilience of the company in the face of ongoing macroeconomic challenges.

The increase in profit before tax can be attributed to both an increase in income and effective control of operating expenses. FPC managed to achieve these results with fewer employees, demonstrating the company’s efficiency. The headline earnings per linked unit also saw an improvement, reaching 26.92 thebe, higher than the previous year.

Looking ahead, FPC remains confident in its competitiveness and growth prospects. The company possesses a substantial land bank, which it plans to develop strategically as opportunities arise. FPC aims for managed growth, focusing on consumer-driven developments and ensuring the presence of supportive tenants. By maintaining this approach, the company believes it can sustainably grow its property portfolio and remain competitive in the market.

In terms of the macroeconomic environment, FPC noted that inflation rates are decreasing towards the 3% to 6% range approved by the Bank of Botswana. This is positive news for the company, as it hopes for further decreases in interest rates. However, the fluctuating fuel prices, influenced by global events such as the war in Ukraine and oil output reductions by Russia and other Middle Eastern countries, continue to impact businesses, including some of FPC’s tenants.

FPC’s property portfolio includes notable assets such as a shopping mall in Francistown with Choppies Hyper as the anchor tenant, Borogo Mall located on the A33 main road near the Kazungula ferry crossing, and various industrial and commercial properties in Gaborone leased to Choppies, Senn Foods, and Clover Botswana. The company also owns a shopping mall in Mafikeng and Rustenburg in South Africa.

The majority of FPC’s properties, 85%, are located in Botswana, followed by 12% in South Africa and 3% in Zambia. With its strong financial performance, competitive position, and strategic land bank, FPC is well-positioned for continued growth and success in the property market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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