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Choppies drags Mphoko’s 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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Botswana still weighing in on Maseko’s assassination

27th January 2023

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.

In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.

“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.

“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.

However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.

“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.

Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.

Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.

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Kopong Murder: Accused interferes with witnesses again!

27th January 2023

State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.

The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.

Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.

“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.

However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.

Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.

“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.

While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.

He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.

According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.

“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.

Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.

“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.

He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.

“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.

He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.

Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.

Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month

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Ngamiland Cattle Farmers Gain Green Zone Revenue

27th January 2023

Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.

Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.

To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.

These collaborative efforts being piloted in Habu and Eretsha villages also include the Pro-Nature Enterprises Project for the People of Southern Africa, funded by Agence Française de DĂ©veloppement (AFD) and Le Fonds français pour l’environnement mondial (FFEM). This complementary funding from AFD and FFEM supports the implementation of the Herding4Health (H4H) model and Rangeland Stewardship Agreements across four rangeland sites in Southern Africa, including Habu and Eretsha, to incentivize best practices that could offer sustainability in the long term for livelihoods, conservation and human-wildlife coexistence.

“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.

Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.

“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).

Through co-financing of almost P1 billion from the Botswana government and Green Climate Fund, these interventions will be replicated, through The Ecosystem Based Adaptation and Mitigation in Botswana’s Communal Rangelands project, across the country. Both projects aim to improve the economic benefits of cattle owners and multitudes of Batswana households, while contributing to land restoration and climate change efforts by the Botswana government

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