Billy Rautenbach, also known as Muller Conrad Rautenbach (born 23 September 1959), is a wealthy Zimbabwean businessman. In the mid 1990s, Rautenbach’s business empire had spread to more than a dozen African countries earning him the nickname “Napoleon of Africa”. He also owns companies in Australia and the UK.
Billy Rautenbach’s business ventures involves trucking, car manufacturing, farming and mining in several African countries. After expanding the family business, Wheels of Africa, into the largest trucking company on the African continent, he turned to car assembling, greatly increasing the market share of Hyundai in South Africa. Circa 2004, tax evasion charges were soon leveled against him by the South African authorities resulting in asset forfeiture worth 50 million rands, which forced him to leave South Africa. The National Prosecuting Authority failed to secure a conviction and withdrew the charges two years later. Although his personal assets were returned, the legal battles against tax evasion charges cost him the Hyundai business and earned him a lot of negative publicity. Rautenbach continued to have substantial mining activities in South Africa. In 2006, Central African Mining & Exploration Company plc (CAMEC), a company Rautenbach became involved with, and listed on the London stock exchange, acquired various mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
With the assistance of his father’s trucking business, contacts in transporting minerals, and using innovative mining techniques, he successfully mined state owned companies and attracted the attention of the government. With the eye of an outsider, he developed a different technique and out-mined the state company in a very short period of time: “We did it very selectively. We slowed down the process and picked it out in very high grade and with very little investment.” Billy’s unorthodox approach was highly successful, and showed the massive inefficiency of the state-run enterprises. In 1998, Laurent Kabila offered Billy a chance to lead state-owned Gecamines. Despite initial reluctance, he finally accepted, and in doing so, successfully turned around the fortunes of the company by cutting costs and improving efficiencies. However, the rebel-infested country began to create trouble for the Congolese government who, in a search of funds, issued allegations of misappropriation of corporate assets. Allegations also surfaced that he was financing the Congo war. Rautenbach has denied any allegations of financing the DRC war, logically stating that he was in business in the Congo long before the war broke out: “I started mining in the Congo about a year before the war started. So all of a sudden, the war is there because of me. It’s unbelievable.” “We were very active there in getting the production going, in turning around things. We were possibly affecting people’s commercial interests … I set up a little mine there, and out-produced the major cobalt producers in the world in one year. They spend billions of dollars putting up a plant and I come there as a farmer – me and my dad – and we got the stuff out of the ground.” However, stories continued circulating: allegations that he was Mugabe’s right-hand man, that he had bribed Kabila into securing his mining concessions, and that his mines were financing Zimbabwe’s soldiers in the DRC. To date, there have not been any substantiation on claims of Billy Rautenbach’s links to Robert Mugabe and the European Union struck him off the targeted sanctions list in February 2012.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES
In favor of sustainable development, Rautenbach saw to it that CAMEC created employment for over 5,000 people at its Luita plant. At an average of five people per household, 25,000 people are currently being sustained as a result of this operation. The latter also saw the completion of an expatriate staff village of 3,000 people – fondly known as Billyville by employees and contractors – with over 200 houses, recreation facilities, staffing hostels, and a 2,000 m2 office complex. Moreover, millions of dollars were reinvested into the DRC to uplift the communities surrounding CAMEC’s operations. These projects included renovations to a clinic and the provision of necessary medical equipment, and the construction of a crèche and primary school. Construction also included a technical college to educate 3,600 children in the skills needed at the processing plant such as mechanics, electronics and welding to help alleviate the skills shortages in the DRC. Further CSI initiatives included the reconstructing of local infrastructure i.e. the 80 km national road between Kolwezi and Likasi previously damaged by floods more than 15 years ago; power lines of 23,4 km from the town of Fungurume to Luita, and a state of the art water treatment system providing 40,000 litres of drinkable water per day was constructed in an area previously known for cholera. The company also commissioned and built two dams of 50,000 m3 and 1,5 million litres respectively. CAMEC’s mining and production operation at Luita also helped create business opportunities for local contractors such as brick making plants.
SUBSEQUENT ACTIVITIES IN ZIMBABWE – GREEN FUEL INVESTMENTS
Rautenbach’s greatest achievement to date has been in mobilizing investment towards bio-ethanol leading to the construction of the Green Fuel Chisumbanje ethanol plant modeled along the lines of Brazil’s biofuel cane industry. The ambitious project is a build, operate and transfer partnership between government represented by the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (Arda), Green Fuel Investments (headed by Billy Rautenbach) and two other investment partners – Rating Investments and Macdom Investments. The 20-year pact was signed in February 2009. The project is the biggest so far in Africa. Some sections of the media claim that the project was a land grab because of the huge tracts of land bought by the investors, however, repeated monitoring visits by officials from the Zimbabwean government, the World Bank and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization qualified the industrial development as necessary for the poverty stricken district (see below – creation of jobs). The ethanol project has subsequently set records for Zimbabwe as being the first African country with flexi-fuel vehicle technology using blends of up to 85% ethanol and reducing the country’s fuel import bill, creating over 4,500 jobs and leading Zimbabwe to a greener economy. By contributing to the production of ethanol based fuel, Green fuel has helped the country to save at least $2 million every month in fuel imports. However, the mandatory fuel blending imposed by the government on behalf of Green Fuel has been met with disdain and viewed as a symbol of Rautenbach’s far reaching influence on the ZANU-PF led government.
Creation of jobs
The project, possibly Africa’s largest eco-project to date, has created more jobs in Zimbabwe than any other in the last 20 years. Green Fuel is also supplying irrigation for the first time to peasant farmers working in dry areas around the sugar cane fields. It is foreseen that the venture will continue to create employment for more than 8000 people. Already, the venture is sponsoring nearly $2,000,000 every month in salaries alone for 120 full-time employees and hundreds of contract workers from villages dotted around the ARDA estates transforming the lives of people in Chisumbanje, including others at growth points such as Checheche and in towns as far afield as Chipinge and Chiredzi. Zimbabwe does not have personnel experienced in ethanol plant construction work and through job training programmes, Green Fuel has created a set of skilled ethanol plant artisans marketable worldwide thereby empowering the local people through technological transfer. Moreover, the planned construction of the Kondo Dam for increased water volumes needed along the Save River will create more jobs for the rural populace. Further to this, a steel fabricating unit has been established in Harare with a staff of over 100 artisans involved in the manufacture of parts required for the ethanol project. 13 Local commuter bus companies in Chipinge have been contracted to ferry labor from the villages to the project site on a daily basis. More importantly, 30% of the artisans employed in the distillery and boiler sections of the ethanol plant are Zimbabweans previously based outside the country in South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. Community leaders in Chisumbanje said they are fully behind the project as it will uplift their livelihoods, “We really support the project as we are the first beneficiary in the sense that development will be realised in our once marginalized area. We shall benefit economically, infrastructural and even socially,” said one community leader.
Community irrigation construction and rehabilitation
A priority within the ethanol investment project is to ensure the local ownership component. In an effort to counter the devastating impact of years of poverty-inducing drought, a socially responsible intervention was made to provide access to water for rural farmers for all-year round farming needs. At Chisumbanje, a new 4000 hectare irrigation scheme is being developed for communal farming. To date, 700 farmers recovering from drought have been allocated new irrigation plots with packages of input to kick-start their operations. It is projected that by mid-2013, 1080 farmers will be active irrigators and at project completion this figure should peak to 8000 plot holders. A ‘community irrigation schemes water engineering department’ has been created at Middle Sabi and is operational seeing to the day-to-day needs of the schemes in terms of water conveyance. The Sabi River and a functional irrigation system is now the lifeline of the area. As a result of the project, Checheche Growth Point has since applied for town status in anticipation of a boom in business as a state-of-the-art shopping mall and a residential area is in the offing.
Green Fuel has commenced rehabilitative works on key public service facilities which include schools, roads and health centres. Work has commenced in this direction with initial focus on educational facilities on both estates and the major health referral centre closest to Chisumbanje-St Peters Hospital at Checheche, with the construction of new structures to cater for the swelling service demand created by the volumes of staff on site.
Commercial out grower programme
This programme targets individual farmers keen on growing sugarcane to supply the mill. The farmers are supplied with all the technical assistance in the form of land preparation for 10 hectares and inputs whose costs are deductible from their total sales after harvesting. To date, 650 hectares have been developed in the pilot programme and handed over to 241 farmers for a pioneer programme.
Effect on the Zimbabwean economy
Upon completion of the project, between 2,5 million and 2,8 million litres of ethanol will be produced daily. The production of such volumes of ethanol would be expected to end the country’s importation of petrol as consumers convert to the use of the cheaper fuel. Excess ethanol-petrol export could be an important source for foreign currency.
Ethanol is a clean burning fuel that reduces air pollution and decreases green house gas emissions by over 60%. As talks of climate change gather momentum, Zimbabwe joins countries such as Brazil and China in discussing how to reduce carbon footprints through investment into ethanol.
Billy Rautenbach lives on his farm on the outskirts of Harare with his family, and is involved in natural land conservation. He and his son Conrad have been active in rally racing.