Mpofu subsequently left Zimbabwe to study journalism at the University of New Delhi. While his career as a journalist would be short-lived—brief stints as a reporter in Zambia, and years later as a manager at Zimbabwe Newspapers—his time in India would pay dividends three decades later in securing a market for Marange’s tainted diamonds.
From Mpofu’s return from India it was clear he had ambitions for himself. In the early days of an independent Zimbabwe Mpofu made a career decision some still consider opportunistic: he renounced his family’s political roots and joined ZANU. The reason was less political than a matter of survival.
At the time Mpofu was working as a manager with Customs and Excise in Harare, where he was remembered for engaging in conduct unbecoming of a civil servant, including accepting a junket to Bulgaria from the Balkan Airlines representative at Harare International Airport.
He was later investigated for allegedly smuggling some televisions into Zimbabwe. Several sources have confirmed that faced with the possibility of criminal charges, Mpofu sought out the advice of Enos Nkala, a ZANU patriarch, who recommend that joining the party would result in a favourable outcome.
Mpofu did and he was never charged with any infraction. The political conversion was no small matter considering the growing repression of ZAPU supporters and leaders by President Mugabe and his party.
The persecution culminated in the infamous Gukurahundi massacres, in which the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade executed an estimated 20,000 people in Matabeleland. The pogroms achieved their purpose: in 1987 ZAPU leaders capitulated and merged with ZANU, effectively marginalizing any political competition to Mugabe.
For Mpofu, his political conversion opened up doors, launching his career as a ZANU politician, first at the provincial level and finally at the national level where he quickly rose through the ranks. In 2000, the President appointed him Governor of Matabeleland, and five years later, Minister of Industry and International Trade—an appointment best remembered for his failed attempt to fix commodity prices during hyperinflation, resulting in empty shops.
As he rose through the ZANU ranks, Mpofu began dabbling in the private sector. Other than his flagship companies— Trebo and Khays, Maminza Transport, Khanando Safari and Tours, and the recently acquired ZABG bank, which are registered companies— little is known of Mpofu’s business empire.
The Zimbabwean media has often referred to Mpofu going on a real estate “buying spree”, primarily in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, since the Marange diamond rush but have provided little corroborating evidence.
The most detailed, yet unconfirmed report, listed cash-purchases of a supermarket in Victoria Falls’ Chinotimba high density suburb, three houses in a medium-density area, two cruise boats on the Zambezi, five houses in Mkhosana high-density suburb, three houses in Chinotimba, two industrial stands, one large stand in Chisuma, one big industrial stand next to Chinotimba stadium, four industrial stands on the Airport road, and four medium-density plots.
Proving ownership of many of these properties, particularly in high-density areas, is difficult due to non-existent, or out of date, municipal records. Mpofu’s habit of not registering his smaller companies further hampers efforts to get a full picture of his business holdings.
In December 2011, however, Mpofu’s vanity got the better of him and he unwittingly gave Zimbabweans a window into his empire. He did it in the most public forum possible—a 16 page advertorial in The Chronicle, a pro-ZANU daily in Bulawayo.
The advertorial was ostensibly published and funded by Mpofu to mark his 60th birthday and his doctorate in “Policy Studies” from the Zimbabwean Open University, a distance based institution. Among the words of encouragement from family members and articles extolling Mpofu as the “minister with [a] diamond touch”, a “leader of quality and stead” and a “true people’s servant” were advertisements linked to Mpofu’s main businesses.
Among the listed companies with established links to Mpofu were Trebo and Khays, Maminza Properties, Maminza Transport, Khanondo Safari and Tours, Khanondo Car Hire, Horseshow Estate, KoMpofu La Sports Bar, Luna Rainbow Tours, Guest Paradise Lodge, Good Memories Lodge, Mswelangubo Farm, New Miners Restaurant (Hwange), Accut and Crews Village, Moya Security and Matetsi Meat Butchery.
PAC could not definitively link Mpofu to several other businesses that took out adverts, including, Zainali Holdings, Clarendon Court P/L, Moban Investments, and Steelfab Engineering (a division of Engzib Investments). Ryan’s Brick Work was also listed—a company known to have installed tens of thousands of dollars of brick paving at his Umguza residence ahead of his 60th birthday party.
Like many of his ZANU brethren, Mpofu built much of his wealth through “vulture capitalism”—a money for nothing appropriation of profitable businesses and/or assets that are later “legitimized” through normal business activity.
The land seizures of the 2000’s are one expression of this phenomenon, whereby top ZANU apparatchiks acquired commercial farms and took over the business affairs of the former white owners. Without exerting any sweat equity or risking any financial obligation with a bank a few of these individuals turned themselves into successful farmers overnight.
Many others, including Mbada CEO Robert Mhlanga and the late General Solomon Mujuru, made fortunes exploiting high value minerals—particularly gold—during Zimbabwe’s intervention in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although a wealthy man before his appointment as Minister of Mines in 2009, Mpofu’s assets and spending habits have grown exponentially since he granted the first diamond mining licence to Mhlanga and David Kassell, a South African scrap metal dealer, neither of whom had any prior mining experience.
With the media attention mostly focused on his real estate holdings in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, less attention has been given to his landholdings which PAC has determined likely place him in the top five landowners in the country. In Matabeleland his holdings come second only to the 135,000ha owned by the Oppenheimer family in Shangani, 200 kilometers northeast of Bulawayo.
• 10,006ha, North Part, Umguza Block. This is property formerly owned by Cold Storage Commission (CSC) and is known specifically as Blocks 39, 40 and 41.
• 1027ha, Auchenburg Farm, Nyamandlovu.
• Green Haven farm. Located close to the Umguza River just outside Bulawayo on the Victoria Falls road, this is a farm Mpofu has reportedly owned for some time and where he keeps most of his herd.
• 3,700ha, Umguza CSC Block.
• 2,300ha, Young Farm, Nyamandlovu.
• 8000ha, Horseshoe Ranch, Matetsi. It is believed Mpofu bought this property from Bill Bedford in 2008 for an undisclosed sum. At the time of publication, hunting and safari operations were run by Shaun Kearney, a South African.
• 100ha, in Epping Forest B section, a part of Accut and Crew, a formerly white owned farm bought for resettlement in 1996. Now referred to as Mswelangubo farm it serves as Mpofu’s main residence. The property has undergone extensive upgrades recently including approximately $150,000 on fencing and paving ahead of the lavish December 2011 party, the cost of which is estimated at another $250,000.
In March 2012 a 10-kilometre stretch of road to this house was being resurfaced by a brand new Caterpillar excavator—something that the Umguza Rural Council would not have the money to do. The property also houses several commercial ventures, including a horticulture business, an abattoir and a chicken factory.
The Auchenburg and Young farms and Umguza Block are named as such in the 2005 list of sanctioned farms and businesses managed by the US Treasury Department’s Office for Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).
With the exception of Horseshoe Ranch, Mpofu acquired the rights to control most of this land for free. At this juncture an important distinction needs to be made: the absence of any record of payment or land titles point to Mpofu controlling, but not owning, many of these properties, particularly those that were once State-owned.
In addition to the above listings of approximately 25,000ha:
PAC has learned that Mpofu also controls Winter Block, a 40,000ha section of land next to Umguza Block. A source with an intimate knowledge of the Cold Storage Commission land holdings confirms that this is an entirely separate parcel of land. Following the land invasions of 2000, Winter Block was largely divided between former Vice-President Joseph Msika and High Court Judge Maphios Cheda.
Msika died in 2009 and Cheda has maintained only a minimal interest in the area after being awarded another farm in 2008. Since then Mpofu has primarily used Winter Block to graze his cattle, which he has boasted is the biggest herd in Zimbabwe. With total farm holdings of at least 65,000ha, this would also place Mpofu amongst the country’s biggest landowners.
Mpofu’s possession of land belonging to the Cold Storage Commission is likely in contravention with Zimbabwean law. The terms of the Land Acquisition Act—the legislation responsible for the dispossession of most white-owned land—explicitly limits expropriations to private and commercially held farmland, not state assets. His exclusive use of the land raises several questions, including how Mpofu obtained this government land, and what, if any, rent State coffers receive for its use.
Cattle hold a special place in the social status of African men. They are another form of currency and symbol of a person’s success and influence. In Mpofu’s case his herd is clearly a big source of personal pride and legitimate revenue. He has said that he has a herd of about 3,000 breeding cattle, and uses a feedlot in Umguza to fatten another herd of “about a 1,000 at a time.” Mpofu’s farm manager, Dumisani Moyo, claims that they “sell about 50 cattle every week…and the profits are good.”
If those numbers are correct, Mpofu would gross as much as $50,000 a week from this business during culling season, although some observers think his output is closer to half that. Several sources confirm that the Minister is a regular attendee to auctions held by CC Sales in Bulawayo and Harare.
However, witnesses and agents alike both say they have never seen Mpofu actually purchase any cattle himself. Most suspect it is done through proxies, including Dumisani Moyo. If Mpofu’s herd is as big as he says it is—approximately 4,000 cattle—he will have spent some serious money to build and maintain it to that size.
Mixed pedigree cattle sell at auction for a minimum of $600 a head, conservatively valuing Mpofu’s cattle purchases at over $2 million. Mpofu’s ranching operations are run by Innocent Ncube, who is widely respected for his farming acumen. In the last year he has also invested heavily in new infrastructure, including a 330 metre-long shed (at a cost of $100,000) beside the railway line that runs through Umguza.
Cattle are not Mpofu’s only passion. His acquisition of marque properties in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls would make Mpofu the envy of any Monopoly player. However, unlike his cattle business that actually generates income, Mpofu’s real estate dealings appear to be a chronic cash drain on the Minister. It is estimated that since mid-2009, Mpofu has acquired urban property in Matabeleland worth at least $5 million.
During the same time frame it is estimated he has invested at least $2.5 million in renovations to properties in Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Umguza and Nyamandlovu. His best known, and most prized, fixed assets include:
• Anchor House, Bulawayo. This five-storey building at the corner of Fort Street and 12th Avenue is Mpofu’s most recent known acquisition. In mid-2012 it was undergoing renovations, including a full paint job. The purchase price is unknown but similar buildings currently sell between $1-$2 million in Bulawayo’s depressed real estate market.
• A property commonly known as the Centrust Building, Bulawayo. Bought for $750,000 in 2011, it is one of Mpofu’s single biggest cash purchase. The building, located at 47 Fort St, housed several businesses including a travel agency of the same name. The purchase included subdivision A of Stand 9.The property was bought from the Khaley family in a deal reportedly facilitated by Bulawayo businessman Hitish Patel. All tenants vacated the building when Mpofu hiked the rent. In March 2012 the building was empty.
• A dilapidated two-storey office block on the edge of Bulawayo’s central business district, at the corner of Fife and First Avenue. It has been under construction for more than two years.
• York House, Bulawayo. At seven stories, this is one of Bulawayo’s tallest buildings and is said to be Mpofu’s pride and joy. Purchased for a song by Mpofu’s company Trebo and Khays in 2007 during the height of hyperinflation, it was partially rented by AgriBank until 2011. It is has sat empty for almost two years as it undergoes extensive renovations, including a full interior gutting and the installation of new elevators.
Contractors familiar with the project estimate the renovations at least $1.5million. With the long-term absence of rental income, Mpofu is undoubtedly drawing on other sources to pay for the renovations.
• 46 Magpie Road, Bulawayo. This ostentatious two-storey property is located on a two-hectare plot in the tony suburb of Burnside. Mpofu acquired it more than 20 years ago but it has quadrupled in size after undergoing recent renovations estimated at $150,000. Mpofu’s Hummer has been seen at this address, as have police and private security guards.
• 10 Livingstone Road, Suburbs, Bulawayo. Several sources confirmed they have met Mpofu at this suburban property, which sometimes acts as his office in Bulawayo. It has extensive security, including expensive surrounding walls, gates and guard house. It is also where Three Waters Investments, a diamond trading company, is known to conduct business. Since becoming Minister of Mines, Mpofu has also made some other interesting purchases—both for himself and some of his companies.
After Trebo and Khays, his best known business is Khanondo Safari and Tours in Victoria Falls. According to company brochures and its website, Khanondo offers a range of activities including boat cruises on the Zambezi River, game drives, tours as far afield as Namibia, helicopter flights, white water rafting adventures and “VIP transfers”. All the assets required to offer tourists these services, other than the helicopter, are “owned” by Khanondo.
Khanondo also offers accommodation to suit different budgets, ranging from Guest Paradise Lodge ($120 a night) to the five star Victoria Falls Deluxe Suites ($330 for bed and breakfast). Khanondo also recently completed construction on the High Mount Lodge, described by a company official as “[topping] the accommodation rankings of Bulawayo due to its beauty and exclusivity.”
Victoria Falls is the jewel among Zimbabwe’s disintegrating tourist attractions.
But since 2000 when land seizures, hyperinflation and political violence took hold, tourists have largely abandoned Zimbabwe in favour of neighbouring countries. Despite the economic setbacks suffered by many tour operators, Khanondo has made several investments others cannot afford.
In 2011, for example, Khanondo took receipt of a brand new 80-seat boat worth $250,000. It also took possession of the best dock on the Zambezi River and bought a smaller boat, for more intimate breakfast and sunset cruises. Khanondo’s car rental business also boasts the town’s only luxury fleet of cars, including Mercedes sedans, high-end SUVs, safari jeeps and vans.
The value of the cars pictured on Khanondo’s website would conservatively be in excess of half a million dollars. These are not Mpofu’s only luxury vehicles. He personally owns several cars but his two favourites are a new Range Rover Sport (base price: $80,000) and a black Hummer ($60,000). The former is regularly seen at his Burnside residence. Largely because of its gas guzzling thirst the Hummer is a rarity in Zimbabwe, even among other elites, where the price of petrol is high and shortages are frequent.
Mpofu in Transport
Since becoming Minister, another Mpofu company, Maminza Transport, has also come into possession of several Volvo heavy haulage trucks and some drilling equipment. The FH 12 model trucks, believed to be as many as eight, are kept at the former Clan Transport depot on the Plumtree Road in Bulawayo. Both trucks and drilling equipment have been seen in Hwange, where coal is mined, raising the possibility that Mpofu is diversifying into another resource under his ministerial control.
In August 2011 Mpofu controversially appointed Farai Mutamangira, a friend and lawyer who he has hired to represent Zimbabwe over its KP compliance issues, to be CEO of the Hwange Colliery, a state-owned coal company. The trucks, which retail at over $100,000 a piece, are decaled with “Maminza Transport” signs on the doors and “OMM”—Obert Moses Mpofu—and a sequential number stenciled above windscreen.
The origin of the trucks is a mystery.
There is only one Volvo dealer in Southern Africa—Babcock Africa Services in Johannesburg. Because Mpofu is listed on EU and US sanctions over concerns of his involvement in either corrupt or violent activity, it is illegal for an international company like Volvo, through Babcock, to sell these trucks directly to Mpofu.
One explanation could be that Mpofu purchased them through a proxy company completely unassociated with his name—a loophole famously exploited by other named individuals like Billy Rautenbach. Another answer may lie in the November 2010 collapse of Core Mining, the South African diamond company that joint ventured with the ZMDC to form Canadile.
In February 2012 Babcock won a liquidation order against Core Mining in South African court for unpaid debts of $1.4 million, including for similar Volvo trucks. Since Canadile’s implosion the company has reverted to being a wholly owned entity of the government. Operating as Marange Resources the company is wholly owned by the ZMDC, a State agency under Mpofu’s ministerial control.
As Marange Resources has retained most of Core’s assets there is very little prospect of Babcock being able to collect on its judgment. This raises two possible scenarios that Mpofu should clarify as soon as possible: did he acquire these trucks at great personal expense and in breach of Western economic measures or he is in possession of former Core Mining property that legally belongs to Babcock?
Others see it as a chance to capture the banking business of ZANU supporters in Matabeleland and increase his political prestige. Others, a way to dispense patronage and nepotism. All are valid, especially after he announced his intentions to move the bank from Harare to Bulawayo.
Less charitable banking sources point out similar banks, in the hands of other people, have been used for another purpose: laundering illicit revenue streams. How the laundering is done can take several forms, including extending bogus loans which go into default, or paying employees, often family members, at rates higher than industry standards.
Having only taken control of ZABG in August 2012, there is no evidence Mpofu has engaged in any money laundering; rather his prime motivation has a diamond connection that has been overlooked by almost everyone. In March 2012, cabinet took a decision to compel all mining companies to bank their money with local financial institutions following revelations that mining companies—including ones operating in Marange—were stashing billions of dollars in foreign accounts.
The decision has merit—capital flight is bad for any economy—but Mpofu’s ownership of the bank opens the door to possible charges of conflict of interest once mining companies, which are dependent on his ministerial approval for their projects, start shopping for a local bank. Do they take their business to ZABG, for example, in the hopes it will guarantee a favourable decision?
ZABG is not the only business through which Mpofu has used his ministerial position to benefit from diamonds.
Mpofu also has a close relationship to Three Waters Investment, a diamond trading company based out of one of his Bulawayo properties, 10 Livingstone Road. Operations are aided by Nyasha Mpofu, a trained diamond sorter,who has a reputation for dealing only in top quality gem diamonds.
She is also known to personally arrange for diamond shipments to Johannesburg. PAC could not confirm claims that she is a relative of the minister. Sources say the company is not part of the emerging cutting and polishing industry—against which Mpofu was forced to act in 2011 following concerns companies were illegally trading diamonds.
The perception—real or perceived—that a relative of the Minister is obtaining a pecuniary benefit from an industry over which he has fiduciary responsibility is troubling. It raises multiple conflicts of interest for the Minister. Prime among them: What role did he personally play in procuring diamonds for Three Waters Investment or facilitating their export?
What is not in doubt is how diamonds have helped to boost Mpofu’s political influence and aspirations within ZANU structures. He is now clearly considered the ZANU patron in Matabeleland, to which his political lessers pay homage and seek protection. He routinely dispenses philanthropy and personal patronage on a scale unmatched anywhere else in Zimbabwe.
In February 2012, for example, he provided a generator to Chinotimba Clinic in Victoria Falls. A few months later, in June, he and his wife are reported to have distributed ten tonnes of grain to 600 families in the district of Ntabazinduna. One media report pegged the value of the donation at $180,000. The next month he visited another village in Matabeleland with gifts of grain, heifers for the chiefs, and a promise to build a chief’s hall.
He is often referred to as being a patron of the financially beleaguered Highlanders Football Club and the Umguza Sinjalo Message Choir. His election as ZANU’s only representative in Matabeleland in the 2008 elections has often been attributed to his personal attention to his constituents needs, including the payment of school fees for primary going children.
Diamonds have also allowed Mpofu to flex his muscles within ZANU circles.
While any presidential ambitions are firmly in check—as a minority Ndebele the chances of winning the confidence of his Shona countrymen are nil—he has made no secret of his intentions to seek one of two ZANU vice-presidencies, upon the resignation of incumbent, John Nkomo, who is cancer-stricken.
Mpofu’s aspirations, however, face one small obstacle: one of the vice-presidencies is reserved for someone who was a ZAPU member at the time of the 1987 ZANUZAPU power sharing agreement. Mpofu jumped ship in 1982, therefore making him ineligible, at least in theory. This rule, however, is not set in stone. Mpofu has deftly played on his Marange connections to cultivate key former ZIPRA members who could play decisive roles advancing his political ambitions.
This is particularly the case with Tshinga Dube, the CEO of Marange Resources, former CEO of ZDI and a member of ZANU’s politburo, the party’s supreme decision-making body. Mpofu’s deference to the military chiefs who control and exploit Marange’s riches—especially those aligned to Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, the heir apparent when President Mugabe dies—also bode well for his efforts to consolidate his place within the ZANU hierarchy.
Mpofu’s recent financial windfall and political prestige is a fundamental matter of public interest. Any time a senior politician in any country is allowed to amass an unexplained fortune, as Mpofu has done, questions must be asked not only about how that came to be, but why no steps have been taken to investigate possible financial wrongdoing or usurping of the public good.
Mpofu’s wealth is symbolic of the larger mismanagement of Zimbabwe’s natural resources. Certainly, he has become very rich since becoming the Minister of Mines, making him a figurehead for the illegality occurring in Marange, but this story is about more than Obert Mpofu alone. Ultimately it is about the greed and corruption that lies at the heart of ZANU as a political institution.
ZANU’s vulture capitalism has never been a one-man operation. From asset stripping of state enterprises to farm seizures to currency manipulations during hyper-inflation to Marange, their track record shows that ZANU hunts and feasts as a pack. Their strength lies in their unity, not their individual parts. They are deeply distrustful of each other, leading those involved in any illegal venture to share the profits, rather than allow one individual to amass wealth on the collective’s behalf, or expense.
Like a gang, they achieve conformity within the group by ensuring that everyone is implicated in the illegality. Those that have gotten too greedy, or sought to exit the game, have paid a hard price. They have been publicly ridiculed, politically ostracized, forced into exile, and often stripped of their wealth with the same speed with which they amassed it.
Those who know Mpofu say he is not capable of single-handedly masterminding events in Marange, but he is smart enough to know how to help those that do. That he has survived this long, shows he has enough sense to know that his continued beneficiation is linked to placating the needs of a small and tight group of political and military elites who have been in charge of Marange since the very beginning.
Zimbabwe cannot be allowed to continue to trade diamonds in this fashion. Those who naively or willfully look the other way to Zimbabwe’s mismanagement of its diamond deposits—as the Kimberley Process has done—will only undermine consumer confidence in the diamond sector. Industry members, particularly those in South Africa, Dubai and India, who in any way associate themselves with the companies operating in Zimbabwe—whether deemed KP compliant or not—should be under no illusion as to the criminal elements they are dealing with. They are not helping the economic recovery of an impoverished country.
In fact, they are doing the opposite—they are enabling corruption and those who have led political repression and violence in Zimbabwe. Improvements will only come if there is a unified response, beginning with industry members, but supported by national governments, that demands better of Zimbabwe. The next section offers suggestions on possible ways to support such efforts.
This report is contained in the third investigation by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) into illicit activity in Zimbabwe’s diamond sector focusing on ongoing trade irregularities, the lack of transparency of diamond revenues, and examines the ways Zanu PF officials and the global diamond industry have colluded to pull off the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes.