Former president of Botswana Festus Mogae has opened three new supermarkets in two days in Zimbabwe under the Choppies retail chain, bringing to 29 the company’s grocery shops in the country.
By Brezhnev Malaba
Mogae, an Oxford-trained economist, is chairman of the Choppies Group which has invested $41 million in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was the guest of honour at the official opening of an outlet in Chitungwiza, 25 kilometres south of Harare. Two more shops were opened in the central city of Gweru, with plans for 10 more supermarkets countrywide in 2016.
Phelekezela Mphoko, one of Zimbabwe’s two vice-presidents, is a 51 percent shareholder in the Choppies Zimbabwe business, in line with the country’s indigenisation and economic empowerment law which compels investors to cede a majority stake to locals.
Mphoko used to manage the shops before he was handpicked from obscurity for the powerful post of second-in-command by Mugabe. His son Siqokoqela now runs the business.
Mogae thanked Mugabe for attending the Chitungwiza event and promised him that the company would create employment, especially for people living with disabilities, and eradicate poverty. “We hope we will be able to use Zimbabwean products not here only but in the (Southern Africa) region,” said the former president of Botswana.
The occasion was all hunky-dory, a far cry from 2001 when the then leader of Botswana blasted Mugabe for “dragging the entire Southern African economy down” with his chaotic and often violent land redistribution programme.
An exasperated then-president Mogae told journalists: “On every visit to Zimbabwe we tried to impress upon them the seriousness of the situation – be it in multilateral or bilateral talks – and so far we do not think we are winning.”
Times have changed and the same applies to the Mogae-Mugabe relationship.
Mogae has presided over a democratic transfer of power in Botswana, winning the 2008 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Mugabe, at 91, is presiding over a collapsed economy and is still in power with no successor in sight.
At the ceremony in Chitungwiza, a vintage Mugabe held forth, even cracking jokes as he officiated. He told the audience that when he was invited to the event he thought he was “simply coming to cut a ribbon for just five minutes”.
“Upon coming here I discovered that it is a huge organisation, one of the largest firms I have ever visited. I simply thought it is only about groceries yet there are big things going on here,” Mugabe said.
Choppies has been on an aggressive drive to roll out supermarkets since it entered the Zimbabwe market in 2013, buoyed by a stable United States dollar which is the predominant currency in the country.
The number of outlets has increased from 13 in 2013 to 18 in 2014 up to the current 29. Warehouse infrastructure can support up to 50 shops in Zimbabwe, says the company. The retail chain already has 72 shops in Botswana, 35 in South Africa and one in Zambia.
The company revealed in March that revenue from Zimbabwe operations increased by 250 percent to $39,8m in the half-year ended December 2014. Choppies described the performance as “exceptional”. – Africa Ind