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Strive Masiyiwa struggles to stomach criticism

02 Jan 2019 at 08:46hrs | Views
In what started as a routine interview with continental business television channel CNBC Africa, Strive Masiyiwa, Econet founder and Executive Chairman describes the political changes being witnessed in Zimbabwe following Robert Mugabe's ouster as real. As an incentive, the billionaire mogul insist, it is high time that all punitive sanctions slapped by the West on the impoverished Southern African state have to be removed since "You can't have one country operating with its hands tied at its back" Masiyiwa added. In the clearest endorsement of the current regime, Masiyiwa insists, "concerning the change that has taken place, I believe it is real…… Mnangagwa is sincere in the things he wants to do." It is this blind endorsement of a brutal regime by a respected billionaire, philanthropist and arguably one of the country's most successful businessperson that irked his critics until the debate almost spiralled out of hand, with the business mogul dismissing their stance as childish since some of them were too young to remember his bruising fights against Mugabe while they "were either in diapers, or hiding."

It is important to contextualise Masiyiwa's political stance in this current row taking into consideration the fact that the businessman is known for his political "neutrality" for reasons best known to him and possibly his wife. The telecoms mogul witnessed Gukurahundi let alone the 2007-8 atrocities but remained mum and not forgetting the 2013 disturbances as his main pursuit was the expansion of his sprawling business empire. It is only those in the know within opposition circles whether Mr Masiyiwa played any active role behind the scenes in fighting dictatorship or his was a personal battle to cave his own fiefdom in the crowded and often corrupt business arena. It is in this context that Mr Masiyiwa's sanctions mantra has to be understood let alone his blind endorsement of the Mnangagwa administration at a time when not a single reform has been implemented that led to the imposition of the punitive measures in the first place. Is it any wonder that soon after Masiyiwa's reckless utterances, Zanu PF sprang on its feet in his praise? By the way Mr Masiyiwa, you are of the opinion that sanctions should be removed because there is no justification for them anymore and are the issues that led to their imposition addressed? This is a clear political stance in support of a regime that has ruined the lives of millions of Zimbabweans and as such Mr Masiyiwa has to be challenged on the political arena in bare knuckle fight as opposed to the previous relationship in which he was elevated to the status of a semi-god. It is being disrespectful if not offensive for Mr Masiyiwa to claim that Mnangagwa's "New Dispensation" is different from its predecessor when elections were rigged in broad daylight just a few months ago and not forgetting the six unarmed civilians gunned down in Harare's CBD exercising their constitutional right. By the way, Mr Masiyiwa, were you to take the same stance if it was one of your blood relatives gunned down in the above incident in August? If the answer is a big NO, then you are a hypocrite to lie that there is no more justification for maintaining the sanctions.  

As if the sanctions gaffe isn't enough, Masiyiwa exposes his flaws again by alleging that when he stood up to Mugabe most of those critiquing his sanctions mantra were either "in diapers, or hiding." As a fact, it is being   unwise for a man of his stature to be dragged into the mud for a fist fight by opponents. After all, who didn't put on diapers at one time including Mr Masiyiwa himself? The businessman has to realise as a matter of urgency that the political arena he has decided to take his fight to is not as smooth as the board rooms he is accustomed to as Econet Executive Chairman. And, further exposing his short memory, the billionaire business tycoon alleges that no one stood in his corner when he and his business endured persecutions by the government. It is regrettable that Mr Masiyiwa, a respected man of God who by all probability has been a role model for millions of Africans across the continent and beyond has a short memory.  It is a fact that millions of Zimbabweans, young and old were behind Mr Masiyiwa emotionally, spiritually and politically when he was being victimised by the Mugabe regime. He was the darling of both the rural and urban forks who sympathised with his ill-treatment and decades along this journey for Mr Masiyiwa to rubbish the support because he is now a billionaire is not only unwise but inconsistent with his religious beliefs as a Christian. Is it any wonder that Blessing Zulu, a journalist working for Voice of America is adamant and shocked by Strive Masiyiwa's insensitivity as he recalls, "I remember as students protesting in support of him (Masiyiwa) with the likes of Learnmore Jongwe, Hon Fortune Molokele (Mguni) and Job Wiwa Sikhala." In so doing, Zulu recalls, "we were beaten so badly by the riot police and faced expulsion from university."  It is on record that the late Joshua Nkomo did put his reputation on the line fighting on Masiyiwa's corner to the extent that the he was labelled a senile old man suffering from dementia. Regrettably, Strive Masiyiwa has forgotten all this support since, in his mindset, his was a one man fight. As Ndaba Nduna observes, "How so forgetful the wealthy are!"

This entire row exposes the Masiyiwas to further scrutiny following Tsitsi's (Strive's wife) recent gaffe in which she seemed to insinuate that Zimbabweans are a lazy people. In April 2018, Tsitsi wrote on her Twitter page, " Wondering how a nation with GDP percapita of $1 000 for over 37 years life expectancy 34 years upto 31% children stunted, can insist on the right to work 8 hours plus 1 hour lunch 5 days a week, rest for 2 days watch football for 42 weeks straight. Where is the sense of urgency desperation?" Although the businessman's wife later apologised to her followers this highlights the weird mindset of the Masiyiwas as they enjoy their wealth whose roots is traced back to Zimbabwe. Not only is Masiyiwa's  eratic behaviour  under scrutiny but his business dealings as well. In fact, beside having a monopoly in the telecoms industry in the country, Econet's data and calling charges are exorbitant, a practice akin to  day light robbery. Masiyiwa and other mobile providers are ruthless in their exploitation of the desperate Zimbabweans who have been reduced to paupers by dictatorship. In 2017, Econet was forced by the telecoms regulator to reverse tariff hikes it introduced. In humiliation, Strive Masiyiwa pretended to sympathise with his poverty stricken customers while in fact it was Econet that came up with the floor prices that were later adopted by the operators. Masiyiwa shed crocodile tears in retreat and expressed outrage at tariff hikes saying, "It is my understanding that it was a directive from the telecoms regulator.  I have never supported this type of regulatory approach."  Guess what! Minutes of the Telecoms Operators of Zimbabwe dated the 17th of October 2016 chaired by Telecel boss, Angeline Vere show that it was Econet, represented by its Chief Executive Douglas Mboweni and three others, that suggested a floor price of 12 cents and $0.05 for data. A report by Pan African bank, Ecobank just released recently suggest that Zimbabwe has the second most expensive mobile data in Sub-Saharan Africa at $25 for one gigabyte, with Equatorial Guinea on top at $35.47, South Africa at $10, Zambia at $13 with Swaziland at $21.86. In India, it costs less than a dollar for one gigabyte. All this exploitative practice by Enonet and other mobile providers has the effect of hampering access to the internet by customers who Masiyiwa claims to have at heart, thereby, perpetuating digital exclusion. In a way, Econet's monopoly in the telecoms industry hampers development in the country which Strive Masiyiwa claims to promote and by singing from the same hymn book with the junta, the billionaire seeks to perpetuate his exploitation of the helpless masses with the blessings of the Mnangagwa administration. In order to fulfil this dream, Masiyiwa has to sanitise the image of the junta on the global stage on his part, hence, the sanctions mantra. Strive Masiyiwa has to return home from his self-imposed exile and visit Chiadzwa to witness the human rights abuses the local villagers experience daily whereby they are obliged to carry  permits in order to move from one point to the other.  Until then, the businessman is advised to shut up and enjoy his wealth while the oppressed fight for their freedom. In addition, he has to learn to be challenged without being offended.

Willliam Muchayi is a pro-democracy activist who has contributed extensively on African affairs in different publications.      

Source - Willliam Muchayi
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