When Zipricecheck was founded back in 2019 one of the big four supermarkets we surveyed was Choppies. There was a reason for this, Choppies were a force to be reckoned with and based on our analysis they were indeed a top four supermarket together with OK, Pick N Pay (TM) and Food World. We had to drop them at some point though as they constantly didn’t have basic groceries in stock. While they have lost its shine, Choppies are still a reputable retailer in Zimbabwe. Which explains why former vice-president Mphoko still wants a piece of that pie.
If you had forgotten about him and Choppies, you are not alone and it is not by accident. You see, during the last days of the Robert Mugabe empire, Choppies wanted to circumvent the so-called Indegeniousation Act which sought to reserve certain key areas of the economy for locals. To allow them to do this they entered into a backroom deal with the then VP Mphoko who used his pull to allow them to operate without fulfilling every letter of the Act. However, that political muscle came at an expense. A lot of people started to associate Choppies with the VP and each time there was a spike in political turmoil Choppies was always at the receiving end of public anger. Even during lulls people would always spread messages about how Choppies should be boycotted because it was part of the Mugabe regime.
This went on for a while until at some point the Botswana owners of Choppies thought being associated with the VP was now more of a liability than an advantage. They tried to pull out from the deal with the VP who now claimed he was entitled to 51% shares of the company for some reasons instead of the 7% shareholding that Choppies said he was entitled to. Choppies allege that Mphoko used his influence to get one of the company’s agents arrested and forced him to sign a document that the former VP is now using to try and wrest shares from Choppies. The company maintains the former VP was paid a sum of US$2.9 million (the value of 7% shares in Choppies at the time) in local currency (ZWL) and that was all he was entitled to. Of course, the former VP wants to be paid in foreign currency as he claims this was a foreign deal and he still wants 51%.
The judge hearing the case has now reserved judgement. It is not clear which way the judge will rule though as he is still ruminating over the facts of the case. Some interesting things to note about the case:
- How the elite like the former VP like to pass harsh and inconvenient laws like the Indegenousation Act under the pretence that they are doing it for the public when they just want to strong-arm foreign firms to pay them what can only be described as a bribe. Thankfully the act is now no longer on the books.
- How the bigwigs like the former VP detest getting paid in local currency but want everyone else to accept it as legal tender. The payment to the former VP was made in 2019 when the government made the ZWL the sole legal tender resulting in disaster.
- It is ironic that Choppies, which counts a former Botswana president as a member of its board, wanted a way to operate in Zimbabwe when Botswana itself has gone on to introduce what can only be described as an Indigenisation Act.
- This can be taken as tangible proof that some elite use lawfare to boost their businesses and financial position.