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Monday, August 17, 2009

Zimbabwe Curious Case of Barbican Bank, Time Bank, ENG, Royal Bank, Trust Bank and the ZABG!


In my last blog, I had a real go at Thomas Hardy, an ancient great writer. Writers fascinate me. I have always been a Literature person. For the benefit of those who didnt know, since i started Grade 1, up until I undertook my Media Degree with the Zimbabwe Open University, I have always been top of my English Language/ Literature class. Today i have chosen a story, written by another great fable writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. He wrote the story of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Made into a block buster movie, starred by movie hunk Bradd Pitt, its a story that would bring tears into the eyes of a lot of people. To cut the long story short, Its about a guy, Benjamin, born of the famous Button manufacturing family. He had a rare condition though. He aged backwards, meaning he was born well into his eighties physically and as he grew older in age, he grew younger physically! Powerful stuff. The bottom line however, his father rejected him and dumped him on the front patio of an Old peoples Home……..the rest is a long winding story.

Enter Gideon Gono, the infamous Reserve Bank Governor of Zimbabwe. Towards the end of 2003-4, there was a rise in Indegenous owned Zimbabwean Banks, that brought competition to the traditional Colonial Banking Powerhouses Barclays, Standard Chartered, Stanbic as well as ZANU PF controlled and government owned institutions like First Bank, the ageless Zimbabwe Banking Corporation( ZIMBANK ) and the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, which Gono was Chief Executive before being elevated by his Mafia Boss Robert Mugabe.

Of particular interest was Time Bank, fronted by among other people a guy called Kenny Chikonzo. Bulawayo born business man Dr Mthuli Ncube, fresh from his studies at The London School of Economics was leading Barbican Bank. Evergreen William Nyemba had embarked on a hugely successful enterprise called Trust Bank and fittingly its major colour was green! The purple coloured Royal Bank of Zimbabwe was making noises as well, and Jameson Timba had just launched the Rennaissance Bank, burgundy coloured and nestled high up in the top floors of the Karigamombe Arcade, the building with Zimbabwe’s most complicated elevator(commonly called Lift in Zim) system.

Not to be outdone, there were other money houses mushrooming in and around the City, but mosy prominent was Asset Management Company ENG(whatever that stood for) Capital, fronted by two young and eagle eyed smart suited and slick tounged bankers, Nyasha Watyoka and yes you guessed right, Gilbert “Gidza” Muponda. They were the guys of the moment, for instance, the brought home Zimbabwe’s first Porshe off road 4×4, the Cayyenne.

It is reported ENG owned more than 50 top range cars, from BMW’s to Nissan Navara’s but I am reliably informed the vehicles or “assets” as they were, belonged to the Company as opposed to the induviduals, as most people were made to believe, but trust me, If you were in Zimbabwe at that time, you belived everything you heard. There were rumours awash that the two gentlemen would travel to Europe to watch Premier League football and Formula 1 motor racing!

In Zimbabwe thats really something very big, but in hindsight, I realise it could have been much ado about nothing. In my 3 or so years in the United Kingdom, i have visited Silverstone for the British Grand Prix as well as attended over 5 Premier league matches and have physically been at more than 10 Premier League Stadiums including Anfield, Old Trafford, City of Manchester Stadium among others. Considering the company portfolio these guys ran and the top end salaries they earned, it wasnt out of the ordinary for them to visit the United Kingdom (if they did) every now and then.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Chikonzo, one of the Time Bank directors. It was probably one of my highlights as an ordinary teacher, albeit a very talented musician at the same time. Back then he was a slim man, tall and very very calm. Very soft spoken and a devout Christian, dedicated to his United Methodist Church and especially the Music of the United Methodist church (MUMC) and their annual Choir competitions, in 2005 held in the historic town of Masvingo. I had not met him by accident, but my talents had not gone unnoticed. As a raw 21 year old, i had taken the school choir at Bradley High School to dizzy heights. Alas, Chikonzo’s two cousins, Shamiso and Petronella Mwashita, were members of my high flying school choir. Their Borrowdale Methodist Church had run into some difficulty as their choir master had left to join the Innercity circuit. Chikonzo’s sister Laura, then a manager at William Nyemba’s Trust Bank, and a keen follower of my school choir as her two kids were members told him of my existence.

Naturally he came for me. I was humbled, i was a starry-eyed 21 year old boy, untrained teacher, girlfriend-less and living at home with my parents when this “famous banker” driving a Mitsubishi Pajero, drove about 200km from the city to my rural home to ask for my help! I was humbled. Who would not have? That was the beginning of a long and happy friendship, something I believe, wherever he is, he remembers.

I was guest at Chikonzo’s vast Avondale mansion. Luckily i had an uncle, a banker, who lived in Borrowdale’s leafy Vainona suburb so i opted to live there, closer to the church where i held rehearsals with the group. I still remember the piece , Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, the famous slave tune. Sung by the captured Africans as the sailed to captivity of North America. They were a happy bunch. Bankers, accountants, top end secretaries, company directors, students from top schools you name it, being taught doh-reh-mih-va by a boy from Madziwa. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, being valued so much doing what i was good at. On the journey to Masvingo they didn’t travel by bus like what most of us would have done. No, they had cars, and not just cars, Benzes, Pajeros etc.

My space was reserved of course in Chikonzo’s Pajero, where i travelled with him, his wife and his sister Laura. It was during this journey, 4 years ago that i learnt of the curious case of the Zimbabwe Allied Banking Group, commonly called ZABG!

Zimbabwe’s banking laws were quite liberal at the time. This had allowed of course more home grown bankers to actually own banks. The Banks above were providing stiff competition to the ZANU PF alligned banks like First Bank, headed by Livingstone Takudzwa Gwata at the time. These were young, fresh and full of life. Who doesnt know that ZANU PF is anti youth and anti development? The new crop of bankers were seen as a threat to the establishment. They were raking in huge profits and living extravagant lifestyles. Mugabe knew that there was only one man who would put an end to this and bring back ZANU PF into control. There was a question of Political Funding, which became the nucleus of the 2005 curatorship of most of these banks. There was no way Mthuli Ncube was going to fund ZANU PF.

He is Ndebele, Bulawayo through and through and naturally they were inclined to the MDC! Deadlock. William Nyemba wouldnt have relented to sponsoring ZANU PF’s state torture machine either, Deadlock! Talk of Gilbert Muponda? ZANU PF is the last thing on his mind. Deadlock! Besides it was not a secret, Harare and Bulawayo were MDC through and through either by choice, vote or association! Gono needed to act fast and act fast he did. Speculative stories were created, who doesnt know thats a CIO speciality? If in doubt, ask the Right Reverend Former Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube, he will tell you.

Overnight, it became a crime for banks to invest their clients’ money. Trust Bank was rumoured to have bought HALF of the bricks at Zimbabwe’s largest brick producer Willdale Bricks for speculative purposes. Suddenly all the above banks didnt seem to have enough liquid (cash) to honour its commitments. Of interest was ENG capital. They banked with ZIMBANK and a quick check at their balance reflected a plus credit of about 20 billion but still their 2 million dollar cheques for example bounced. There was panic in town overnight and one by one, the new giants of Zimbabwe’s Banking Sector collapsed. Royal Bank, Trust Bank, Time Bank, ENG capital and Barbican Bank were all shut and placed under curatorship. The fall from grace was sudden and unbelivable.

Nyasha Watyoka and Gilbert Muponda appeared on National Television handcuffed like murderers, in a scene which took me back to the time when notorius armed Robber Norman Karimanzira(now late) was captured. Several raft guidelines were introduced and owning a bank in Zimbabwe became as difficult as wearing an MDC t-shirt in Mashonaland Central. Amazingly, Timba escaped with his Rennaisance Merchant Bank, high up in Karigamombe Towers, maybe they deemed it too small to matter or he towed the line, the truth i will never know.

Fearing for their lives, especially after the very public humiliation of Watyoka and Muponda one after the other the bankers understandably fled Zimbabwe. James Mushore, William Nyemba, Durajadi Simba, all left. Chikonzo stayed put though. Together with the other directors they challenged that their bank not be conscripted into the ZABG and the won. Sadly Trust Bank, Barbican Bank and Royal Bank were all conscripted into the ZABG, synonymous with its green colour and sarcastically spots the Zimbabwe National Flag colours in a ZANU PF like bend. It is important to note that Gono was clever however.

In the melee, he closed some banks with known links to ZANU PF. CFX Bank, linked to Saviour Kasukuwere was closed. So was Premier Bank linked to former Guruve North MP David Butau and perhaps most surprising was National Discount House, linked to touted Presidential hopeful Emmerson Dambudzo Munangagwa, commonly called “Ngwena”. It is important however to note all the three were soon back in business whilst all the above have slowly diminished into history.

Well those who say the power of ZANU PF especially that of Mugabe cannot be undermined are probably not wrong after all. Surprising enough, soon after the ZABG was formed, the banks became solvent again. These were huge banks, with huge assests which were being eyed by these hawks. Im sure in the transition period a lot of these assest simply dissapeared or were untraceable. In the case of Watyoka and Muponda well after a protracted bail fight, Watyoka was released, the Muponda followed, who promptly escaped to North America . So like the case of Benjamin of the Button Family, the banking system seems to be aging backwards, in reverse mode.

It is also important to note that as Benjamin Button grew up, his father was always in the background until he revealed himself to him near his own end. Lets hope towards his own end, Mugabe, will reveal himself and this will help us untangle this whole banking quagmire. It should also be noted that even though funding the MDC might have been the major cause for this rift, i have deliberately shunned the party in this article, lest i hand Morgan Tsvangirai undue praise.

Till I write again, Thank you all.

Tazvi G Changata

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