Old Mutual, which says it is the largest financial services company in Zimbabwe, says it will not divest from any of its business investments in Zimbabwe because it has policyholder and employer obligations to its employees, their families and dependents.
In a statement on Tuesday in response to calls by Movement for Democratic Change treasurer Roy Bennett to divest from Zimbabwe or face a backlash when the MDC comes to power, the company which is listed in London, Johannesburg, Harare, Windhoek and Blantyre, said it had operated in Zimbabwe for the past 109 years and currently looked after the savings of 500 000 Zimbabweans.
“Despite severe operational difficulties over the last few years, we took a conscious decision, and have gone to great lengths, to support and honour our commitment to the people of Zimbabwe, namely our customers, staff and communities” the company said.
“We have come under international pressure to divest our business in Zimbabwe by those who believe that this will be of benefit to the Zimbabwean people. We cannot agree with this notion as we have policyholder and employer obligations to our employees, their families and dependents.”
Bennett who has been forced to live in exile in South Africa is the Movement for Democratic Change’s designated deputy Minister for Agriculture but President Robert Mugabe has refused to swear him in.
Addressing international fund managers in Cape Town two weeks ago, Bennett blasted mining companies including Impala Platinum, Anglo Platinum and Rio Tinto for propping the Mugabe regime through their investments and investment expansions.
“Some of these institutions must come to terms with their unacceptable complicity in Mugabe’s blackmail,” Bennett said. “Shareholders need to demand from management that these (mining) rights be properly valued and retained—and not surrendered for the benefit of a blood-thirsty coterie of gangsters. Face the regime down or force them into open and into outright theft. Please don’t legitimise extortion at the expense of the people.
“Better to lose what you have and regain it later than to sleep with a serial rapist and killer. If you do so, remember that he will not only beat and murder the neighbours, he will turn on you in due course and you will be pitied by no-one. You cannot squeal if you have been playing along.”
Bennett singled out Old Mutual for its involvement in the “bloody” Marange diamonds as well as Zimbabwe Newspapers, publishers of the state-controlled Herald and Chronicle newspapers.
“To illustrate my criticism of the pursuit of ill-advised opportunism, we need to look no further than the sad and seedy role of Old Mutual in the illicit diamond mining that is occurring in the Marange diamond fields of Manicaland. These fields are controlled by the military junta and were attained over the dead bodies of hundreds of impoverished Zimbabweans,” Bennett said.
Old Mutual has a 16 percent stake in Reclamation, a South African company with a stake in Mbada Diamonds, one of the diamond mining companies in Marange.
“This unacceptable example of corporate greed and wilful negligence cannot be swept under the carpet any longer. For a respected London-listed financial services company to continue its investment and shareholding in a joint venture with a disreputable scrap metal merchant and—wait for this—an infamous confidante of Robert and Grace Mugabe is simply unbelievable! It is brazen.
“It is reprehensible and obscene…… As MDC, we have urged Old Mutual—quietly behind closed doors—to quit their blood-stained investment. The company has not listened, so we now air our grievances publicly. Old Mutual and its partners have benefited from the daylight robbery of mining rights and from massacres by the army and air force of Zimbabwe. In a well-documented orgy of violence, helicopter gunships mowed down civilians in cold blood, ‘clearing the decks’ for the junta’s illegal mining activities.”
Old Mutual said it was not only the largest financial services company in Zimbabwe but also the largest investor on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. These investments were on behalf of its Zimbabwean customers.
“Due to legal requirements such as exchange controls, there have been and continue to be very specific parameters for investing customer funds, including being prevented from investing in foreign assets. In order to continue operating and to ensure that we preserve and protect the investments of the Zimbabwean people, Old Mutual Zimbabwe is obliged to adhere to these parameters. These are separate to investments held for shareholders,” the company said.
On Zimbabwe Newspapers Bennett said Old Mutual was in bed with a “practitioner of hate-speech and an apostle of vice and violence”.
“This dirty little rag plays a very real part in the butchery and battery of our people,” he said referring to Zimpapers daily, The Herald.
In its response Old Mutual said its investment in Zimpapers dated back to the pre-independence era.
“The shareholding in Zimpapers of 18% is held in trust on behalf of our Zimbabwean customers (policyholders) and therefore is a portfolio investment and not a shareholder investment. As a result, we do not influence or involve ourselves in the operational policy or practice of Zimpapers or any of its subsidiaries,” the company said.
“While we remain mindful of and sensitive to the social and political climate in Zimbabwe, these investments are therefore meant to meet the investment expectations of our Zimbabwean customers.”