- Prominent Zimbabwe businessman and Emmerson Mnangagwa ally Oliver Chidawu has died
- Chidawu was a successful businessman who founded and ran several companies in Zimbabwe
- Chidawu was best known for being chairman of ABC Holdings Limited in Zimbabwe
- President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed Chidawu to cabinet where he served to till his death
When the news of Oliver Mandishona Chidawu broke over the news wires, every news outlet ran a story on the events around this man’s death.
Government publications went into overdrive to report that “…the nation had been plunged into mourning” following this person’s death. Added to the mystique is the fact this man was then declared a national hero, and in Zimbabwe whenever a deceased person is accorded such a status, they are given a state-sponsored burial with full honours.
Their remains are also interred at the national heroes’ acre, a burial ground reserved for liberation struggle heroes and ruling party stalwarts. At the time of his death, Oliver Chidawu was a political stalwart and a member of the ruling ZANU PF party. He was the minister of state for Harare province.
Chidawu led a storied life. He broke a record during the early years of the country’s nationhood by being the youngest person ever to hold the office of the mayor of the city of Harare shortly after independence at the ripe young age of 29! The ruling party expressed shock at his death, calling it a shock. They described him as “a loyal, patriotic, and hardworking cadre”.
For those who may or may not know, the ruling party, ZANU PF, is run along soviet lines and style. Therefore, political rhetoric and statements from the ruling party take on soviet era innuendos and connotations. For example, members of the ruling party refer to themselves and each other as comrades. A term which is essentially a Soviet and communist relic. The party structure of ZANU PF also imitates its soviet equivalent, replete with a politburo being the highest decision-making organ and Stalinist central committee. Honourable Chidawu, as he was referred to in his life, was a member of the politburo.
Chidawu began his political career as a ward councillor and then went on to become mayor of the city of Harare from there, he proceeded to be a member of the central committee before becoming a minister in President Mnangagwa’s government. The two were reportedly close friends. In addition to being a politician with close ties with people in the corridors of power in the Zimbabwean political landscape, Chidawu was a chartered engineer and an entrepreneur.
As is typical with any foray into business and or endeavour of life in general, there are successes and failures. Chidawu had notable successes and failures. He had admirers and critics in almost equal proportion.
He is best known in Zimbabwean corporate circles for being the chairman of ABC Holdings Limited, a pan-African banking enterprise with operations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi. The original shareholders of the banking group have since divested and sold their interest to another pan-African banking investment group which Ashish Thakar and Bob Diamond lead.
The bank has since rebranded to BancABC. The 2008 annual report described Chidawu in this manner, “Born in Zimbabwe in 1954, he is a first-generation entrepreneur who founded and manages the Kuchi Group of companies, which is active in building and electrical contracting.
Chidawu is a major shareholder in Bitumen Construction Services and Heritage Insurance Company. He was a founding shareholder and director of Heritage Investment Bank that merged with First Merchant Bank in 1997.”
Although his role at ABC Holdings Limited propelled him into the mainstream corporate world of Zimbabwe, Oliver Chidawu was always a notable businessman entrepreneur. His construction and engineering company, the Kuchi Group, successfully completed several public and private sector projects.
In Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Kuchi counts among its many projects the Florian Court, which is now a residential apartment development. The period between the 1980s and the 1990s in Zimbabwe was especially good for emerging businesspeople like Chidawu, who managed to diversify his business interests from construction and engineering to other sectors.
The most notable of these was his relationship with Douglas Tawanda Munatsi, another Zimbabwean corporate titan who died last year in unclear circumstances. The two businessmen had merged their banking assets into what then became ABC Holdings Limited.
Oliver Chidawu had been the founding shareholder of an outfit called Heritage Investment Bank, and Douglas Munatsi was the founder of First Merchant Bank. Chidawu, in that period, also acquired a substantial portfolio of shares of companies listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. His portfolio comprised furniture retail and manufacturing companies as well as the manufacture and distribution of agricultural inputs.
In the 2000s, Chidawu was at his zenith. He had a portfolio of thriving businesses and had board seats on several Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed companies like ABC Holdings Limited, Zimplow Limited, and Bindura Nickel Corporation.
Things started to go badly in the 2010s. Chidawu had made an unsuccessful expansion of his construction outfit to the United Kingdom. A difficult business environment coupled with expensive and unsustainable loans saw the businessman lose some of his prized interests.
In 2012 in a highly publicized court battle, it emerged that Chidawu owed monies to another Harare businessman Jayesh Shah. Shah is a low-key businessman who lends money to high-profile government officials and businesspeople. Former finance minister Tendai Biti infamously accused him of being “a loan shark of Indian descent”. Shah earned the unfair moniker of being a loan shark because he would realize the collateral pledged by whoever would have borrowed money from him quite swiftly after it became clear that the borrower had defaulted on their agreement.
It was reported during that time that Chidawu owed a sum of US$ 3 million to the Indian businessman and had pledged his shareholding in a furniture manufacturing and retail company called Pelhams Limited. When Chidawu could not pay, Shah proceeded to realize the security. He also went on to sell Chidawu’s 358,207,502 shares in the furniture company to another businessman Tawanda Nyambirai. Chidawu tried unsuccessfully to block this transaction from going through.
After this high-profile case, Chidawu’s star appeared to wane and shrink into obscurity. He lost his board seats and seemed to shun the public. He continued to operate his private businesses, however, away from the glaring eye of the public, only to emerge on the public scene as a minister in the cabinet of the second republic under the current president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
He served as minister of state for Harare province until his death at 68 years of age. His career through his reemergence in government seemed to have come full circle. It appears to have been an honourable end to an eventful and checkered life. He was not without controversy, though. After he died, news reports surfaced that he had allegedly not been paying farm workers at his farm in Chinhoyi for prolonged periods running up to a year.