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Zunaid Moti’s tsunami of spin secures judicial gagging order against investigative journalists

Zunaid Moti’s tsunami of spin secures judicial gagging order against investigative journalists
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa (centre right) next to Moti Group chairman Zunaid Moti (centre left) at the launch of a plant at Zimbabwe’s biggest chrome miner African Chrome Fields, a part of the Moti Group, in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, on 25 July 2018. (Photo: Jekesai Njikizana / AFP via Getty Images)

Well-funded legal assaults and public relations shouldn’t suppress a free press… and won’t make the tough questions vanish.

In an unprecedented attack on free speech, a South African court has ordered journalists at amaBhungane to stop reporting on the Moti Group, a Johannesburg-based multinational that mines chrome and lithium in Zimbabwe.

The background to the court order is an investigation by amaBhungane and The Sentry into the Moti Group’s actions in Zimbabwe.

We found that, following a $120-million deal signed during Zimbabwe’s week-long coup in November 2017, the Moti Group’s African Chrome Fields (ACF) paid $1-million to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s farm and $2-million to a firm closely linked to Vice President Constantino Chiwenga. ACF also employed Mnangagwa’s son, entered a joint venture with the military, and paid millions of dollars to companies whose records are missing from Zimbabwe’s corporate registry.

Mysterious payments to the farms of southern African presidents aren’t new. Few would have questioned the public interest in knowing the circumstances around payments to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm. Yet while a $580,000 payment to the South African President’s farm sparked an official inquiry, the news organisation that exposed a $1-million payment to the Zimbabwean president’s farm received a judicial gagging order. The contrast could not be more stark, or more troubling.

Zunaid Moti, the main power at the Moti Group, has gone on a public relations offensive. His legal strategy designed to censor further reporting has been accompanied by TikToks, tweets, a YouTube channel, adverts, interviews and newspaper articles.

But let’s not allow Moti’s tsunami of spin to drown out two central questions:

  1. Why did ACF pay $1-million to Pricabe Enterprises, the entity that owns Mnangagwa’s farm, on 5 December 2017?
  2. Why did ACF pay $2-million to Cosmotex Investments, a firm run by a close associate of the vice president and someone reported to be Chiwenga’s niece, on 19 December 2017 and 8 January 2018?

It is plainly in the public interest to question the purpose of those payments, and it is responsible journalism to report the explanations that the Moti Group has offered: amid inflation and a depreciating Zimbabwean currency, it says those payments were loans and investments to preserve value, made at the direction of a bureau de change. The Moti Group denies any wrongdoing and says that the timing of the deal, during the coup, was coincidental.

Part of Moti’s recent self-marketing campaign has been his promotion of entrepreneurship, with Moti giving advice on social media about how to make wise investments. It might be instructive, then, for young entrepreneurs seeking to understand the rationale behind the Moti Group’s investments, to hear answers to the following questions about his unusual business strategy:

  • Why would African Chrome Fields, a chrome mining company, lend a large sum of money to a president’s farm?
  • What business is Cosmotex Investments involved in that deserved the investment?
  • What due diligence was done into the firms?
  • What security was provided for the loans?
  • What interest rate was charged?
  • How was the loan repaid?
  • Why would a chrome mining company lend to third parties at the direction of a bureau de change?
  • How did the Moti Group move tens of millions of dollars out of Zimbabwe during a time of strict exchange controls?

The court order currently prevents journalists from asking such questions. There might be good answers. There might not. In either case, let South African and Zimbabwean citizens hear them. DM

Nick Donovan is a senior investigator at The Sentry.


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