Robert Mugabe was sworn in a Prime minister of the independent country of Zimbabwe in April 1980, after a fifteen-year bush war. He was feted by the British and the Americans. Margaret Thatcher knighted him, so he became Sir Robert.
At the time I was running a joint venture between The South African Breweries and the Government of Botswana, which consisted of a brewery and soft drink plant, a sorghum beer business, a distribution business, and a hotel business.
In September 1980(i.e.six months after Zimbabwe independence), I was asked by our Botswana Government partners to see some potential investors from newly independent Zimbabwe.
Three Africans, all obviously carrying pistols of some sort, were ushered in; they were accompanied by a seedy looking Brit: “This is our financial advisor,” I was told.
We talked about Mugabe’s overwhelming victory in the recently held elections in Zim. We talked about the rains, the cattle, the elephants, and the rosy prospects for the Country. They eventually raised the question they had come to ask: “Would we consider selling our, now quite successful, Hotel business?”
My response was: “Certainly, but I would need to know who you represent.”
The immediate reply: “We cannot disclose the identity of our principals.”
I shrugged: “Our shareholders are the Botswana Government and a major South African Public company, so we can’t take this conversation any further until we know who we are dealing with.”
We then talked about the Zimbabwe election, the rains, the cattle the elephants, the country’s economic prospects and the gentlemen finished their tea and left.
I though nothing more about the conversation until I bumped into the Secretary for Finance in the street. He thanked me for seeing the visitors and then said to me: “You realise those people represent Mugabe’s private money…”
Obviously, that came as complete surprise to me. Where did the funds come from for someone who had spent the past fifteen years fighting a bush war? Well you tell me.
If I knew what was going on, obviously the British and American Governments would also have known! They still continued to support Mugabe until eventually, years later they came to the only possible conclusion and gradually abandoned him. His British knighthood was rescinded.