by Staff Reporter
HARARE-VICE President Phelekezela Mphoko, whose wife, Laurinda, was at the weekend robbed goods and money worth well over R1 million (about $100 000) in South Africa at the weekend, is one of the senior government officials who are secretly enjoying a windfall arising from the country’s protracted economic with his supermarket chain, Choppies Zimbabwe—which imports virtually everything from South Africa—is reportedly growing at an exponentially rate.
Prior to his surprise appointment in as Vice President in December last year, Mphoko was Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa where he had teamed up with former Botswana President Festus Mogae and some private businesspeople to take advantage of the collapse of the Zimbabwe industries by supplying basics to the local market.
Over the years Zimbabweans have been crossing to neighbouring countries to do their shopping where prices are several times lower compared to locally produced products.
Sources close to the business said after expanding its operations from Bulawayo to Harare in December last year, the group’s turnover grew exponentially resulting in a decision to speed up the planned expansion.
“Business has been too good for the group and the VP is enjoying it. Initially they were planning to open up to 60 outlets over a three to four year period but this would be hurried to take full advantage of the situation in Zimbabwe,” the source said.
Botswana Stock Exchange-listed Choppies Enterprises and the Mphoko family jointly own Choppies Zimbabwe. VP Phelekezela Mphoko is the chairman of Choppies Zimbabwe while his son Sigokogela Mphoko is the operations director.
Virtually everything on the supermarket chain’s shelves is imported either from South African or Botswana as the group takes advantage of the extortionate prices in Zimbabwe where the United States is severely underrated.
In March, the retail group’s parent company in Botswana announced that income from its Zimbabwe operations had grown by 250 percent inside a six month period, a margin that is not easily be achieved in a normal business environment.
“Revenue from Zimbabwe operations grew by 250 percent to BWP395 million ($39.85 million) in the half-year ended December 2014 after an aggressive expansion that saw its units growing to 18 outlets from 13 since 2013,” said the retailer.
“The entry into Zimbabwe in 2013 has exceeded all expectations and there’s a major expansion plan to ensure an extensive footprint in the country with the objective of opening up to 50 stores.”
Of the five new units, four of them were opened in Harare. The sources said several more outlets are being added in Gweru, Masvingo, Mutare, Bindura and Gwanda and the group is especially targeting malls owned by Old Mutual.
It remains to be seen how committed Phelekezela Mphoko is to his government’s much-vaunted Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) economic programme that seeks to resuscitate and grow the economy when he is already benefiting from the economic malaise afflicting the country.