Gono empire falls on hard times

Former Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono is failing to pay workers at the many companies he owns, as his business empire struggles to keep afloat.

Gideon Gono
Gideon Gono

Employees told this newspaper they had not been paid, with some saying they were owed money dating back to more than a year ago. Gono left RBZ in December last year after serving for a decade. He reportedly acquired most of the companies during his tenure as governor. It is understood that he sought to have his term extended by a year but President Robert Mugabe turned down his request.

Gono, who owns a web of companies in the construction, banking, hospitality, agribusiness, fuel, transport, publishing and security sectors, is facing a raft of corruption charges at the Constitutional Court following an application by Munyaradzi Kereke, his former advisor at the Bank.

In response to questions submitted by email, Gono said he was away until January 20 and would respond on his return “and possibly take (the reporter)on a personal tour of my companies so he can see for himself if they are ‘struggling’ to the point he has been misled to believe.”

Gono added: “Please advise him not to join the list of those being used to tarnish the image of the retired governor.”

The companies in his empire include Omega Abattoir, Luna Chickens, Dobadoba Construction, Ecosoft, Phoenix Security, Earth Core, The Financial Gazette, Sun Estates and the Chivu based Vics Tavern Hotel, as well as several fuel concerns, including an oil transporting company, Avante, Malborough Service Station and a service station at Murambinda business centre in rural Chivu.

In addition, Gono has several farms, including the 4,000 hectare New Donnington, some 60 km southwest of Harare, and Rimaitidye. A source at the once-thriving New Donnington, speaking anonymously, said production at the farm had drastically gone down over the years, with a lean team of workers now tilling a few hectares of potatoes and soya beans.

“We are experiencing a severe shortage of inputs. A good number of workers have left the farm because of poor production and non-payment of salaries over many months. Some skilled workers have found jobs elsewhere,” said the source.

He claimed that Gono, unlike in the past, hardly visited the farm and had told workers that they should find alternative means of income. As result some of them helped themselves to the little produce resulting as the farm, in order to survive.

A visit to New Donnington by The Zimbabwean revealed that it is now overgrown with grass and weeds, with hardly any production taking place. Irrigation equipment is breaking down and the workers complained that have no means of transport. Of late, the small workforce has been busy with potato harvesting, but the workers say the crop was farmed on a small piece of land, and left buyers disappointed because they could not meet demand.

Omega Abattoirs, which slaughters cattle for sale to Harare butcheries and other private buyers, has also fallen on hard times. Based in Norton, it used to employ about 60 full time workers, but the number of beasts being slaughtered has reportedly fallen sharply.

“Most of us have not been paid for the last 12 months and the going is tough for us. Gono does not have a hands-on approach to the business and we have not seen him in ages,” said the source, adding that Omega, like the other businesses owned by Gono, was a victim of poor management.

Some workers said Group Chief Executive Officer Velanjani Lupanga had asked employees to write letters asking to be laid off without terminal benefits. “This is not acceptable. There is no way in which we can just walk away after years of loyal service. It looks like these guys want to crook us,” said one of the employees.

Lupanga did not respond to numerous calls, and the only time he did so, he promised to call back but had not done so by the time of going to print.

Late last year, one of Gono’s companies, Luna Chickens, was taken to court by Crest Breeders International, accused of defaulting on paying for $17,000 worth of poultry products.

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