OPINION & ANALYSIS: SIGWANE VERSUS SHAKANTU ISSUE
In a letter to the Eswatini Competition Commission, dated 30 November 2023, entitled: INYATSI GROUP DOMINANCE AND UNFAIR COMPETITION TO LOCAL BUSINESSES – REQUEST FOR AN INVESTIGATION, the Federation of Eswatini Business Community (FESBC) complained about what it refers to as dominance and acquisition of various companies by Inyatsi Group, to the disadvantage of the local business community in eSwatini.
According to FESBC, the letter was a culmination of an instruction by its members to request the Eswatini Competition Commission to urgently conduct an investigation on the Inyatsi Group on “its dominance and acquisition of various companies to the disadvantage of local business community.”
The letter decries “dominance of Inyatsi Holdings in almost all the sectors of the economy, namely Meat Industry (SMI Acquisition), Poultry (Umbuluzi Chicken), Mining (Maloma Colliery), Telecommunication (Swazi Mobile), Medical (Clinic Group), Insurance (United Holdings, Lidwala Insurance), Construction (Inyatsi, CA, Infracast), Estate (Nkonyeni Estate), etc.”
Without getting into much detail, especially since the contents are now subject to court processes, the complaints include allegations of exploitation of local businesses, non-legal compliance, and others.
Inyatsi Group Executive Chairman Michello Shakantu had told Swaziland News prior that they have followed the law and everything is above board regarding their acquisition of various companies. The Eswatini Competition Commission CEO, Muzi Dlamini, also clarified in the same publication that the Inyatsi acquisitions were not in violation of the Competition Act. Anyway, it appears to be bigger than just a competition matter.
Inyatsi Group Executive Chairman Michello Shakantu.
Mark the name of one Mavela Sigwane who is in the footnote of the letter, mentioned as a board member.
Now, in all fairness, in an open and civilized society, nothing is unbecoming about a citizen or entity reporting a matter to what they perceive to be an appropriate or relevant institution – the Competition Commission in this case. However, what might have been different in this case is that the letter went viral and got everyone discussing its contents even before the Competition Commission could make sense of it and start its investigations. One would assume that had Inyatsi been reported to the Commission without the letter going public, the investigations would still be ongoing quietly, as is the case with other complaints before a regulator.
In this instance, Inyatsi might have felt obliged to step in for purposes of its brand reputation, among others. Perhaps, given this and other factors, Inyatsi might have concluded that the letter was not about a legitimate complaint to the Commission but defamation. “Having taken instructions, it has become patently obvious and evident that the said correspondence contains information which is not only incorrect, but it is defamatory not only of our clients but other parties which are mentioned in the said correspondence,” reads a letter from Inyatsi Group’s Attorneys to the FESBC President Tum du Pont, dated Monday 4 December 2023.
“Our client denies the veracity of the contents of your correspondence and as such, demands that the said retraction and/or apology be attended to and published within 3 (three) days from the date of this letter,” continued the letter from S.V. Mdladla & Associates.
Then came the name of Mavela Sigwane – a board member of FESBC who is a former employee of Maloma Colliery – which is part of Inyatsi Group.
On the following day, Tuesday 5 December 2023, Maloma Colliery published a public notice in the local newspaper with Mavela Sigwane’s picture.
“Maloma Colliery Limited wishes to inform the public that Mavela Sigwane is no longer employed by the Company. Any business transactions conducted with him are not associated with Maloma Colliery Limited, and we will not be held responsible for any losses or damages incurred as a result. The Company hereby requests that anyone who has been approached by Mr. Sigwane to conduct business with Maloma Colliery Limited to kindly refrain from doing so. We take this opportunity to remind our valued customers and stakeholders that Maloma Colliery Limited conducts all its business through channels and authorized personnel only,” reads the public announcement.
Now, anyone reading the statement could not be faulted to conclude that it has some vicious insinuations. “What happened? Has Sigwane done something wrong and got himself fired? Was he an employee of Maloma?” these are some of the questions that might have been in the minds of some people after seeing it.
FESBC Board Member Mavela Sigwane.
And this has been like a week-long battle in an ongoing “war”.
On Wednesday 6 December 2023, Sigwane recorded a statement with the Siteki Police Station, in which he made a wide range of allegations against Inyatsi Group and its Chair Michello Shakantu and others. In the 4-page long letter, Sigwane says he observed elements of fraud and corruption conducted by Maloma Colliery Limited Management at the time while he was working for Maloma Colliery as SHEQ Manager. Again, the details of the letter will not be published because they are subjected to investigation as reported by a citizen of the country.
It is also worth noting that this police statement also found its way into the hands of the public as it is circulating the same way the Competition Commission letter got to the public. However, Sigwane, like any citizen of the country, has the right to report what he perceives to be against the law, the same way Inyatsi Group has every right to defend what it perceives to be defamation.
As it seems, this has become some form of “war.”
On Thursday 7 December 2023, Sigwane told the Swaziland News that he was not afraid of Michello Shakantu, saying he would spill the beans and bring down Inyatsi Group for defaming him.
“I’ve been quiet since my resignation in February 2023 because I was respecting my previous employer but now, I will be forced to speak”, said Sigwane as quoted by Swaziland News.
On Friday 8 December 2023, there were disturbing media reports by the Minister of Commerce, Industry & Trade, Mancoba Khumalo, who blasted FESBC in a statement.
“The registration of concerns with the Competition Commission has also not been legally made as contained in the relevant legislation. The letter that was maliciously circulated does not constitute registration of a concern and FESBC has been previously advised of this. Furthermore, the public citing of different agencies without consultation has been noted as a concern which discredits the basis for the allegations. It is therefore worrying that such an approach from FESBC could negatively affect the positive investment and growth climate in the country, resulting in the loss of employment already created and yet to be created,” said the Minister in the statement.
Now, coming from a Minister that was below the belt; it constituted gross unprofessionalism on the part of Minister Mancoba Khumalo. As Swaziland News Editor noted, Inyatsi Group can defend itself and clarify where it feels it is being treated unfairly or defamed and they have every right to approach any relevant institution and the courts as it has done. They have also exercised their constitutional and legal right to call a press conference to clarify and put forward their position. They do not need the Minister to do that.