Sthofeni Ginindza and the battle for the soul of the country
Sthofeni Ginindza and the battle for the soul of the country
Everything that is right and wrong about this country can be summed up in two words: S’thofeni Ginindza. Like Obi Okonkwo, the main protagonist in Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, Ginindza has become the face of the battle for the soul of the country—for good and for bad. For indeed questions can be asked: what exactly happens when a country corrupts the soul of its intelligent and moral barristers? Ginindza’s life has all the answers. He was, after all, what every parent would wish for; impressive academic credentials that took him from University of eSwatini to Stanford and Carleton University to his colourful professional life as an investment banker and ultimately a partner at African Alliance.
Even more vaunted is how he conquered the world of business and became the enamored go-to-guy if you so much as wanted corporate governance in its unadulterated and purest form. He sold himself as the paragon of eSwatini’s professional, ethical and moral regeneration. What is more, African Alliance has spawned many other businesses including Select Management, KFC and Pick n Pay franchises in the country. This obviously made him wealthy and a source of both pride and admiration. Everyone wanted to be associated with him and for 15 years he was the king’s personal banker and investor. It never gets any better than that in any country especially if you can have the King on speed dial. Ginindza had reached the pinnacle of success professionally, politically and financially.
[Sthofeni Ginindza. He is the board chairman of the Swazi Observer and the king's personal investment banker. Photo Credit: Swazi Obsever]
But, like the fictional Okonkwo, his ambition was to become his downfall. Today The Bridge can reveal that Ginindza has had a fall out with the King leading to the police and Anti-Corruption Commission keeping him under their close radar. His handling of the Swazi Observer fiasco has created more enemies than friends especially when he began to be associated with what police intelligence sources call ‘enemies of the establishment’. At Ludzidzini he has become somewhat of a persona non grata even as he remains the King’s private investment banker. His association with Sipho Shongwe, the man who allegedly killed Victor Gamedze, the king’s personal favourite, has been used by his enemies to plant all manner of conspiracy theories. It was not always like this though. Ginindza took a wrong turn somewhere. Today the vultures are hovering.
There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Okonkwo and the recent turbulence in Ginindza’s life. In the novel ‘No Longer at Ease’ Achebe paints a picture of a man his community had entrusted with saving the corrupt soul of Nigeria who had, in turn, been caught in the very web he was meant to untangle. As one of Ginindza’s close associates was to tell The Bridge, ‘he was the rat that swam with the lizard’. As legend goes, the rat ultimately dies from cold because the hairy body remains wet but the lizard’s scales keep it dry. Ginindza’s obsessive competition with the late Victor Gamedze was perhaps his greatest undoing. In eSwatini it has become normal to appoint independently wealthy people into boards (like they are currently doing with Phil Mnisi) or giving you money to scale your business. Soon they accuse you of stealing the insecure King Mswati's money. This is exactly the troubles facing Ginindza.
Victor Gamedze haunts them from the grave
At the core of Ginindza’s troubles is the haunting legacy of the late Mbabane Swallows and Swazi Mobile boss, Gamedze. At the time the late Gamedze had just outmaneuvered everyone into the orbit of the king and royalty. Gamedze had just survived the eSwatini Post and Telecommunications Commission (EPTC) mafia scandal in which, for a while, it had looked like he would be taken down. After an initial fall out with the late former Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, Gamedze ultimately managed to rework his relationship and subsequently gained access to the King, something he had long wanted as a deeply ambitious man. Gamedze was street smart, giving him access to the king was always a disaster for everyone. He quickly endeared himself to the monarch by introducing the king to football. The King liked the admiration he was getting through football. Soon Ingwenyama Cup, and later the King's Cup, which involved South Africa's Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, followed. These were broadcasted on South Africa’s SuperSport, something that had previously been considered an impossibility. Gamedze pulled it off. The King was impressed. He subsequently appointed him to the King's Board of Trustees meaning he too was now going to have the King on speed dial. Gamedze’s way of thinking and ability to get things done, no questions asked, made him a favourite. The King had started to realise that Gamedze had great ideas not just to make him money but also to make him adorable to the public. Gamedze not just pampered money to the King but could be relied upon to handle the power dynamics within the royal family. This made it easy for the king to keep everyone happy. This is something Ginindza could not achieve. Soon, his popularity was starting to wane and he was not happy. Ginindza, the much celebrated private banker with colourful academic and professional credentials, saw himself being nudged out of the royal circle by a mere high school dropout. And boy, he didn’t like it a bit.
[The late Victor Gamedze. He was the king's personal favourite because he doled money to the monarch and kept the royal family happy]
By far the biggest game changer was the entry into the mobile telecommunications space by Swazi Mobile. This grew Gamedze's stock within the royal family as a man whose touch turned everything to gold. It was also widely known the bigwigs at MTN were not happy with him especially as it looked like he was biting into their cake. Gamedze became an overnight golden boy and Ginindza looked with both jealousy and resentment. Ginindza’s desperation to work himself into the king’s heart, given the monarch’s newly found love for football, made him try football. He subsequently became part of the Board for Matsapha United Football Club, a team owned by alleged murderer, Sipho Shongwe. Shongwe too was a confessed rival of Gamedze and had his heart and eyes set on dethroning him and his influence in the country. Ginindza therefore came to Matsapha United not just to bring his own clout to the team but also to sanitise Shongwe’s criminal image within the powers that be. By this time it was clear the knives were being sharpened. However, they found an obstacle they had not anticipated as Gamedze kept coming up with one idea after another to impress the Monarch. Ginindza felt embarrassed. Swazi Mobile was the last straw. At that point Gamedze had become practically everything he would have expected himself to be and this made him resent Gamedze even more. This was getting not just serious but personal. He was feeling the pressure and used to demand the Observer to publish every dirty little thing he heard about Gamedze. This is what ultimately led him to his relationship with Swaziland Shopping (later Swaziland News), the online publication owned by Zweli ‘ZweMart’ Dlamini. Down at Ludzidzini Ginindza was no longer the main man in the Palace. He was becoming just another of those hangers-on who would occasionally be called in to be engaged purely ‘as and when’.
Ginindza and Mandvulo
The late Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini and Ginindza were more than just united in hating Gamedze--they had a history. The two had previously worked together at eSwatini Revenue Authority (SRA) where Ginindza was once Chairman and Mandvulo his deputy. Interestingly, Ginindza is also a shareholder at Swaziland Empowerment Limited (SEL), a part shareholder of MTN, where Mandvulo ultimately became boss. More than anything, Ginindza and the late Prime Minister were fiercely behind MTN in every bit of the way. Their shared interests in the growth of MTN was influenced in part by the fact that they were both bankers in their early careers who wanted to be seen as corporate giants who had achieved but also the common hate for the late Gamedze and anyone who associated with him.
There was also the Swazi Mobile issue that was being seen within the political elite as an attempt to muscle MTN out of the market. It should be remembered that MTN and the late Mandvulo, along with Ginindza for good measure, had vehemently opposed the idea of EPTC’s Joint Venture Agreement being cancelled. This venture would have allowed EPTC its own mobile phone operating licence. MTN was happy with that arrangement because they enjoyed the monopoly status. However, Gamedze saw an opportunity and moved in to set up Swazi Mobile leaving everyone, including those at SPTC, red-faced. By offering the king shares he stole the monarch’s heart because under this new arrangement both mobile companies were going to be guaranteed a share of the cake without anyone being intimidated by who the shareholder was. Of course SPTC was the one who lost out big time because they were hoping to get permission to get into the mobile space and were in truth practically ready. However, to protect the interests of MTN, they were always told they could never be able to survive without the MTN dividends and therefore better off where they were.
[The late Prime Minister Mandvulo Dlamini. Him and Ginindza hated Victor Gamedze]
The power shift became evident when Mandvulo was nudged out of MTN because he and his people were vehemently opposed to the idea of Swazi Mobile. This led to Mandvulo being shafted out of MTN despite his protestations. MTN South Africa did not know what to do because it was clear where the message to remove him came from. It became an even bigger problem when Mandvulo was told he was not welcome in Botswana where he was expected to go. The main reason was that Botswana had a new CEO and the Tswanas refused to be led by a Swazi. Ambrose came home to play the waiting game. The powerful JC elite, however, came through for him and hijacked the appointment of a prime minister to install him. At this point the Mandvulo and Ginindza alliance had become powerful especially as his buddy, now elevated to the powerful position of Prime Minister, could help frustrate Gamedze out of the palace.
Because Ginindza and Mandvulo had both served as the leadership of SRA, they used the institution to their advantage by gathering intelligence about their enemies. Sources told The Bridge that intelligence data on who was owing how much in taxes found its way to them. In the majority of cases, people were targeted, through the use of SRA, to not just eliminate competition but also to harass those they were not in good relations with. A lot of the information obtained here found its way to the king. A case in point is a businessman who was found to have been paying for the upkeep of his girlfriend. SRA officers were sent to go through the books and then before the businessman knew it, he was being told to pay up or the business would be shut down. Just for ambience, the woman would be harassed too. This is partly why there was a strong rumour of a mafia operating in this country.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year Mandvulo appointed his buddy as the enabler, a position that in truth only served to keep him within the hospital hill networks, especially as both their efforts to keep Ginindza beyond his second term at Eswatini Electricity Company (EEC) had failed. There was nothing tangible for him to do at EEC except that as the joker in the pack, Ginindza was good enough just to liven the mood. The Bridge understands that there were even manoeuvres to push him to replace Central Bank Governor Majozi Sithole upon the expiry of his contract. But that too hit a snag. However, they finally were able to appoint him the Chairman of the Royal Science & Technology Park, on its own a very controversial appointment given there is very little success in all the Boards he has served in. This is of course with the exception of at EEC although those at EEC would contest this.
The real troubles facing Ginindza must be appreciated within the context of the battle for the heart of the king’s newspaper, The Swazi Observer. The Observer is an important institution in the ideological warfare of the king and the royal family. Under the ownership of Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, the organization promotes royalty and conservative tradition more generally. Ginindza was therefore appointed as a board Chairman in 2013 at the height of the former Managing Director Alpheous Nxumalo rigmarole at the organisation. The main priority then was to get him out of the Observer because he was proving to be such a nuisance. At the time Nxumalo had had a fallout with Themba Dlamini, Tibiyo Managing Director, and refusing to cooperate with the Tim Nhleko led board. Alpheous was considered a loose cannon who had got into bed with Sibusiso Shongwe, the disgraced former Minister and lawyer, and was thought to be selling the soul of the newspaper.
Ginindza was therefore considered for the Observer chairmanship because of his closeness to the king. In any event, he was the envy of many for the simple reason that he was the King's go to man. A.T, as the Tibiyo boss is known, went for someone he knew would not be intimidated by the politics or by the mere access to the King that Nxumalo and others brandished whenever they were being challenged. This shows the clout of the man at the time.
At the time, Nxumalo had suspended Editor Alec Lushaba, the late Thulani Thwala and Finance and Administration Controller, Andreas Nkabinde. He had his fingers in the cookie jar too and believed himself to be untouchable. A.T was frustrated. He turned to Ginindza in part because of his close relationship with the king but also because he wanted someone who was well connected to be able to take Nxumalo head-on. This then spilled into the judicial crisis wherein Nxumalo’s relationship with Shongwe, then Minister of Justice, gave him access to the courts through Shongwe's relationship with the late former Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. The two had a known unholy alliance that subsequently pitted Ramodibedi, Shongwe and the late Prime Minister Barnabas.
[Former Swazi Observer Managing Director Alpheous Nxumalo. He had the newspaper by the balls much to Tibiyo boss AT' Dlamini s frustration]
With Nxumalo having a solid relationship with Shongwe, whom he was using as his attorney, he knew the coast was clear at the High Court where Ramodibedi exercised authoritarian leadership. In fact, in one particular incident, Nxumalo literally forced his way into his offices despite an interim court order not to set his foot at the company. This was the setting for Ginindza and his Board—clear the leadership paralysis at the newspaper. Getting rid of Nxumalo by all means possible became their priority. Incidentally, this is when suspended Managing Editor Mbongeni Mbingo started working for the Sunday Observer. The newly formed board trumpeted the stability brought by recruiting a new Managing Editor and reversing the unfair suspension of the editors as their achievement. Ultimately the Sunday Observer, now edited by Mbingo, began a spirited campaign against the late CJ in part because of their own dynamics that had seen the rise of the unholy Nxumalo, Shongwe and Ramodibedi alliance but also because they tapped into the public anger against the late CJ. In fact in a rather untypical form the Sunday Observer even stood firmly behind The Nation Editor Bheki Makhubu when he was arrested. In fact the Times of Eswatini had even made it clear it would not run stories on Makhubu's trial and that was to happen until Makhubu walked out of Sidvwashini. The fall of Shongwe and that of Ramodibedi became a feather in Ginindza’s cap. He saw it as his success given how the newspaper had literally caused the end of the judicial capture by Ramodibedi. Buoyed by this, Ginindza began interfering with the work of the editorial content of the newspaper and ultimately a collision with the suspended Managing Editor. The newspaper declined in standards and sales went even lower.
However, Ginindza’s major failing as board chairman of the newspaper became his inability to oust Andreas Nkabinde, who had become old and ineffective as Managing Director of the Newspaper. Nkabinde had acted several times as MD and had wanted the position full time. However, he had fall-out with the Board on several issues, especially when the standards and quality of the newspaper started to drop. The internal politics at the newspaper meant that Nkabinde became part of the problem more than a leader in the business. Ginindza wanted someone to buy into his media capture and Nkabinde was not that man. Besides, the newspaper was making a loss year after year when in fact the Ginindza led board had found it afloat. There was a feeling they needed fresh ideas. Their decision was to send Nkabinde packing but then replaced him with someone worse than a cub reporter. They turned their search to Alan Mkhont whose claim to fame was working as a Public Relations Officer at Eswatini Sugar Association (ESA). But Mkhonta was nothing more than just an errand boy for ESA Chief Executive Officer, Professor Mike Matsebula. That seemed to appeal to Ginindza though because he needed exactly that - someone to only ask how high when told to jump. Currently, despite his rich acumen on business and his success at African Alliance, Ginindza’s board is supervising a newspaper that is millions of Emalangeni in red and still with a Managing Director worse than Alpheous Nxumalo. Ginindza didn’t approve of Mbingo for several reasons. First, he was seen as a blue eyed boy of the late Gamedze, a man he hated with every vein in his body. Secondly, Mbingo has been recruited to the Swazi Observer by AT himself as part of his own political agenda to dethrone the late Barnabas Dlamini by using any institution in his power to get back to the Prime Minister position. The relationship between AT and Mbingo was uncomfortable to Ginindza especially as chairman and Mbingo’s boss. Even worse was when Mbingo tried to leave the institution to be Chief Executive Officer of Eswatini TV Ginindza told him to stay put as he wanted him to fill the vacant Managing Director position. When Ginindza reneged on the promise and hired Mkhonta, Mbingo felt betrayed and registered his concerns to AT, something that didn’t go down well with Ginindza. Ultimately, the relationship between Mbingo and his new MD was to start on a bad footing from word go. Ginindza loved it to bits and milked it for all its juices. The subsequent suspension of Mbingo, after a spirited campaign of slander in social media, including leaking of his pay slip to the Swaziland News and claims in Eugene Dube’s online publication that he had slept with the king’s wife, only served to put the newspaper into spotlight at Ludzidzini. The battles at Swazi Observer had become dirty.
Swazi Observer crisis deepens
Even though Mbingo’s Disciplinary hearing took a long time, by March this year lawyer Kwanele Magagula had concluded the hearing and found him guilty of only three of the seven charges. The Bridge has in authority that it is now a question of when Mbingo will be sacked. However, his case is complicated by the fact that he won the charges that were meant to see him fired and the board is now divided on what to do with him. For Ginindza, getting rid of Mbingo has proven not to be as easy as it was anticipated. What spoiled things for them was the leaking of Mbingo’s private salary slip to media houses hated at Ludzidzini followed by allegations that Mbingo had slept with the king’s wife. The sustained campaign of slander only served to project him as a victim of a character assassination campaign engineered by the same people who want to get rid of Mbingo at the Swazi Observer. The fact that he had personal friendship with Princess Sikhanyiso, the first born daughter of the king, obviously came in handy not just because Mbingo could leverage on years of fraternizing with her but the Princess’s mother had been insulted and she felt personally aggrieved. All this didn’t look good on Ginindza.
[Suspended Swazi Observer Managing Editor Mbongeni Mbingo]
It didn’t help Ginindza’s reputation that the Swazi Observer had a shocking return to Bethusile Street after spending more than two years at Lilunga House. It was, after all, Ginindza’s main goal to move the paper out of its home. But this came at a cost as the newspaper spent more money than it could afford. The about turn only served to confirm that this was not just an ill-advised position but it was a bad decision from a finance perspective too. As things stand, the crisis within the newspaper has seen all members of the Board, which include the Attorney General Sifiso Khumalo, running the day to day operations of the company. The result has been declining revenue, poor content and terrible grammar and if the Observer collapses it is bound to dent Ginindza’s reputation as everything will be placed on his shoulders.
The royal fall out
There are several theories as to why Ginindza has fallen out with royalty, the King in particular. Some say it dates back to the death of Victor Gamedze while also pointing to his relationship with the jailed Sipho Shongwe. It became widely known that Ginindza detested Gamedze for his success, his stature in the country brought by football and his growing power within the Palace.Gamedze’s assassination, therefore, shook the Palace, not least the King. Ginindza just couldn't avoid being dragged into the controversy of Gamedze’s death, not because he was involved, but because he was in the other circle. It didn't help that there were allegations that meant his name was mentioned alongside that of Sipho Shongwe, although here it is safe to say with the court case in full swing, only time will tell. But down at the palaces, it had an effect. The second reason is his alleged relationship with the Swaziland News. Police intelligence are snooping around and have picked up a scent. Coming at a time when the mere mention of the word ‘Swaziland News’ sends the king fuming, those who know the monarch best started to conjure and sell the king all manner of scenarios and theories, some of which embellishments, some true and others patently false. This riled up the King badly and coming at a time when Ginindza was seen as associating with people like Shongwe, who had allegedly killed the monarch’s beloved Gamedze, the plot was building to a crescendo. Police started to look closely and soon rumours started doing rounds that police had raided his house. It is believed the reason was to find anything that would confirm his association with what is now dubbed ‘the king’s enemies’ down at Ludzidzini.
[Businessman Sipho Shongwe is currently in jail for allegedly killing Victor Gamedze.]
One of the things that anger the King is how anyone close to him would watch as his name is being dragged through the mud and do nothing especially if the person had a relationship with the media house considered to be slandering the monarch. One other theory Ginindza has fallen out with Ludzidzini is the King's money. Ginindza's portfolio is to grow the King's millions through investment. When these are not growing as expected or promised rate, someone must explain. The King was looking not just for high returns but answers. Answers of course are some of the easiest things Ginindza can give. In fact, those closest to him often joke that he could sell water to a fish. The Bridge has spoken to Ginindza about the royal family and he insists that according to him nothing has happened and that he still does everything he has done before. He denies even more vehemently that he was ever raided or that police have him under their radar. To him these are just rumours of people who are out to tarnish his name. Police Spokesperson Phindile Vilakati has told The Bridge that they do not give comments to online publications until such time that they have a guiding policy from the government.
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