SHORT in stature, but long in action.
This is just one of the many descriptions that have been coined to describe Temba Mliswa - the fitness trainer-cum businessman.
In the past, others had known Mliswa for being temperate or short-fused. And yet others still regard him as controversial.
But that was Mliswa of yesterday. Today's Mliswa is seen as a trend setter among the youths, who are trapped in abject poverty.
From humble beginnings as a fitness trainer in the early 1990s, staying with his parents in Waterfalls, Harare, Mliswa first broke into the business world in 2000.
He has not looked back ever since.
Those who are close to Mliswa say the young entrepreneur developed extensive contacts among the country's high flying executives when he was a fitness trainer and has simply piggybacked on these “connections” to advance his business interests.
Mliswa's guests at several of his functions to some extent reveal the diversity of his contacts. His guests list portrays him as both sophisticated and downtrodden in the sense that even the poorest can also dine with the businessman.
His 37th birthday celebration in 2008 was more like a who's who in Zimbabwe's business and political circles. Several service chiefs attended the function at which Didymus Mutasa, the security minister then and now in charge of Presidential Affairs in President Robert Mugabe's government, was the guest of honour.
Mutasa is Mliswa's uncle.
The same year, Billy Rautenbach, the controversial billionaire, became the talking point in Hurungwe when he jetted into Spring Farm, owned by Mliswa, in his private jet to attend a field day hosted by the businessman.
It has now emerged that Rautenbach and Mliswa have much more in common. Apart from being misunderstood and aggressive, they both have invested in Ratings, which is leasing vast sugar estates from the Agriculture Rural Development Authority (ARDA).
Collectively, they own 60 percent of Ratings, which is operating Middle Sabi and Chisumbanje Sugar estates. The 40 percent balance is held by ARDA. Mliswa and Rautenbach are also said to be involved in some projects with Hwange Colliery Company Limited, through an investment company called Clidder, which is involved in coal mining.
How he snaked his way through is everybody's wonder.
But one thing that cannot be taken away from him is that his business exploits are quite astounding for someone of his age. Moreso, considering that he was neither brought up in a business family nor does he possess a qualification in structured finance.
Few believe Mliswa is just a self-taught businessman. They see him more as fronting for some powerful politicians.
But those who are close to him say Mliswa is just a shrewd and fearless entrepreneur following the shadows of Philip Chiyangwa, Saviour Kasukuwere and Enock Kamushinda, the early pioneers of affirmative action.
To demonstrate, his shrewdness and fearlessness in business they cite an incident in Karoi where Mliswa was taken to task by the war veterans for having served Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, then leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, with food at his Spring Farm Restaurant, despite being a ZANU-PF cadre.
"In this respect, (Tsvangirai) chose to eat at my restaurant and I see no problem with that as long as he paid for the food. Being a businessman, my business is not run on political, religious, ethnic, tribal or racial lines as we all know that money knows no colour," was Mliswa's response to the former fighters of the liberation struggle.
Mliswa's colleagues further argue that the businessman has harnessed his anger, youthful exuberance and animal instincts that used to be in him into a fighting machine in the corporate world.
From being the owner of Spring Farm in Karoi, which was allocated to him as part of the controversial land reforms, Mliswa's empire has grown into an octopus like web of companies.
Spring Farm is basically a tobacco outfit with a service station and restaurant.
The service station has since been leased out to Comoil, a fuel company owned by Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Minister, Kasukuwere, who is also Mliswa's ally.
Despite being close to Mliswa, Kasukuwere admitted as much to guest at the businessman's 37th birthday that his colleague was not an easy character to deal with.
He said: "Zvakanakira Temba ndezvekuti kana ukamuudza chokwadi munowirirana asi kana akanzwa kuti wamunyepera hondo yacho inobva yatanga."
Loosely translated, what Kasukuwere meant is that you can be friends with Mliswa as long as you are truthful but sworn enemies if you lie to him.
Spring Farm is now part of Saltlakes Holdings, a group of companies comprising Sal-tlakes Tobacco, Saltlakes Advisory and Saltlakes Implements.
Its board members include top tobacco farmer Rob Web, the former Zimbabwe Tobacco Associat-ion president, chartered accountant Noah Ziumbe, retired brigadier David Chiweza and top Harare lawyer, Dominic Musengi. Outside farming, Saltlakes has been quite aggressive in acquisitions.
Following the damaging acrimony within the then merged Kingdom Meikles Africa Limited and its subsequent unbundling, Econet Capital, the investment arm of Econet Wireless Limited, took the decision to offload its 10 percent stake. Through a twist of fate, Mliswa found himself among four business people rolled into a consortium called Lockcape Investments that landed the Econet shares.
This made him an investor in both the demerged Meikles Limited and Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited. With just one stone, Mliswa has killed several birds via his investment in Lockcape.
In Meikles, it means he has become an important stakeholder in Meikles Hotel, the Victoria Falls Hotel, TM Supermarkets, Greatermans, Barbours, Meikles Depart-0mental Store, the Cotton Printers and Tanganda. His investment in Kingdom entitles him to a voice in Kingdom Bank, Kingdom Microfinance, the Discount Company of Zimbabwe, Kingdom Asset Management and Kingdom Stockbrokers.
His interests, outside the financial services sector, have also gr-own.
Mliswa has bought into Benbar, a company based in Msasa.
He is the founding chief executive officer and current executive chairman of Cubs Den Consolidated Holdings, which was a successful vehicle in acquiring Saltlakes.
The astute businessman is also a shareholder in Aqua Crystal, Afriven Private Limited, Benbar and Nosho Motors.
He is chairman of Afriven, a South African-based firm with interests in African Beef Corporation, Sachi and Sach, Mediterranean Shipping Company and Tristar Group Holdings Limited.
Tristar is strategically positioning itself for major investments in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana and Mozambique. But he has chosen to keep another leg in politics where he is the ZANU-PF secretary for lands in Mashonaland West.
In a country where politics influences business, it makes sense for Mliswa to maintain some form of influence in politics in order to protect his sprawling empire.
Other influential business people who have split their lives between business and politics include ZANU-PF Mashonaland East chairman, Ray Kaukonde who owns Amalgamated Motor Cor-poration, Scotia Holdings and Ray and Brian Investments.
The list also includes Sylvester Nguni and Retired General Solomon Mujuru, a ZANU-PF politburo member, among others.
Those who have been rubbed by Mliswa on the wrong side say the businessman is a capitalist through and through who stops at nothing to achieve his end. In other words the end justifies the means as far as he is concerned.
But those who have worked well with him have a different story to tell.
Basil Nyabadza, the chairman of ARDA, told The Financial Gazette recently that the Middle Sabi and Chisumbanje Sugar model has worked wonders for the State-run parastatal. ARDA has since floated tenders inviting other partners to help ramp up production at its properties countrywide as it moves to replicate the Ratings model.
ARDA has effectively, been in the intensive care following the collapse of most of its infrastructure and implements across the 293 000 hectares it controls.
The agro-dealer has secured more than 10 percent of the US$200 million required to bankroll its recovery outside the mainstream multilateral financial institutions, according to Nyabadza.
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