The empire Robert Mugabe built is collapsing like a castle built on sand

Friday May 13 2022
 Robert Mugabe

Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. PHOTO | AFP


Five years ago, Alpha Omega Dairy was one of Zimbabwe’s fastest-growing dairies, with a range of products that became dominant on supermarket shelves and the streets in the country’s major cities.

Built by former first lady Grace Mugabe on commercial farms grabbed from White Zimbabweans, sometimes violently, Alpha and Omega boasted state-of-the-art milk processing plants and its products were advertised for free by the country’s only television station, ZBC.

A subsidiary of the late president Robert Mugabe’s sprawling agro-business company Gushungo Holdings, at its zenith Alpha Omega produced a variety of yoghurts, ice creams, mineral water, fruit juices and milk.

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe eats ice cream after addressing the crowd at his inauguration and swearing-in ceremony on August 22, 2013 at the 60,000-seater sports stadium in Harare. PHOTO | AFP

So rapid was its growth that in 2015 then agriculture minister Joseph Made announced that Alpha Omega had snatched 30 percent of Zimbabwe’s dairy market from established firms, including the state-owned behemoth Dairibord Zimbabwe, just three years after its establishment.

The former first lady once described her operation as the second biggest in southern Africa and claimed that they had installed equipment capable of milking 64 cows at once.


She said the dairy was anchored on a herd of more than 2,000 cows.

It was touted as a model of success for the southern African country’s controversial land reform programme that began at the turn of the millennium.

The company became a serial winner at the country’s annual trade showcase – the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair – where Mugabe would shower accolades on his wife’s dairy like confetti at a wedding.

At the ruling party Zanu PF’s televised rallies, it became routine for cameras to zoom in on ministers happily feasting on Alpha Omega ice creams.

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe's then-President Robert Mugabe addresses party members and supporters gathered at his party headquarters on November 8, 2017. PHOTO | AFP

At Robert Mugabe’s communist-style birthday parties held at large venues on February 21 every year, it became a fashion statement for top officials to be seen eating ice cream.

At one of the fetes in his last days, the octogenarian was photographed struggling to swallow a bolus of ice cream.

On the eve of the coup that eventually toppled Mugabe, his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the vice-president at the time, had to issue an apology for claiming that he fell ill after eating Alpha Omega ice cream during one of the rallies.

Read:  Mugabe left behind $10m, properties: state media

Mr Mnangagwa started vomiting amid claimed diarrhoea at a rally in the southern town of Gwanda and was immediately airlifted to South Africa for treatment.

His backers insinuated that it was the Alpha Omega yoghurt that caused his illness and this did not go down well with his boss.

He was subsequently fired for allegedly plotting against his boss, only for him to return as president after a couple of weeks following the November 27, 2017 coup.

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (centre) with First Lady Grace Mugabe (left) during celebrations marking his birthday at the Great Zimbabwe monument in Masvingo on June 3, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

That incident could have marked the end of Alpha Omega’s dairy market dominance and the beginning of the demise of a business empire built by one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents as the Mugabes lost power a few weeks later.

A few years after his inglorious exit and subsequent death in Singapore in 2019, the empire that Mugabe built is crumbling like a deck of cards.

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First published by Daily Nation.