George Maponga in Masvingo
Under-fire chief operating officer at Zimbabwe’s sole sugar producing company, Tongaat Huletts Zimbabwe in Chiredzi Mr James Bowmaker has quit the sucrose maker, almost a year before the expiration of his two-year contract.
Mr Bownaker, who was seconded to Tongaat Huletts’ Zimbabwe operations from South Africa in May last year, was given a two-year mandate ending May 2023 but has decided to throw in the towel with over a year to go remaining on his contract.
His resignation comes hard on the heels of the take-over of the South African sugar concern by Zimbabwean businessman Mr Hamish Rudland.
During his short stint as Tongaat Zimbabwe’s second in command, Mr Bowmaker’s relationship with commercial cane farmers sunk to an all-time low with the latter accusing him of short-changing them in a bid to negate gains of the drive to empower indigenous blacks.
At the core of the farmers’ complaints against Mr Bowmaker was an allegedly skewed payment system for cane deliveries and punitive costs on inputs coupled with crippling interest rates that threatened to bankrupt farmers.
Things came to a head in December last year when farmers’ associations leaders picketed Mr Bowmaker’s offices at Triangle and threatened to forcibly shut them demanding payment for sugar deliveries ahead of the Christmas holidays.
Mr Bowmaker eventually gave in but bridges between the two parties had been broken.
In a notice to employees, a copy of which is in possession of The Herald, Tongaat Zimbabwe chief executive Mr Aiden Mhere confirmed that Mr Bowmaker would bow out of his position in March before the end of his contract.
Mr Mhere regretted the development crediting Mr Bowmaker for further implanting values of accountability, productivity and commercial discipline, among other positives.
The process to replace Mr Bowmaker, said Mr Mhere, would be initiated in due course.
Farmers greeted the news of Mr Bowmaker’s impending bowing out with joy and relief.
The Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe chairperson Retired Major Admore Hwarare said the local sugar industry hoped for a dawn of a new era after Mr Bowmaker.
He branded Mr Bowmaker an “enemy” of cane farmers saying his resignation was expected and a result of a stand-off with farmers in December last year.
He warned those who seek to short change out grower farmers that they would also he pushed out until the industry was fully cleansed.
Tongaat Huletts is headquartered in South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal province and besides Zimbabwe, it operates in Swaziland and Mozambique.
Zimbabwe produces on average 430 000 tonnes of sugar annually and commercial indigenous farmers who benefited under the land reform programme account for almost half of that output.