Kalaa Mpinga leaves his ’beautiful baby’ Mwana in ugly end as Chinese seize control

Kalaa Mpinga leaves his ’beautiful baby’ Mwana in ugly end as Chinese seize control

By Alfonce Mbizwo, HARARE, June 10 (The Source) – Resources group Mwana Africa chief executive Kalaa Mpinga has left the company he founded a day after a crunch extraordinary general meeting which saw the ouster of his allies on the board as Chinese shareholders flexed their muscle and the company’s future direction in the air.

Mpinga’s Mwana, ‘a beautiful baby’ in one of his native Congolese dialects, has written an ugly final chapter for its founder after months of wrangling, initially over board posts, and eventually over what turned out to be long-simmering discontent about his management of the company.

Mpinga proved adept at navigating Zimbabwe’s treacherous terrain, infamously one of Africa’s worst, after surviving accusations he had been instrumental in an alleged internal ZANU-PF coup plot against President Robert Mugabe, ostensibly to catapult now Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to the presidency, in 2005. Mpinga vehemently denied accusations he had chartered a plane that took ZANU-PF officials to a plotters’ rendezvous and lived to tell the tale, remaining an investor and frequent visitor to unforgiving Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

He, however, failed to survive a coup instigated by a small group of activist shareholders, executed in broad day-light on a placid Tuesday in London.

Mpinga’s future in the company, which he founded in 2003 and built up pulling together assets disposed by Anglo American and Ashanti Goldfields, was all but sealed when four of his allies on the board of directors, Stuart Morris and Johan Botha quit last Friday while Zimbabweans Ngoni Kudenga and Herbert Mashanyare were ejected on Tuesday at the EGM.

“Mwana announces the departure of Mr Kalaa Mpinga as Chief Executive Officer of the Company with immediate effect,” the company said in a statement, adding that the terms of his departure were still to be finalised and agreed by both parties.

The writing was on the wall when majority shareholder China International Mining Group Corporation (CIMGC)’s chairman Yat Hoi Ning was on Monday named as interim chairman following the resignation of Morris.

Ning and CIMGC have been at loggerheads with Mpinga and the previous board over the appointment of Morris, Botha, Kudenga and Mashanyare as non-executive directors at last year’s annual general meeting, which spilled into the courts.

The petition was withdrawn on Monday when Ning assumed the position of interim chairman. He immediately — with the support of newly appointed directors, Scott Morrison, Mark Wellesley-Wood, Oliver Barbeau and Anne-Marie Chidzero — got rid of Mpinga.

“Mr Mpinga and Mwana have decided to part-company by mutual consent. He has been a great asset in the creation of Mwana and throughout its development to date. We wish him all the best in the future,” Ning said in a statement on the company’s website.

On Wednesday, the company announced that Ning had become executive chairman and Morrison had become senior independent non-executive director a day after his appointment as NED at the EGM.

“With these recent changes to the board having now taken place it marks a clear new beginning for Mwana and its shareholders, and we are confident that we have all the necessary qualities and experience to deliver success in the future,” said Ning.

But market watchers believe Mpinga and the previous board had reservations about Ning and CIMGC gaining control of the Pan-African resources group.

Mwana’s romance with the Chinese started in 2012 when CIMGC came in with a $21 million investment to restart Mwana’s Bindura Nickel Corporation (BNC) which had collapsed at the height of the country’s economic meltdown.

CIMGC’s entrance was trumpeted as creating opportunities for the company to access Chinese capital and funding and the ease with which that access would allow Mwana to cut deals in Africa and expand existing operations.

That did not materialise and Mwana had to raise $20 million from the local market to restart its nickel smelter at Bindura through a bond which was accorded Prescribed Asset Status by the finance minister and Liquid Asset Status by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Market watchers suggest that Ning’s control of Mwana could mean that the company, which has a market capitalisation of £29 million, and its Zimbabwean assets could become central to the development of his other business interests.

Last month, Ning and CIMGC had disposed of 106,254,717 and 81,424,282 ordinary shares at a price of £0,018 (three cents) per share to fellow Chinese, Feng Hailiang who now directly and indirectly has an interest of 130,021,039 shares in the Company representing 9.302 percent of Mwana’s issued share capital.

Following the disposals, CIMGC now has a holding in the company of 218 million shares, representing 15.60 per cent of the issued share capital of Mwana while Ning holds 454,545 shares, representing 0.033 per cent of the issued share capital.

Analysts say the boardroom coup he pulled on Tuesday means he has assumed control of Mwana without making a bid.

For Mpinga, the son of Kasenda Mpinga, who served as prime minister from 1977 to 1979 under Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime in the then Zaire, it means an ignominious end to his romance with the company he founded in 2003 with the backing of investors from Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa.

He controls 39,208,675 shares — 2.8 percent of Mwana’s issued share capital — directly and through Palanka Trust and Katema Mukubayi Trust. He also holds an additional 666,667 shares in Bindura Nickel Corporation (BNC) or 0.06 percent of its issued share capital.

Mpinga has previously worked for Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco, United States  and Anglo American Corporation of South Africa from 1991. In 1995 he joined Anglo’s New Mining Division, the division responsible for exploration and the acquisition of resources in Africa and was appointed a director of Anglo American Corporation in 1997.

He left the group in December 2001 to pursue business opportunities in mining, founding Mwana Africa Holdings (Proprietary) Limited, the forerunner of Mwana Africa PLC, in 2003. He is also a nonexecutive director of Group Five Limited, a South African leasing, engineering and construction company.

Mwana joined the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in 2005 through a reverse takeover of African Gold.