|Born||Roger Basil Nyikadzino Marume Boka|
November 5, 1946
|Died||February 21, 1999(aged 52)|
|Notable work||Boka Auction floors|
|Children||Rudo Boka, Martin Boka, Matthew Boka, Charles Boka, Chido Boka, Samantha Boka, Beverly Boka|
|Parent(s)||Martin Boka (Father), Phoebe (Mother)|
Roger Boka was a controversial and successful Zimbabwean entrepreneur known mostly for establishing the Boka Tobacco Floors, a tobacco auction company, which was at that time was considered the largest in the world.
Roger Basil Nyikadzino Marume Boka was born on 5 November 1946 (died on 21 February 1999) as the third born in a family of nine to parents of a modest background. His father, Martin Boka, was a carpenter. He did his primary school at Chingundu Primary School and his secondary at Old Mutare Secondary School, which is now called Hartzel High School. At school, it's said that he refused to write an English exam because he "hated Englishmen". In 1967, he tore up his A'Level English paper and had to resit the exam the following year after being persuaded by his father to take the subject. He later explained that, "My conscience would not let me write the English language when my mother tongue was being sidelined. But I respected my father..."
When he was young, according to an account of Boka's life published in his corporate group's in-house magazine, his father worked at a general store. When that burned down, the owners let workers pick over the remains, but by the time Boka's father arrived at the scene, all that was left was a chisel, a hammer and a wood plane. From these humble beginnings grew a furniture business.
In 1973, he became a finance clerk and the credit controller at a carpet company. He left to join Royal Insurance as an underwriter sometime later. He was however dismissed after beating a white colleague over an argument about a proposal to have a union for black insurance workers, which was shot down.
He then joined South British Insurance as a claims officer but apparently could not stand a racist official at the company, so he left. In 1975 he joined BP & Shell where he became Assistant Managing director but was soon dismissed following a brawl with a white colleague.
After being dismissed from BP & Shell, Boka said it was then that he realised he could not work for a white-owned company and that he had to be his own boss. He said he used his Z$3,000 retrenchment package as seed finance for his new household cleaning oils business. The business operated out of Boka's home in Kambuzuma. He later claimed in an interview with the Herald that after only 6 weeks, his new business had made Z$19,500 in sales of oil bottles which he deposited into his Standard Chartered bank account.
Companies he owned
- A Watch assembly company
- Boka Cosmetics
- Boka Enterprises
- Boka Investments
- Boka Book Sales
- Boka Tobacco Floors
- United Merchant Bank
- Several Gold Mines
Boka made his mark and is known mostly for establishing what was then often referred to as the largest tobacco auction floors in the world.
In 1986, Boka entered into a deal with a local trading company to export tobacco to East Germany. According to Rudo Boka, the deal turned sour when his white business partners tried to deprive him of his share of the profits and that experience taught him that his ambitions in tobacco were being thwarted because he was black.
Boka began lobbying friends in government, claiming that Zimbabwe's most important export was held hostage by whites of questionable loyalty. He started taking out full-page ads in the local press, accusing Zimbabwe's 70,000 whites of conspiring to keep its 11 million blacks poor, and threatening drastic measures if they didn't loosen their grip on the economy. The campaign propelled Boka to national prominence. President Robert Mugabe praised Boka in speeches as a patriot and black empowerment pioneer
In 1994, Boka became the first black person to get a tobacco merchant's license. Boka persuaded President Mugabe to give government financial guarantees to black traders for all their tobacco purchases. He argued that the guarantees were necessary because Zimbabwe's white-owned banks were financing white tobacco merchants so they could depress tobacco prices and cheat the country of revenue.
Boka then decided to build his own tobacco auction floors to break the dominance of the two existing floors, which were closely tied to white farmers. To finance the project, according to his daughter, he figured he would need to set up his own bank.The government fast-tracked his banking application and dropped requirements for additional shareholders, according to the central bank. In January 1995, United Merchant Bank opened its doors. He got government business, including a deal to issue debt on behalf of Cold Storage Commission Ltd., a state-owned meat-processing firm that was scheduled for privatization.
Backed by UMB, the construction of a 50,000-square-foot tobacco auction floor was completed in 1997 at a reported cost of more than US $8.6 million. The auction floor managed to capture 8% of the market after launch.
In 1997, Cold Storage Commission authorized UMB to raise $19 million for the meat-processing company through short-term bills. The Bank however printed and sold extra notes for $52 million, notes the bank was not capable of honouring. In an affidavit for a lawsuit filed against Cold Storage by a brokerage firm holding some of the notes, Washington Samanga, financial director of Cold Storage, said that Cold Storage advised the government officials about the circulation of unauthorized notes, but action was deliberately delayed.
In February 1998, Boka persuaded the tobacco industry to open its annual auction season a month earlier than usual. According to his daughter, the move was intended to gain commercial advantage while some friends say it was motivated by Boka's desperation to cover non-performing debts. The early open cause a market slump as buyers traditionally only came to the country in April
During that time, media reports reported of trouble at some black-owned businesses. Boka then wrote to Mugabe asking that the bank be bailed out as it had lent more than US $26 million to government companies and war veterans. The bank's collapse, he said, would have "serious consequences" but the government could not help.
When bill holders started redeeming their bills, they were given cheques by CSC that would bounce further which was just a symptom of the troubles at the banks. The bank had its license withdrawn on 29 April 1998 after auditors reported it was in serious financial difficulties because of imprudent lending and debt collection policies. It was failing to meet depositors' claims and other liabilities. Investigations by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe revealed fraudulent activities like the transfer of US $20 million (other press reported it as $25 million) to foreign accounts without following the Foreign Exchange Control Act regulations. The money was equivalent to about Z$800 million at the time.
In letters to the government and according to his family, Boka laid the blame for UMB's collapse largely on government agencies and senior politicians whom he claimed borrowed from his bank but never repaid their debts.
The government eventually issued five-year bonds to honor some of the Cold Storage bills that UMB had issued. The government then announced that it was considering initiating criminal proceedings against Boka and had assigned police detectives to the case. After the bank's collapse Boka was declared a specified person under the Prevention of Corruption Act. His ill health however delayed the investigation process until he died the following year.
Boka became seriously ill around the time his bank collapsed and his business empire appeared to be crumbling as companies had been put under government supervision. He went to Atlanta in the US to seek medical treatment and while there, stayed with friends. His illness was reported to be HIV-related.
On 21 February 1999 Boka passed away on a private plane on his way back from the USA where he was seeking treatment. He died about 30 minutes before the plane landed at Harare International Airport. He was 54 at the time of his death.
After his death, Mugabe praised Boka as "a man of action, a fearless voice and doughty fighter for black empowerment" who had "systematically broke into sectors hitherto dominated by multinationals and white commercial outfits"
- Boka made contributions to the liberation struggle by helping guerilla fighters with small supplies like watches.
- Boka once stormed into a publication's offices and beat a worker there (white person) with a walking stick after the publication had published an article critical of one of his companies.
- Boka splashed full page adverts in the local press critical of racial imbalances in Zimbabwe but these ads were themselves considered racially inflammatory. One such ad was an old photograph of a black Kenyan carrying a white man across a swollen river with the caption "White Zimbabweans' idea of a "good African". We want our country Zimbabwe and our economy. No dogs or guns will stop the people's revolution."
- Of his racially charged methods, Boka commented, "What would you do if all doors are locked. Is it not that you will even try to jump through the windows or the roof"
- Boka was investigated by the Zimbabwean police in connection with buying stolen gold.
- Boka consistently refused to be interviewed by the media, particularly white journalists.
- He also refused to speak to journalists working for White-owned publications, referring to them as poor workers "who play to the tune of 75,000 whites who stole our wealth". He once told a Horizon magazine journalist, Ray Choto, "Boka doesn’t like to speak to people who support reconciliation. If your child finishes school he won’t get employment. But the white man’s child has no problem and you talk about reconciliation. Mr Boka wants to talk to people with the right mind."
- Rudo Boka, his daughter, once commented on her father's methods: "The life my dad had in those days was one of apartheid and racism. You could say that the ambition that Roger Boka developed was because of the lifestyle that he knew."
- Boka was chauffeur driven in a Rolls Royce.
- Boka often criticised multinational banks for denying black people access to business financing accusing them of discriminating against black entrepreneurs who lacked collateral. His bank, UMB, offered loans to blacks at favorable terms.
- Boka didn't believe in reconciliation agreed upon after Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, once saying to a journalist:
"What is this animal called reconciliation?...I am an ex-combatant, we didn't go to war to maintain white supremacy. There is no reconciliation my friend. If you think that blacks and whites will reconcile, then you are fooling yourself. Boka doesn't like to speak to people who support reconciliation. If your child finishes school he won’t get employment. But the white man’s child has no problem and you talk about reconciliation. Mr Boka wants to talk to people with the right mind. It’s a pity that only the future generation will realise the importance of Mr Boka’s stance. But they will have to go to archives to get the information."
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- Hama Saburi, Roger Boka Orbituary, The Herald, Retrieved:4 February 2015, Published:24 February 1999
- Robert Block Roger Boka Thrived as an Icon, Until His Bank Went Bust, Wall Street Journal, Retrieved:6 February 2015, Published:8 September 1998
- Boka buried Boka, The Herald, Published: 22 February 1999, Retrieved: 4 February 2015
- AFFIRMATIVE ACTION LEADER BOKA DIES, AP , Associated Press, Retrieved:6 February 2015, Published:24 February 1999
- Zimbabwe Tobacco Trader Roger Boka, African Breakfast, Retrieved:6 February 2015, Published:unknown
- Shadowy giant in Zim tobacco trade Roger Boka, the, Mail & Guardian Online, Retrieved:6 February 2015, Published:13 September 1996