Impala Car Rental chief executive officer, Thompson Dondo speaks extensively on the recent campaign against his company as activists and social media users try to bully his company to release confidential information. This comes after one of his vehicle was allegedly hired and used in an abduction.
Question: Over the past few months, your business Impala Car Rental and you as an individual have come on the spotlight and received backlash from several online platforms. What exactly is the background to these attacks?
Dondo: Before I answer your question, let me tell you this I am generally a very quiet person. I don’t like the limelight. I did not want everyone to know that I am the owner of Impala Car Rental. And I do not even want talking to the media, but the attacks on my person and my business have left me no choice but to speak out. I cannot let the nonsense go on and on as if I have something to hide or something to be afraid of.
Now back to your question. The majority of the people who are attacking me and my business are struggling political activists. One of our cars was hired by some individual and we have already supplied the name of this individual to the police. After hiring our car, allegations are that this individual went and committed a crime. We were then challenged to provide details of this person because the vehicle that was reportedly used in committing this crime was hired from us. We did not try to hide anything. We accepted that indeed this was our vehicle but we could not disclose the name of the person who had hired the vehicle to people on social media.
Question: Does your refusal to disclose the name give the impression that you are hiding something?
Dondo: We do not run our business like that and I do not think there is any business out there that is run like that. These people wanted us to divulge the name of the person who had hired the car on Twitter and Facebook. Business law and ethics do not allow us to do that. We are a professionally run business and we do not dance to the tune of faceless people on social media platforms.
When we were asked to facilitate investigations into the matter, we handed all the required documents on this matter to the police. I am not the police spokesperson and I cannot speak on behalf of the police. Anyone who wants any information regarding this issue should go to the police and not Impala Car Rental. We respect the country’s laws and we did what we were supposed to do according to the law.
Question: Did you take long to hand over the information to the police?
Dondo: No, that’s not how we operate. Can you imagine you as a journalists you start revealing names of your sources to every Tom, Dick and Harry? Or a doctor who rushes to reveal names of his or her clients just because Twitter or Facebook has pushed him or her? Is that ethical? Who will take you serious?
For your information, we did not take long to look into the matter. The story started circulating online on a Friday and the next Monday I, personally went to police. I went to police and told them that I had not yet received any complaint regarding the issue. I reported that there was this issue because I wanted to be in the clear as the police is mandated to investigate such issues. The police then came and took all the documents on the matter to investigate the issue.
Question: Did you sucessfully clear your name?
Dondo: This is all we could do. We cleared our name. Police from as far as Gweru have been here carrying investigations and we have been cooperating with them because we have nothing to hide. Can you imagine if we start running this business basing on requests on social media platforms? Impala Car Rental is a professional business.
Question: Who do you think is behind all these attacks?
Dondo: You see, the young man who is said to have been abducted, Tawanda Muchehiwa is related to Mdudusi Mathuthu. I think he is a nephew. So Mathuthu is fighting in the corner of this young man. I think Mathuthu is feeling bad because somehow I think he misled that young man to do whatever he was doing. Mathuthu is feeling bad and he feels he let down that young man. That is why he is fighting viciously like that. He feels he let down that young man.
Question: Did you know Mathuthu before this incident?
Dondo: I know Mathuthu from long back. When this incident happened he phoned me and I gave him the information of the person who had hired the car. I gave him the name and he has the information. Mathuthu however wanted me to say the person who did this is so and so. I could not do that. That’s why he is angry with me. He thinks I know another person besides the name I gave him. He thinks I should have said something else.
Question: Have you ever spoken to Muchehiwa and what do you feel about his situation?
Dondo: I have a 22 year old son and I do feel pity for the young lad? Mathuthu could have soberly handled this issue away from the social media. I feel sorry for Muchehiwa and hope this matter is dealt with in such a way that he continues with his normal life. He deserves better than being used and abused on Twitter and Facebook for selfish gains.
I think Muchehiwa’s name is dragged into these attacks just to whip up emotions? It is clear abuse of the young lad’s name. I understand people have emotions but those emotions are misdirected. They think we are the weakest link. Unfortunately, for them, we are not the weak link. We have been in business for many years and we have a solid foundation that cannot be shaken by these fake online stories.
It is not our intention to fight anyone. Our business is not fighting but hiring out cars. Our record speaks for itself.
Question: Could some of the attacks be coming from your competitors?
Dondo: Not at all. Those are not our competitors. Just the language and the lies tells you that these are not our competitors. We work well with our competitors and if you check, several car rental businesses in the country are owned by people who once worked here or we are still working with. That language on social media platforms is not from competitors. It’s from disgruntled political activists trying to make a living.
Question: What is the exact position regarding the Impala Car Rental and Muchehiwa issue?
Dondo: Muchehiwa’s lawyers brought summons here and we responded. When my lawyer went to court, he was then told by Muchehiwa’s lawyer that the young man was no longer in the country and so the matter has collapsed. I do not know what that means as far as investigations are concerned by as for the case between Impala and Muchehiwa, hapasisina nyaya apa. Muchehiwa’s lawyer said let us close this case.
Question: Why have you chosen to speak out now?
Dondo: The negativity is just too much and we are fed up. I am sure you saw the story about us that came out in The News Hawks. Lies upon lies by people with no shame at all.
They lied that this company is owned by CIO and so on yet its public record that this is a family business that has two directors my wife and my sister. They went on the lie even about my national identity number. What for exactly? Why go to such lengths to cook stories, cook facts and cook figures?
I cannot continue keeping quite as if ndiri kuvatya or as if I have anything to hide. I am an honest businessman trying to make a living, why fabricate stories against me?
Question: Do you feel threatened by these attacks?
Dondo: What is even more sickening is that recently these political activists took aerial pictures of my company using a drone. The lengths at which they are doing all this shows shocking desperation. You never know what else such desperate people are capable of doing. This is now a threat to my life, family and my company.
They got into my premises without my consent. What is it that they will do next? We reported this matter to police and investigations are already underway.
Question: After the publication of the story, besides your statement in the newspapers, what other measures are you taking?
Dondo: We have reported the matter to police because these journalists forged so many things in that story, they forged our CR14? It is criminal what they did. We are also suing them. Impala is not a punching bag for disgruntled political activists hiding in newsrooms. We will not allow that.
Question: Have you tried to engage The News Hawks team to hear their side of the story?
Dondo: Engage them for what? They wrote their falsehoods without engaging me and why should I engage them? Is it not professional journalistic practice to get all sides of the story before publishing a story? You see, I have been subjected to a lot of blackmail from some journalists for a long time. I do not want to waste my time? Quite a number of journalists have called me saying we want to write a story about your departure from the UK and many other frivolous stories. They said ‘give me 100 US and I will write a good story about this and that. Others say ‘give me 400 US so that I write a positive story blah, blah, blah and I have refused to do all that.
I have discovered that the more you listen to them, the more you get all this blackmail. I no longer want to entertain all this nonsense. So I do not want to engage them because they thinking that I have something to hide. I have nothing to hide.
We have helped quite several journalists here. We have held parties and drinks with some of them as friends. I do not think there is anything wrong with that because our corporate social responsibility allows us to do that. But this is different from someone who tries to threaten me saying ‘I have got a story, give me money to write a positive story.’ ‘If you cannot pay me so much I will write a negative story.’
While in the UK, I had a business where I would employ Zimbabweans. Some of them later got arrested because they did not have proper documentation. It was discovered that they were illegal workers. These people went to court and agreed that indeed they were in the UK illegally.
As their employer I was blamed for employing illegal workers. The authorities thought I was bringing these people from Zimbabwe to the UK, yet I would employ them while they were in the UK already. The authorities did not understand how things work and they said this was human trafficking. It is not like I facilitated these people’s departure from Zimbabwe they went to the UK using whatever means and I only employed them while they were in the UK.
Of course, I knew some of these people did not have proper documents and it is not a secret that quite a number of them do not have proper documentation, but I thought I could help my brothers and sisters from home as they sorted their papers in the UK.
Question: Were you arrested?
Dondo: Yes, I was arrested. I was taken to court and I did not like the whole experience. I was not a criminal. My name had been tarnished and I didn’t think I could continue practicing as a nurse. I then, on my own, decided to come back to Zimbabwe. It’s not like I was deported. This was around 2007.
Was I supposed to wait and be put in jail for assisting fellow Zimbabweans? Even Prophet Bushiri recently did the same in South Africa. He was smuggled out of South Africa after discovering that he would not get fair justice.
Question: Why do some journalists still think this is still a good story today?
Dondo: This story has been written before. There is nothing new and I wonder why some journalists think they can extort money from me using such a tired story. I have never made this a secret at all.
We are a big brand and such things come with the territory. If we were some obscure and struggling business, no one would care about us. The other thing is that I am an ordinary person running a big business. I go wherever I want and I socialize. That’s my approach. These people then mistake my approach for a weakness. They think that I am easy to extort money from.
I have come a long way in this car rental business. Some people see us big today and assume it has always been rosy. No. It was tough, but when you are small and growing no one cares about you. Now we are leaders in the business we are naturally the target.
I know some people have this mentality that “ndomuziva mhani Dondo uyu, how can he own such a big brand?” Lots of jealous and the PHD syndrome – pull-him-down syndrome. Fortunately, the brand is way too big to be brought down by these petty online stories.
Question: You have also been accused of doing business with the government.
Dondo: What is wrong with doing business with the government? Who doesn’t want to do business with the government? We deal with private and public companies. We deal with NGOs, churches, diplomats and even individuals. We deal with everyone here. As long as someone can pay for our vehicle, we will do business.
Our business with government is above board. We have nothing to hide. Even our competitors also deal with government but they don’t matter because they are not Impala. They are not as big as we are.
Question: There are also allegations that government gives you cars that you in turn hire out to the same government, how far true is this?
Dondo: Who does not know that government does not have enough vehicles? Go to any police station or government department and you will get what I mean. Where would the government get cars to give me so that I hire them out to them? If there is anyone who believes that this is possible then that person needs his or her head to be examined by a competent psychiatrist.
Question: How much has all the negative publicity affected you?
Dondo: I am a firm believer that there is no bad publicity. What others see as negative publicity is working wonders for us. We are growing at a phenomenal pace and the market is responding very positively. We can’t meet the demand.
Question: As we conclude this interview, I have to ask you this, Is Impala Car Rental your business?
Dondo: Hakuna vanonzi mudhara havapo kana kuti mudhara vachazosvika. I started this business about 15 years ago. Impala is my totem. I am a Chikonamombe, which comes from the Impala animal. This is a family business. If you look at our CR14 – the directors are my wife and my sister. I am the CEO.
Question: Your business is flourishing at a time when others are struggling. What is your business approach?
Mr Dondo: I know some people didn’t expect us to be where we are today, but a lot went into the growth of this business. The first thing is I believe in continuity. Most people, like our general manager, have been here since day one. Whoever is employed here, finds it difficult to leave. I have experienced and qualified staff.
We have clear policies and procedures of how things should be done. Everyone here knows our work culture and work ethic. We work hard here – do you know since I started this business, I have never gone on leave and every working day as long as I am in the country, I am the first to report for work and the last to go home. I know everything that happens at this company. I am a hands-on person.
I think I have been to each and every bank in Zimbabwe raising money for this business. We also have an aggressive marketing strategy. I think you have seen our billboards all over the country, you have heard about us on radio and seen us on television. We advertise in all newspapers. We are relentless in our pursuit for excellence. As a result, we have won several awards over the years.
Question: Some people say you pay to win those awards?
Dondo: We have won over 50 awards. Where would I get money to pay for all those awards? Remember these awards are from different organisations.
You know at first the attacks took me by surprise because I was not used to this. Later I realized, dogs only bark at a moving car. If the car is just parked there, dogs don’t bark at it. So I am very chilled now.
Question: What’s your advice to other business people?
Dondo: Business is not for the faint-hearted. If you are weak, you will get stressed and give up. You have to know what is happening at your company and you have to be there. You should know where the pulse of your business is.