westgate shopping complex.jpgA year after indigenous business people raised concern over the state of affairs at the shopping malls owned by Old Mutual, the situation has not changed much and the shopping centres are at an advanced stage of turning into white elephants.

Old Mutual is arguably the biggest property investor in the country.

Most of its properties were acquired by pensioners’ money with the hope that the investment would generate income from rentals and grow the value of pensioners’ contributions.

Years after Old Mutual constructed shopping malls around the country, it is hard to imagine whether the company has made the profits that it anticipated when the idea of constructing the shopping centres was mooted.
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Westgate Shopping Mall, High Glen Shopping Centre and Chitungwiza Town Centre are some of the properties owned by Old Mutual which have over the years turned into ghost business centres due to a plethora of reasons.

Last year, indigenous people confronted Old Mutual over the issue of rentals and after a series of meetings they reached an understanding.

Hopes were high that retailers would compete to fill in the vacant shops at the malls.

But alas, the situation seems to have worsened as the occupancy rate is said to have gone on a downward spiral.

Prospective retailers who wanted to move into the vacant shopping malls said high rentals and the stringent conditions which were set by Old Mutual make it difficult for them to get space.

For former AAG member, Mr Tafadzwa Musarara the major reason behind is that Old Mutual is a bit lukewarm in its approach to indigenisation.

He said a stringent criterion which was set by the property giant to select prospective tenants is a clear sign that there is a deliberate ploy to discourage indigenous people from occupying the malls.

“It does not make any sense for the government to construct new buildings while 50% of the existing structures are empty,” said Mr Musarara.

Mr Musarara added that there is no doubt that Old Mutual can afford to lease their premises at less than 25% of the market value and incubate small businesses for a period.

However, businessman, Mr Supa Mandiwanzira is of the opinion that Old Mutual is sitting on its laurels while failing to attract retailers to occupy the empty spaces at the shopping malls.

He gave examples of how property moguls in developed countries compete through advertising to fancy retailers and keep generating money through rentals.

Some say the way in which Old Mutual is handling its properties especially the shopping malls which have become white elephants tells a story of pensioners’ money which has gone to the dogs.

While other countries are developing their infrastructure and decongesting their central business district, it seems the property giant through its Chairman who happens to be the capital’s mayor, Mr Muchadeyi Masunda is on a mission to see the pension’s money rot and change the face of the once renowned ‘Sunshine City” to a crowded and unmanageable town.

Meanwhile, efforts to get a comment from the property giant were fruitless as the Marketing Manager, who is said to be the only one to speak to the media, was out of town.