Personal gripe: on my way from Jo'burg to Harare for the big Africa book fair in a couple of days, I'll cross the Limpopo River and pay a ridiculous privatised bridge road fee to Joshua Nkomo's monopolistic "Development Trust of Zimbabwe" (an effectively for-profit operation which is greatly despised by all its unwilling customers) which Tiny seeded by bribing the former trade union radical (now Zim vice president) when he was down and out. He also helped apartheid SA by dealing big time in platinum during the sanctions era but made up for the moral slip by flying the late ANC president Oliver Tambo around in a jet and buying him a mansion in Jo'burg's most bourgie 'burb. That guy could play both sides of any game. Six years ago I did a profile of Tiny for a Harare rag. It too politely went like this:
The downfall of a major multinational corporation which shaped the landscape of a good amount of Southern Africa is not an everyday occurence. But neither has Tiny Rowland been a predictable executive.
Since the late 1940s, Rowland has been embroiled in controversies in Southern Africa. His political maneuvering is legend, with Kenya only the most current battleground. Rowland's disillusionment with Daniel Arap Moi is one important reason for the gaping splits now opening up in ruling KANU.
Throughout, somehow, Lonrho has maintained a relatively consistent growth in profits -- until Rowland's third decade in power began last year. As the largest shareholder in the huge firm, Rowland has taken a financial and personal beating over the past few months, as comparisons to Robert Maxwell reverberate across the business world. The company's London share valuation has fallen by half, and profits last year were anemic.
Under Rowland's autocratic rule Lonrho has bought some pearls -- The London Obserer, Harrod's department store, British casinos, luxury hotels in the Bahamas and Mexico, gold in West Africa, minerals and plantations in Southern Africa, and oil and gas in the US -- as well as a range of dud investments. But the company's enormous debt (over 134% of Lonrho's L730 million share capital) is reminiscent of Maxwell's one-man unaccountability show.
Former Times of Zambia editor Richard Hall (who has written a critical biography, My Life with Tiny) recalls a Rowlandism: "I am not a paper merchant, I believe in assets, in land, in factories and stores."
But that may change under pressure from London financiers. Rowland is now apparently contemplating a quick sale of his African companies. A trip to Johannesburg early this year fueled rumours that the Gencor mining finance house would step in with ready cash, especially for Lonrho's SA platinum, but potentially for the whole gamut of Sub-Saharan African interests.
On the other hand it may be too soon to count Lonrho out. Hall counsels, "Tiny has his faults, sure enough, but the astounding story of Lonrho must prove that he is a real bwana mkubwa."
Less than five years ago, rumours had it that the multinational giant would sell its South African subsidiaries (100 companies and 10,000 employees led by Western Platinum and coal mines) to Anglo American for L260 million. Notwithstanding sanctions pressure and threats to some of his African relationships, Rowland hung on.
But ironically, just as South African capital is becoming a respectable portfolio holding, the question financial analysts are asking is, for how much longer can Rowland keep his leaking boat afloat?
TINY's EARLY DAYS IN COLONIAL ZIMBABWE Roland Fuhrhop was nicknamed "Tiny" by his nurse in the Indian town in which he was born to a German father and Dutch mother in 1917, virtually in confinement as World War I drew to a close. His merchant father moved the family to Hamburg where Tiny grew up, but his colonial roots allowed him British citizenship. Thus his reportedly ambivalent years in the Hitler Youth were interrupted when his mother sent him to school in England in 1934.
Five years later Tiny anglicised his surname to Rowland, but that did not stop the British from interning him during World War II. Subsequently, from porter at the Euston station in London in 1945, Rowland moved to what is now Kadoma, Zimbabwe where he had some success in mining and farming.
What made Rowland a multimillionaire, however, was his late 1950s consultancy with Rio Tinto and his friendship with the Mozambique-based Portugese insider Jorge Jardim. The latter eventually landed Lonrho the lucrative Beira oil pipeline deal. (Only now, more than three decades after Rowland's initial dream, has Lonrho begun to construct the extension of the pipeline from Mutare to Harare.)
In 1961 Rowland was offered the joint managing directorship of Lonrho. The London and Rhodesia Company, founded in 1909, was stagnating at the time, though its portfolio of gold mines, plantations and London stock market shares was attractive to Rowland. Rowland's own automobile franchise, mining investments and various other business ventures were part of the deal.
With his adopted airs and eccentricities -- not appreciated in rough and tumble Rhodesia -- there was suspicion among the country's business elites about the immigrant. But Lonrho gained a director who was apparently without racial qualms in an Africa experiencing winds of change. Among Rowland's closest contacts was Kenneth Kaunda, and for decades he maintained warm relations with Joshua Nkomo.
One of Rowland's most innovative strategies was to gain control of crucial railroads, newspapers and breweries in Zambia and Malawi. An amusing speech by President Kamuzu Banda shortly after independence in 1964 had him begging Rowland not to turn Malawi into "a banana republic." With Ian Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, Rowland's beloved Beira pipeline was shut down and the expansion into the heart of Africa temporarily derailed. Rowland hurried to London to plot his expansion into the rest of the world.
> From: Carl Remick <cremick at rlmnet.com>
> To: "'lbo-talk at lists.panix.com'" <lbo-talk at lists.panix.com>
> Subject: RE: Death of Tiny Rowland
> Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 09:32:08 -0400
> Reply-to: lbo-talk at lists.panix.com
> Re Chris Burford's observation: "Rowland therefore provides an example
> of a capitalist who may play a progressive, (but highly ambivalent) role
> in a democratic struggle. He was
> a progressive ally and the first sugar-coated bullet." Yes, it would be
> most interesting to see a discussion here of Rowland and others of his
> ilk, e.g.: Ted Turner, George Soros, Armand Hammer. Do "good works" at
> all mitigate the fact that one is fundamentally self-serving, abusive of
> others' rights and able to do anything on caprice?
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Chris Burford [mailto:cburford at gn.apc.org]
> Sent: Monday, July 27, 1998 3:08 AM
> To: lbo-talk at lists.panix.com; marxism-unmoderated at buo319b.econ.utah.edu
> Subject: Death of Tiny Rowland
> Tiny Rowland is probably not known in the USA. But he is a revealing
> footnote in the development of capitalism. His death yesterday brought
> statements in his honour by Kenneth Kaunda and Nelson Mandela.
> Starting out with his business in ranching in "Rhodesia", he built
> into a major player in African politics by aligning with emerging black
> politicians. The name of the company shows its transition from the era
> imperialism to that of post-colonialism. The obituary statements
> make it clear that at critical times, he gave them significant financial
> support, but no doubt also provided a bridge into respectable or
> semi-respectable capital circles.
> Rowland therefore provides an example of a capitalist who may play a
> progressive, (but highly ambivalent) role in a democratic struggle. He
> a progressive ally and the first sugar-coated bullet.
> Chris Burford
Patrick Bond HOME: WORK: 51 Somerset Road University of the Witwatersrand Kensington 2094 Graduate School of Public and Johannesburg, South Africa Development Management Phone: (2711) 614-8088 2 St.David's Road, Parktown E-mails: pbond at wn.apc.org bondp at zeus.mgmt.wits.ac.za Work phone: (2711) 488-5917 Fax: (2711) 484-2729