shoprite plan on hold

SOUTH Africa's largest food retailer, Shoprite, said yesterday it was no longer pursuing further investment opportunities in Zimbabwe in the short to medium term because of socioeconomic and political uncertainty in that country.

Speculation was rife last month that the group was pressing ahead with discussions to buy part of Zimbabwe's second-largest food retailer, OK Bazaars. This was in spite of fears about the nationalisation of one of the country's oldest companies, Kingdom Meikles Africa.

Last month Shoprite chairperson Christo Wiese said that while the Meikles case "does make investors wary, we've never had any threats ourselves".

But yesterday Brian Weyers, an executive director at Shoprite, said the group investigates all opportunities that come its way "but we don't think it's the right time to invest in Zimbabwe." According to Harare-based Renaissance Capital, OK Zimbabwe is valued at R334million.

Shoprite has a small retail operation in Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. The group is to start trading in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of 2010 or early 2011, after investing R350million to R400million. Though the country was ravaged by war between 1998 and 2003 it is rich in minerals.

Shoprite chief executive Whitey Basson has said repeatedly a core strategy is to focus on expanding in oil and mineral-rich countries on the west coast of Africa. The group already has a distribution network in this region.

Last week wholesaler and retailer Massmart said it would open a Game outlet in Malawi in 2010. Massmart operates in 14 sub-Saharan countries and is looking to expand into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Senegal.