Billy Rautenbach

Muller Conrad "Billy" Rautenbach (born 23 September 1959) is a wealthy Zimbabwean businessman. He is known for his ingenious business tactics. By the age of 40, Rautenbach's business empire had spread in more than a dozen African countries even as far afield as Australia and Europe, earning him the nickname "Napoleon of Africa".

Muller Conrad "Billy" Rautenbach
Born (1959-09-23) 23 September 1959 (age 62)
Spouse(s)Jenny Lynn Rautenbach (née Noon)

Business venturesEdit

Billy Rautenbach is the brain behind numerous avant-garde business ventures ranging from trucking, car manufacturing, farming to mining in numerous African countries. His fortunes in a politically unstable continent have earned him a reputation of an independently-minded unconventional businessman and–as is often the case with successful businessmen in countries where corrupt political parties and powerful foreign companies rule–a controversial reputation. Rautenbach's first venture was the expansion of his father's transport company, Wheels of Africa, established in Rhodesia.[1] The company subsequently became a significant player in southern Africa, with the Financial Mail estimating that it controlled 75% of the Zimbabwean haulage market in 1999.[2] Wheels of Africa soon expanded into car assembly and distribution – with Rautenbach holding a 50% stake in Hyundai's operations in South Africa and Botswana, and owning the Volvo heavy vehicle franchise in thirteen African countries, [1][3] which eventually let to upsetting the South African motoring market by growing the market share of Hyundai. In November 1999, the South African asset forfeiture unit mounted a massive court battle against him on the basis of tax evasion but failed to build a convincing conclusive case despite numerous attempts spanning over two years to have his assets frozen. Despite carting away truckloads of documents from the businessman’s offices, the National Prosecuting Authority failed to secure a conviction and withdrew the charges.[4] Although his personal assets were returned, the legal battles against tax evasion charges cost him the Hyundai business and earned him hordes of bad press resulting in the ‘controversial’ tag against his name. Some segments of the press even claimed that Rautenbach was linked to the murder of Yong Koo Kwon of Daewoo Motors, who had been found shot dead in his car in Johannesburg in February 1999.[1][5] Rautenbach emphatically denied any involvement in the murder, and described the allegations as a "witch-hunt."[6] No charges were ever laid against Rautenbach, and three other men were charged with the murder in 2006.[7] By February 2000, several companies in the Wheels of Africa group had been liquidated, leaving significant debts in southern Africa.[3][8][1]

Mining activitiesEdit

Rautenbach did not return to South Africa until 2009, when he reached a R40 million plea agreement with prosecutors.[9] During this time, Rautenbach continued to support the South African economy with a procurement spend of R415-million (an average of US$1 million / R8 million per week over a period of one year) through mining activities. Rautenbach controlled Boss Mining Ltd, which held the rights to half of the Mukondo mine and to two other mining concessions in the Katanga province of the DRC.[10] In February 2006, he became a major shareholder in the Central African Mining and Exploration Company (Camec), also listed on the London stock exchange, receiving a 17% share when it acquired those mining rights.[11][12] He owned 8% of Camec shares as of July 2007.[13][14] Rautenbach reportedly made an estimated $50 million from the 2009 sale of Camec to the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation.[15]

His success in mining was due to his father’s trucking business contacts in transporting minerals and his use of innovative mining techniques. With the eye of an outsider, he developed a different technique and out-mined the state company in a very short period of time: “We did it very selectively. We slowed down the process and picked it out in very high grade and with very little investment.” Billy's unorthodox approach was highly successful, and showed up the massive inefficiency of the state-run enterprises. In 1998, Laurent Kabila offered Billy a chance to lead state-owned Gecamines, which despite his initial reluctance, he finally accepted, and in doing so successfully turned around the fortune of the company by cutting costs and improving efficiencies. However, the rebel-infested country began to create trouble for the Congolese government who, in search for funds, issued allegations of misappropriation of corporate assets. Rautenbach was also accused of financing the DRC war, allegations which he denied, logically stating that he was in business in the Congo long before the war broke out: “I started mining in the Congo about a year before the war started. So all of a sudden, the war is there because of me. It's unbelievable.”[16] “We were very active there in getting the production going, in turning around things. We were possibly affecting people's commercial interests ... I set up a little mine there, and out-produced the major cobalt producers in the world in one year. They spend billions of dollars putting up a plant and I come there as a farmer – me and my dad – and we got the stuff out of the ground.” However, stories continued circulating: allegations that he was Mugabe's right-hand man, that he'd bribed Kabila into securing his mining concessions, and that his mines were financing Zimbabwe's soldiers in the DRC. To date, there have not been any substantiation on claims of Billy Rautenbach’s links to Robert Mugabe and the European Union struck him off the targeted sanctions list in February 2012.[17]

CAMEC’s Sustainable development activitiesEdit

In favour of sustainable development, Rautenbach saw to it that CAMEC created employment for over 5,000 people at its Luita plant. At an average of five people per household, 25,000 people were sustained as a result of this operation. The operation also saw the completion of an expatriate staff village of 3000 people – fondly known as Billyville by employees and contractors – with over 200 houses, recreation facilities, staffing hostels, and a 2000m2 office complex. Moreover, millions of dollars were ploughed back into the DRC to uplift the communities surrounding CAMEC’s operations. These projects included renovations to a clinic, the provision of necessary medical equipment, and the construction of a crèche and primary school. Construction also included a technical college to educate 3,600 children in the skills needed at the processing plant, such as mechanics, electronics and welding to help alleviate the skills shortages in the DRC.

Further civil society initiatives included the reconstructing of local infrastructure, i.e. a 80km national road between Kolwezi and Likasi previously damaged by floods more than 15 years ago; power lines of 23,4km from the town of Fungurume to Luita, and a state of the art water treatment system providing 40,000 litres of drinkable water per day constructed in an area previously known for cholera. The company also notably commissioned and built two dams of 50,000m3 and 1,5 million3 litres respectively. CAMEC’s mining and production operation at Luita also helped create business opportunities for local contractors, such as brick making plants.[18]

Subsequent activities in Zimbabwe - Green Fuel InvestmentsEdit

Rautenbach’s greatest achievement to date has been in mobilizing investment towards bio-ethanol, leading to the construction of the Green Fuel Chisumbanje ethanol plant modeled along the lines of Brazil’s biofuel cane industry. The ambitious project is a build, operate and transfer partnership in the form of a 20-year pact signed in February 2009 between the government represented by the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (Arda), Green Fuel Investments (headed by Billy Rautenbach) and two other investment partners – Rating Investments and Macdom Investments.[19]

Arda has a 10% stake in Green Fuel,[20] and Rautenbach is the majority partner.[21] In 2011, Green Fuel built a $600-million[22] ethanol fuel plant on land leased from Arda in Chisumbanje in the sugar-growing Chipinge district of Zimbabwe.[20] It was completed in 18 months with the design and a number of aspects of the plant imported from Brazil. However, over 60% of the plant was manufactured by local engineers in Zimbabwe, under the supervision of experts from Brazil. As such, jobs were created with skills being transferred to the local workforce.[23] The project is the biggest so far in Africa. By 2015, Green Fuel's acreage had expanded from 5,112 hectares to 9,375 hectares.[24]

Benefits to the Zimbabwean economyEdit

Zimbabwean regulations make it mandatory to blend unleaded fuel with a government-prescribed proportion of ethanol. Upon completion of the project, between 2,5 million and 2,8 million litres of ethanol are estimated to be produced daily. The production of such volumes of ethanol is expected to end the country’s importation of petrol, as fuel blended with 10 percent locally-made eco-friendly ethanol is sold at a lower cost than fuel that is fully imported and is a boon for motorists.

Green Fuel pumped out about 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s fuel needs within a few months[25] and excess ethanol-petrol is exported, bringing much-needed foreign currency for social and economic development to the country. Consequently, Green Fuel has not only increased Zimbabwe's energy security, but it has also lessened dependence on foreign, imported oil and fossil fuels in the future.[23]

With daily power cuts of over 18 hours in recent years in Zimbabwe, Green Fuel generates 18 megawatts from burning waste which can power about 18,000 homes. The project is reducing Zimbabwe’s spending on fuel imports by roughly $40 million a year. Nearly one-tenth of the government’s 2019 budget for imported fuel.[26] Moreover, besides setting a record for Zimbabwe as being the first African country with flexi fuel vehicle technology using blends of up to 85% ethanol and reducing the country’s fuel import bill, the project has created over 4,500 jobs in Zimbabwe (see section on job creation below) and is leading Zimbabwe to a greener economy.[27]

In sum, by contributing to the production of ethanol based fuel, Green Fuel has helped the country to save at least $2 million every month in fuel imports.[28] and was awarded National Project Status by the Government of Zimbabwe due to the significant benefits it will bring to the country.[23] Currently, the IMF predicts a 6% GDP growth for Zimbabwe, reflecting agricultural output and an increased energy production,[29]

As with all large public/private works, however, opposition parties to the current government have criticized the project – stating that the ruling party has effectively created a monopoly for Green Fuel,[30][31] which as of 2021 was the only company licensed to produce ethanol for blending purposes in Zimbabwe.[32] Member of Parliament Allan Markham, who challenged the mandatory blending regulations in court, also put forward unfounded arguments that they result in high fuel prices.[33]

Creation of jobsEdit

The project, possibly Africa’s largest eco-project to date, has created more jobs in Zimbabwe than any other in the last 20 years.[34]

Besides currently supplying irrigation for the first time to peasant farmers working in dry areas around the sugar cane fields, it is forseen that the venture will continue to create employment for more than 8000 people. Already, the venture is spending nearly $2,000,000 every month in salaries alone for 120 full-time employees and hundreds of contract workers from villages around the ARDA estates, transforming the lives of people in Chisumbanje, including others at growth points such as Checheche and in towns further away, such as Chipinge and Chiredzi. [35] Zimbabwe does not have personnel experienced in ethanol plant construction work and through job training programmes, Green Fuel has created a set of skilled ethanol plant artisans marketable worldwide, thereby empowering the local people through technological transfer.

Moreover, the planned construction of the Kondo Dam for increased water volumes required along the Save River will create more jobs for the rural populace. Further to this, a steel fabricating unit has been established in Harare with a staff establishment of over 100 artisans involved in the manufacture of a range of parts required for the ethanol project. Thirteen Local commuter bus companies in Chipinge have been contracted to ferry labour from the villages to the project site on a daily basis. More importantly, 30% of the artisans employed in the distillery and boiler sections of the ethanol plant are Zimbabweans previously based outside the country in South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. Community leaders in Chisumbanje said they are fully behind the project as it will uplift their livelihoods, "We really support the project as we are the first beneficiary in the sense that development will be realized in our once-marginalized area. We shall benefit economically, infrastructural and even socially,” said one community leader. [36]

Green Fuel’s robust Corporate Social Responsibility programEdit

Green Fuel has a robust Corporate Social Responsibility program called ‘Vimbo – Hope for a better future’ which revolves around three major principles: sustainable development, education and social equity. The program currently benefits the local community through a portfolio of community projects: community irrigation farming, sustainable farming practices, entrepreneurial projects (start-ups), training, education and social service infrastructure rehabilitation (see section below for more information). [23]

Community irrigation construction and rehabilitationEdit

Chipinge district, particularly Chipinge South where the factory is located, has a very harsh climate characterised by very low rainful and high temperatures. As such, it was considered one of the least developed areas in Zimbabwe prior to the project.[23] Once Green Fuel signed the deal with ARDA to take over and rehabilitate its collapsed sugar cane estates, a massive reconstruction of the area was undertaken to expand the irrigation system with the aim to plant and irrigate at least 50,000 hectares of sugar cane to produce two million liters of ethanol a day. The refinery was partly imported from Brazil, with some parts manufactured in Harare and a team of experts from Brazil and Mauritius overseeing the project.[25]

Green fuel has resolved to develop 10% of all the land it develops for the benefit of the community in the form of irrigated plots.[37] and is thus supplying water for the first time to rural farmers for all year round farming needs in an effort to counter the devastating impact of years of poverty-inducing drought. At Chisumbanje, a 4000 hectare new irrigation scheme was developed for communal farming. [38]

This programme targets individual farmers keen on growing and supplying sugarcane for the mill. These farmers are supplied with all the technical assistance in the form of land preparation for 10 hectares and inputs, the costs of which are deductable from their total sales after harvesting. To date, approximately 1,100 hectares of land have been developed for the community at a cost of approximately $11 million to the company, 700 farmers have been allocated new irrigation plots of 650 hectares with packages of input to kick start their operations. The company provides these farmers with consistent support and assistance.

The remaining 500ha consists of irrigated plots, measuring 0.5ha each and benefitting 1,000 families. The water is pumped all year at the cost of the company, ensuring consistent availability of water in an area that receives very little rainfall and, as a result, each farmer can produce up to three cash crops per year.[23]

The project is in the process of developing a further 380ha of irrigation schemes for the Chisumbanje community which will benefit a further 760 farmers. At project completion, the number of farmers on irrigated land will peak at 8000 plot holders. Currently, up to US$2 million is injected into Chipinge South every month in the form of salaries and procurement finance, which has resulted in significantly increased commercial traffic.[23]

Banks and cell phone towers have opened in Checheche – a growth point neighbouring Chisumbanje – that has since been granted town status due to the ethanol project. Local businesses are prospering and social services, such as healthcare facilities, roads, churches and schools are being refurbished and revived by Green Fuel.[23]

Moreover, a ‘community irrigation schemes water engineering department’ has been created at Middle Sabi ensuring the day-to-day needs of the schemes in terms of water conveyance. [39] The Sabi River and a functional irrigation system is now the lifeline of the area. In particular, eighteen existing small-scale irrigation schemes have been rehabilitated, stretching 1,700 hectares from Mutema and Tawona to Chibuwe, and catering for approximately 2,300 farmers. The rehabilitation work centred on repairing and replacing water pumps, drilling additional boreholes to augment water supplies and the reconstruction of water conveyance systems. Currently, a number of farmers have taken up contract farming in bananas for Matanuska and are doing extremely well.[23]

Land and other disputesEdit

Despite these positive outcomes, and is often the case for all major large-scale public works, the project has attracted criticism. Some of the most ardent critics have been local activists and residents claiming that Green Fuel had encroached on communal land in Chipinge, displacing families without sufficient compensation. These residents, supported by non-profit Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, challenged Green Fuel's claim to the land in the courts.[20][40] complaining that they used to farm on large tracts of land. They have, however, since realized that the yield in one acre supported by drip irrigation realizes higher yields. There is now a huge demand for these irrigation schemes.[37] There had also been claims that the firm has polluted the water, bulldozed maize fields to build a road, and failed to honour its promises to pay sugarcane growers $4 a tonne.[22][41][42][43] A 2015 report by the Zimbabwean Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment stated that the project was against the country's indigenisation laws. In addition, and according to the Environmental Management Agency, Green Fuel had not completed its full environmental impact assessment study, as required by legislation, before initiating the project.[20][24] Green Fuel has denied these accusations, stating that it has spent millions of dollars on developing the neighbouring villages (see sections below), and provided irrigation, electricity, and stock feed to villagers.[22] It has also denied claims that the plant's effluent is a pollutant.[21][22][41] ] Nyabadza of the Arda board said in 2015 that the project was justified on the grounds that it would reduce Zimbabwe's import bill.[41] Bloomberg has also shown its support for the project by reporting that it is reducing dependence on fuel imports and providing jobs.[21] [20][40] (see section: Creation of jobs) Moreover, repeated monitoring visits by officials from the Zimbabwean government, the World Bank and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization qualified the industrial development as necessary for the poverty stricken district, thereby making it clear that it is in the public’s general interest that the project continue, especially after two decades of economic turmoil that has starved Zimbabwe of foreign currency, and created fuel shortages.[27]

Refurbishment of social service institutionsEdit

Green Fuel has completed rehabilitative works on key public service facilities which include schools, roads, hospitals and health centers. Work has been completed in this direction with initial focus on educational facilities on both estates and the major health referral centre closest to Chisumbanje, St Peters Hospital at Checheche, with constructive repairs and additional capacity through the construction of new structures to cater for the swelling service demand created by the volumes of staff on site. [44]

Environmental ProtectionEdit

The fuel and electricity that Green fuel provides is a environmentally friendly and sustainable. It reduces air pollution and decreases greenhouse gas emissions by over 60%. Currently, as talks of climate change gather momentum, Zimbabwe has joined Brazil and China to discuss how their carbon footprints through investment into ethanol can be reduced.[45]


Although quite active in his younger years, as evidenced by his rally racing passion that he shares with his son Conrad, Billy Rautenbach now spends his time on his farm with his family on the outskirts of Harare, and is an adept of natural land conservation. [46]


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