MORE than 120 Bulawayo shop owners whose properties were destroyed during the opposition instigated violent protests in January, yesterday received refrigerators from Varun Beverages.

As part of the company’s empowerment drive, 300 women entrepreneurs were also given cooler boxes to kick-start their businesses.

The First Lady Amai Auxilia Mnangagwa handed over the equipment which also included trolleys at the Liquor Hub in Bulawayo.

Speaking at the ceremony, Amai Mnangagwa commended efforts by Varun Beverages and called on other businesses to emulate the good gesture.

“We’re here to recognise the selfless assistance rendered by Varun Beverages to alleviate a number of challenges that a number of businesses in Bulawayo have been experiencing following the vandalism of their equipment by violent demonstrators.

“I’m informed by the Emergency Relief Inter-Ministerial committee appointed by Cabinet that Bulawayo was the most affected by the violent demonstrations and lost in excess of $19,5 million,” said the First Lady.

She said she was saddened that some of the affected people were widows who had their source of livelihoods destroyed.

Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Raj Modi commended Varun Beverages for complementing the Government in assisting the affected businesses.

“It’s pleasing to note that this gathering conforms to the position reached by the Government to come up with an emergency relief loan fund to assist businesses that were affected by the disturbances, which occurred in January.

“In an endeavour to complement Government efforts, Varun Beverages has empowered businesses and local women with fridges and cooler boxes, with a view to capacitate them. This will go a long way in leveraging the affected businesses and empowering women,” said Deputy Minister Modi.

He said the country experienced unimaginable violence, excessive destruction of property, injury of individuals as well as halting of businesses across all sectors of the economy during the demonstrations.

“Cognisant of this, my ministry held meetings with business member organisations to discuss the current state of affairs in the economy following these orchestrated violent business disruptions.

“The after effects of disturbances have seen some companies being distressed and failing to restock and recover,” said Deputy Minister Modi.

He added that Cabinet appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Emergency relief for the affected businesses.

“It’s critical to note that Bulawayo province suffered the most devastating damage. Of the 181 shops and other businesses entities that were visited, a total cost of $19,5 million was recorded. This figure is inclusive of stock lost, equipment and property damaged,” said Deputy Minister Modi.

Varun Beverages chief operations officer and executive director, Mr Vijay Kumar Bahl, said his organisation was committed to empowering other businesses, investing in the country and creating employment.

“We believe that if women at home are economically empowered and independent, they can really contribute towards the economic prosperity of the country.

“Besides empowering women and businesses, we have invested $50 million in Zimbabwe and we have 700 workers at our plant and we plan to invest $300 million this year,” said Mr Bahl.

The handover ceremony was also attended by Industry and Commerce Permanent Secretary Dr Mavis Sibanda, Bulawayo provincial Minister Judith Ncube, Bulawayo provincial administrator Mrs Khonzani Ncube, Captains of Industry and Commerce, local wholesalers and retailers, Government officials and representatives of Varun Beverages.herald