PRETORIA: The luxurious Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton last week made an eleventh hour cancellation of bookings for a high-ranking Zimbabwean delegation of ministers led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, forcing organisers of a two-day investment conference hosted by the Zim-SA Forum in Johannesburg to scramble to find alternative accommodation and venue for the summit at the Capital Hotel, a few kilometres away.
On Monday, Radisson Blu Sandton general manager, Volkan Vural, told the African News Agency (ANA) that the hotel had “declined” to host the large Zimbabwean contingent led by Mnangagwa because of the possibility of protests.
“The Radisson Blu Sandton declined hosting the Zimbabwean delegation due to security and protest concerns at the hotel. We have an obligation to ensure the safety of our in-house guests,” Vural said in response to ANA enquiries.
“We met with the Zimbabwean delegation organisers to relay this information to them. While it was communicated at short notice, there was no ill intention towards the Zimbabwean delegation. The safety of our in-house guests will always remain our first priority.”
The Zim-SA Forum was left reeling, with some accusing the hotel of pulling a political and racial stunt.
“We had booked the hotel. There was a team which had arrived ahead of the VP [Mnangagwa] and were already booked at the Radisson. They had come to assist with the security issues. On Thursday, two Zimbabwean ministers had already landed, ready to come to the Radisson.
“Some of our delegates from the United Kingdom had already checked into the hotel. They [Radisson Blu] sent this woman to tell us that the event has been cancelled. That was at the eleventh hour. Claire [Mitchell, Cluster Director of Sales & Marketing] said the reason was that I had not told them that Mugabe was coming,” said Anele Ndlovu, president of the Zim-SA Forum.
“We had told them upfront that it was the VP coming, not President Mugabe. Yes, we had received information that there could be a strike from a small group called #Tajamuka. We did not hide this information from them, we conveyed it in advance to their security manager, Marthinus Baumbach.
“Remember this is a hotel which prides itself on hosting people like Barack Obama, George Bush, many top world leaders, including some from this continent. Those are some of the people who attract the highest risk of security that you can imagine. We chose them because of that. We wanted our [deputy]head of State to be secure. We needed that kind of security.”
Ndlovu said the South African government had been informed and security teams, including intelligence agencies, had been inspecting the hotel, ahead of Mnangagwa’s visit.
“They suddenly sent to us a certain lady, who has just started working at the hotel, to tell us that we have been kicked out. She was crying and didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have answers for us. This had nothing to do with the risk of security.
“This is a hotel which hosts American leaders, now they were telling us about a harmless group of Zimbabweans coming with placards. It could be a group of ten protesters and they were being called a security risk. This sounds political and racially driven,” said Ndlovu.
“That was very unprofessional and unethical of the Radisson Blu. They became threatened by the presence of a few Zimbabweans [protesters], who would come and not even throw stones.
“That is how we ended up at the Capital Hotel Sandton, though some of our guests who had already checked in remained at Radisson. We were welcomed with open arms at the Capital, finding space in their hotels around Sandton. We had a full delegation of over 80 people representing the Zimbabwean government – eight ministers included,” said Ndlovu.
He vowed that all future business ties with the Radisson Blu Sandton would be cut.
The Zimbabwean pressure group at the centre of the storm, #Tajamuka, insists it did not pose a security risk to the Zimbabwean delegation, despite its strong disapproval of the conference and not seeing eye to eye with the Zimbabwean government officials.
“Our people are just harmless. They are people who just wanted to picket, just to express their views through a peaceful picket. There was no plan or aim for any violence. What we know is that the Zimbabweans had influence in this.
“They didn’t want to be embarrassed by the protests of their own people. They probably managed to convince the [Radisson Blu] to change the venue to another place, thinking we wouldn’t find out. Mnangagwa doesn’t want to come face to face with his citizens based in South Africa,” said the leader of #Tajamuka in South Africa, Shelton Chiyangwa.
He said the protesters managed to track down the new venue of the investment conference and held pickets there.
A displeased Zimbabwean Ambassador in South Africa, Isaac Moyo, said Harare viewed the cancellation as an act of sabotage.
“This was an event they had been collaborating with for more than a month in advance. We take it that the eleventh hour was tantamount to trying to sabotage an event which the Zimbabwean government had put so much effort to bring about.
“We take note of that. They [Radisson Blu] have chosen to associate with fringe elements within Zimbabwe, against the government of Zimbabwe. This #Tajamukas aren’t mainstream political parties of Zimbabwe anyway. I was very displeased,” said Moyo. African News Agency