MUTARE socialites last week fondly remembered the late renowned Mutare based diamond dealer cum businessman Bothwell Hlahla, nine years on, after scores of messages were commented on his tribute post on Facebook in his honour.
Hlahla who was better known as Boss Bothy or Bathez rose to fame in 2008 during the height of illicit diamond dealing from the Chiadzwa gems. After striking a fortune in the Chiadzwa diamond fields, Hlahla within a short period of three years rose from living a life of a street urchin who hustled for chump change to a top ‘businessman’ and socialite in Mutare. His name became a household name in the eastern border city of Mutare, while his fairytale story from rags to riches became the envy of all, as he was said to have died a millionaire in his own right, with plenty of top of the range vehicles as well as many housing and commercial properties in Mutare and other cities reportedly.
The late diamond kingpin as he became titled during the peak of his rise to wealth sadly died in a horrific car crash on August 12, 2011. He suffered from severe fractured bones and internal bleeding, which he sustained when his top of the range CLX convertible Mercedes Benz was involved in a fatal accident in Mutare.
People commented on a post uploaded back on 13 August 2011 by prominent Mutare based club DJ, Brian ‘DJ Stylez’ Mavhiza, which he reposted saying RIP to the late Hlahla. In one of the comments on the repost, socialite Alby Marima said “Rest in power till we meet again,” whilst Lazarus Zezai said, “R.I.P Legend,” and Munyaradzi Nyika said “RIP Bathez boss,” to mention a few of the over 100 people who commented and scores of people that liked the post.
Whilst August was the tragic month of his passing, ironically, the year before it was also the same month that Hlahla made history when he brought the first international show to Mutare. He brought to Zimbabwe the Jamaican duo Brick & Lace of the, ‘Love is wicked’ hit song. Brick and Lace whose real names are Nyanda and Nailah Thorbourne came to perform in Mutare at Hillside Golf Club on August 27, 2010 before their main performance in Harare the following day. Hlahla was the promoter of the show through his company, Yedu Nesu (Pvt) Ltd.
The two Jamaican sisters also visited the Victoria Falls and other tourist attractions in the country during their Zimbabwe visit, courtesy of the late diamond kingpin and his stakeholders from Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA). This show made Hlahla very popular for doing what most affluent local businesspeople had failed to do to put Mutare on the map in the entertainment circles as most international acts either performed in Harare or Bulawayo.
At his funeral, Hlahla was given a five-star hero’s farewell as it has become a custom for all famed people in the eastern border city. Business was brought to a halt along Herbert Chitepo Road, which is the main street, as the long convoy of top range cars and large procession drew attention and made his burial the talk of the town. His funeral was almost equated to that of the late Mutare born international footballer Blessing ‘Yogo Yogo’ Makunike who also died with his colleagues in a horrific car crash on March 13, 2004 when they were coming from a league match against Njube Sundowns played in Bulawayo. Makunike’s funeral up-to-date tops the list as his death was more like that of a national hero which drew many people from far and wide.
Hlahla was believed to have been very well connected with many illegal diamond dealers in Zimbabwe and abroad. Some from as far as South Africa, Botswana, the DRC, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Lebanon, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium and India. He was also believed to have been well linked politically to have run such a thriving diamond dealing cartel, taking over the reins in such a short space of time.
This was also proven in 2008 when Government launched Operation Hakudzokwi (No Return), which ran up to January 2009, arresting all suspected diamond dealers and seizing part of their assets as ill-gotten wealth, using the lifestyle audit as the basis of its investigations. Many well connected local and foreign diamond dealers, including Hlahla fled the country and only came back when the coast was clear after the operation.
However, present-day, whilst the Chiadzwa diamonds are still being mined and the illicit trade of diamonds is still evidently ongoing nine- years after Hlahla left his footprint as an untouchable king pin, it seems he enjoyed the last era as the last high-rolling diamond boss. Most diamond dealers now lurk in the dark in Mutare, amassing their wealth quietly to avoid being sniffed out.
In 2017, during a breakfast meeting with Manicaland businesspeople, whilst still the Finance and Economic Development Minister, Patrick Chinamasa admitted that Government had failed to develop Manicaland through its diamonds and vast mineral resources. He cited how back in 2008 up to 2012, Mutare had become very active and economically robust because of spillover effects of money from the illicit trade of diamonds in Chiadzwa.
This was after businesspeople had quizzed Chinamasa over concerns that since independence in 1980, Mutare had nothing to show in terms of infrastructure development and economic growth, regardless of having vast natural resources.
From the famous saying by Alexander D. Jones that legends are not born but made, the likes of Hlahla became a hero among locals instead of being circled out as thieves of precious State resources. This was mostly because the local diamond dealers back then spread the wealth to the general public indirectly by supporting local businesses and investing locally. This is unlike the current status quo where there is improved diamond mining in Chiadzwa under the State, but little to no benefits or spillover effects for local downstream businesses.
The rise and fall life of Hlahla which was more like a movie script than reality remains entrenched in the minds of those that lived in Mutare during the diamond rush peak and experienced the before and after life. However, according to Hlahla’s close friends who spoke during his burial, above all, ‘it was his big heart for this city, of growing with it’, that made him the legend he became, to be titled as the last diamond kingpin in Mutare.