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Architects probe US$20m Econet contract

Cassava Smartech approached architects for designs of its new headquarters


The association of architects in Zimbabwe is embroiled in a favouritism storm over an opaque competition for the design of the new headquarters of Cassava Smartech, a subsidiary of the conglomerate, Econet.

The US$20 million architectural design competition was won by Brian Muzwembiri, but many architects are not satisfied with the selection process overseen by Emiel Murwira, the president of the Institute of Architects Zimbabwe (IAZ).

Murwira and Muzwembiri were in the same class at the National University of Science and Technology and have reportedly remained good friends, aggrieved members say while demanding an investigation into the adjudication process.

Cassava reportedly approached IAZ to conduct a competition to identify a winning design for its new headquarters in Borrowdale, Harare.

In previous instances, bidding architects exhibit all submitted works at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe for a few weeks.

“In this case, the work has been unavailable for viewing by the public because Murwira knows that what he has done is embarrassing and cannot be sustained,” an architect who participated in the competition said on condition of anonymity.

At the centre of the dispute are two technical adjudicators that were given a 60% say in the outcome of the competition with 40% of the weighting going to Cassava.

Disgruntled architects claim the consultants were handpicked by Murwira in an effort to manipulate the outcome.

At the competition award ceremony, held at a lodge in Harare last month, Murwira sought to play down questions surrounding the selection process, claiming he impartially identified the adjudicating technical consultants after approaching the South Africa Council for the Architecture Profession (SACAP).

However, his account has been disputed by SACAP registrar Advocate Toto Fiduli.

“We are not aware what the Cassava Smartech Architectural Design Competition is and we are not involved,” Fiduli said in response to whether SACAP had seconded adjudicators to Zimbabwe.

Murwira refused to answer questions over the appointment of adjudicators, referring questions to the Architects’ Council of Zimbabwe (ACZ).

ACZ chairperson Irene Masiyanise initially insisted the selection process had been fair, while refusing to shed light on the selection of the technical consultants who decided the winner, saying the council had not received any official complaint.

“We have not received any official complaint yet. We want them to come, if they are there, they haven’t come yet. I don’t know why they are rushing to the media and newspapers because that’s not where they are registered,” she said.

However, a formal complaint has since been lodged by registered architect Walter Mukanganwi forcing IAZ to set up a commission of inquiry into the competition.

“The ACZ chairperson received a formal complaint regarding the awarding of the winning design … It is now imperative that the board sets up a commission of enquiry into the matter,” Masiyanise said in a letter to the council’s board members.

The formal complaint accused Murwira of “having acted in an opaque and corrupt manner and manipulated the bid in favour of his close friend Muzwembiri … the outcome of the bid was not the outcome of a free, fair, transparent and equitable process.”

The commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the compeition will comprise five senior architects, namely George Mthupha, Bill Kurebgaseka, Daniel Mandishona, Mike Clinton and Kudzayi Tshuma.

The relief sought by the architects is “that the submitted schemes, technical adjudicators and adjudication report be made available to all registered architects for their inspection”.

Architectural competitions conducted by the IAZ in the past have been equally contentious.

In 2018, a competition for FBC Bank headquarters was suspiciously awarded to a former partner of the IAZ president, in an opaque adjudication process that produced no adjudication report.

The previous year in 2017, a competition was conducted which produced no winners and no adjudication report, but ended up being awarded to the Transport minister’s firm Studio Arts.

Architects accused the minister of being unfairly awarded a disproportionate amount of lucrative government and parastatal contracts.

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