NEWSMAKER – The flying wine maker given the job to fix Beitbridge

Zimborders consortium chairman, Glynn Cohen

AT the turn of the century, Glynn David Cohen purchased and restored a Renaissance villa in Tuscany, once owned by the Machiavelli family. Niccolo Machiavelli is believed to have written The Prince while resident at Villa Mangiacane.

Now, after successfully navigating through Zimbabwe’s labyrinthine bureaucracy and Machiavellian manoeuvring within the political establishment, Cohen has set his sights on modernising the Beitbridge border post, one of Africa’s busiest and also probably one of the continent’s most chaotic.

But to call Cohen a vineyard owner who is involved in logistics is no different to, for instance, calling Lewis Carrol a mathematician who wrote Alice in Wonderland. After all Carrol, who is best known for the fantasy writing, wrote as much as a dozen mathematics books.

Cohen, born on 15 February 1960 in Kadoma, started off as a textile entrepreneur, became a transport and logistics baron, before founding the La Frontiere Group, which builds and upgrades border posts.

La Frontiere is the lead entity in a consortium – Zimborders – that landed a $300 million contract to modernise the Beitbridge border post.

Cohen with President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Beitbridge ground-breaking ceremony on July 11, 2018

Serial entrepreneur

A Zimbabwean who took up permanent residence in Monaco in 2000, Cohen is a serial entrepreneur whose interests straddle an extensive gamut of human endeavour.

These include logistics, waste management, mining, hospitality, wine production, agriculture, aviation and real estate.

Cohen is also an avid pilot, holding current licences for both helicopter and fixed wing aircraft. His other interests include nature conservation, cars, art collecting, wine, yachting, spear fishing and polar exploration.

In 2000, Cohen purchased a 15th century old wine estate in Tuscany – Villa Mangiacane –  built for the Machiavelli family by the Renaissance master, Michelangelo.

Cohen reportedly produces over 300,000 bottles of wine annually for the European and American markets from the 600-acre vineyard and olive grove. He has made a point of showcasing Zimbabwean sculpture on the estate’s grounds.

The main villa has been fashioned into a luxury boutique hotel.

The restored 15th century Mangiacane villa in Florence

Where it all started

At just 20, Cohen established CohCoh Enterprises in Graniteside, Harare, a textile firm which was to become a platform for a series of acquisitions in the clothing industry.

His first acquisition was Taig Enterprises, which allowed Cohen to expand his export market. This was followed by the purchase of brands such as Fashion Enterprises, Julie White, Screen Tone and Stanley Fashions.

At its peak, the CohCoh and Taig Group employed more than 3,600 people and covered a whole cross section of clothing manufacturing for the local and export markets.

The serial entrepreneur was also involved in several other businesses, either as founder or investor. These include AG Trailers, which manufactured heavy-duty triaxle trailers for the transport industry and sold trucks purchased from the USA, tent-maker GM Tarpaulins as well as textile printing company, Kestrel/Kingfisher Prints.

In 1985, Cohen set up GDC Logistics in Botswana, expanding its operations into his native Zimbabwe a year later. The company has grown into one of the region’s dominant logistics companies and a major contractor for United Nations agencies, moving bulk food aid for the World Food Programme.

Now trading as GDC Whelson, the trucking company merged with South African-listed Super Group, where Cohen served as board chairman and managing director, gaining valuable experience and a deep understanding of Africa’s transport and logistics needs.

Cohen’s partner in the La Frontiere Group, Francois Diedrechsen, credits him with identifying the Beitbridge border opportunity.

“The project was originally identified by my chairman and partner, Glynn Cohen. I joined him as his partner two odd years ago and we have been the driving force through that,” Diedrechsen told CNBCA in an interview.

Glynn’s father, Victor, who died in August 2017, founded Cone Textiles and Waverly Blankets.