HARARE – Our news editor Gift Phiri sits down for a wide-ranging interview with 39-year-old businessman Frank Buyanga. Find below excerpts of the interview.
Q: I understand you commenced your entrepreneurial career in the United Kingdom in 1998 at the tender age of 18. Could you share a little bit about your background?
A: In 1995, I took my dad’s car for a joyride without a licence and the police took me to CID and were threatening to detain me for driving without a licence and this huge towering figure in a white suit recognised me from across the street and that person knew my dad. It so happened that the man was Roger Boka (who died in 1999 and owned one of Africa’s biggest tobacco trading floors.) He then asked the police what the problem was. He spoke to them and they went away. He then took me to his office and told me to use the energy I used to steal my dad’s car to do business. He then took me on a tour of his business. He then told me to come back the next day and he took me to the auction floor he was building. On my tour to his offices, I met Matthew Boka. One of my first transactions between Zim and the UK was high level security equipment.
I got into the business in 1998, at the age of 18. I registered Summit Trading, a commodities company based in the UK. The company traded in agricultural commodities, primarily sugar. In just over a year, I then founded Ferco Trading Ltd, an import and export company which would expose me to the global business arena. Between the years 2000 and 2004, I owned and operated a pound shop in Stratford and opened up a garage based in Ilford both in the UK. Over and above this, I operated a financial advisory and mortgaging firm based in Cavendish Street, in London. I tried a lot of business ventures including but not limited to supplying goods and services to government departments, private institutions and individuals – this was between 1999 and 2002. At some stage, I lost all and had no hope and drove for a cab company for six months at Cameo Cars based at the famous Waterloo Station and doubled up as a bar tender at Faun n Firkin in Leicester square. This was in 1998. I raised my first £10 000 as a cab driver.
Q: You are considered to be one of the wealthiest individuals in Zimbabwe. Please tell us what this kind of wealth means to you?
A: Thank you for the honour but I consider myself blessed and I should play my part to help humanity.
Q: How did you make all this money?
A: I am a steward of the Lord. All I control belongs to God that’s why there is so much of it. All things I do are spirit-led and I get all my instruction from the Lord. Money is a by-product of God’s creation therefore to make money or the making of it is simply by choice rather my main focus is to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.
Q: It seems your money-lending business in Zimbabwe, where borrowers secured their loans with their homes, and went on to default and subsequently refused to give up their houses, leading to litigation created serious problems for you. Do you regret venturing into that kind of business, which led to some people labelling you a loan shark?
A: I have nothing to regret. At the root of it were defaulters who refused to honour agreements they signed upon seeking help from me.
Q: In February 2012, Interpol took out red notice against you, which you spiritedly fought, and used the courts to clear your name. Did you feel misunderstood at any point, particularly when you came under fire and had some negative press a few years ago?
A: Misunderstood how? I can’t stop the press from reporting, however, I just feel truth should anchor the stories.
Q: Which investment gave you the most joy or the biggest headache?
A: None just lessons learnt.
Q: It is said you are a reverend with Zaoga Forward in Faith Ministries. What kind of a role do you see faith or spirituality playing in having a fruitful, rewarding career?
A: I am a Christian and believe in the power of prayer.
Q: There are suggestions that you are a “playboy” yet you claim to be a reverend. What is your response to this? What is your marital status?
A: I try to live a very private life so I can protect my family. I am not a playboy neither am I married.
Q: It looks like you are a car aficionado, you own a Rolls Royce, Lamborghinis, an Aston Martin DB9 and others. There are suggestions you have imported a Bugatti Hermes, a super expensive dream car, which landed at the Robert Mugabe International Airport last weekend. Is this correct?
A: Yes. As far as I’m aware the Bugatti was legally delivered in Harare. The cost to Bugatti on the manufacture of the Veyron was €4,62 million according to their factors, therefore buying at a significant discount is an investment decision.
Q: How much did you spend on the Bugatti?
A: I do not remember as these issues are highly trivial to my main course of existence. What I recall is that the Bugatti Veyron is an ideal investment simply due to the fact the on-the road cost of €4,62 million is significantly higher than its current retail price.
Q: How much did you pay in duty?
A: This is an issue for the taxpayer and the importer. I am not at liberty to discuss issues that involve third parties.
Q: What ride do you hope to buy after this Bugatti?
A: As I said in the past, vehicles do not determine one’s existence. I have been a collector for quite some time, therefore if I believe an asset will rise in value I will undertake to purchase.
Q: How do you feel driving such a car amid such grinding poverty?
A: There is no real poverty in Zimbabwe. You should visit other parts of Africa where I have spent a lot of my time then you will get a reality check. Zimbabwe has just been badly managed and the wheels are starting to turn and as I say, if my establishment is to involve itself, the economy with flourish.
Q: Generally, you are renowned for a big collection of some of the best automobile machines, are you a car enthusiast? Do these fancy cars help you make money, is it part of a lifestyle marketing?
A: I drive cars for my convenience.
Q: You also live in a luxury flat at the Michelangelo Towers in the heart of Sandton near Johannesburg. Do you see luxury as the fabric of your daily life?
A: Where must I live?
Q: What is your view on the Zimbabwean economy and the staggering hardships in the country?
A: There is huge potential for Zimbabwe. I try not point fingers in life but in providing solutions. Our plans are already underway for us to be part of the new Zimbabwe going forward.
Q: With all this wealth, how are you contributing in ensuring economic revival of the country?
A: If government listens to my advice and instructs my ideals, Zimbabwe will be the richest nation in Africa within 36 months. My establishments already add value to the country by tax collection and employment creation amidst other contributions. I have humbly advised various world leaders on the way forward. However, it is an issue for them whether to take or not take my advice.
Q: There are reports you have invested in mining?
A: I have been involved in mining, beneficiation and value added services. I am led to believe my establishment is the single largest private holder of gold bullion in Africa.
Q: How do you think you can shore up Zimbabwe’s gold industry?
A: The idea to set up the African medallion group came to me on the announcement of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introducing the bond note. That is the day I gave up on modern-day economics and created a gold-backed currency. I have various applications including but not limited to conventional and semi convectional hybrid solutions to make Zimbabwe the single largest producer, trader and buyer of gold on the world.
Q: Your firm, African Medallion Group (AMG), launched special coins, which later morphed into a crypto-currency. What is your view of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s move to prohibit investing or trading in crypto-currency for fear of possible problems from the unregulated trading?
A: AMG does gold medallions not crypto-currency
Q: How are your pioneering gold-backed medallions doing on the market?
A: AMG hit the R3,5 billion mark on its gold reserves in May 2018.
Q: Where do you see Zimbabwe’s economy in 2030?
A: If the president continues down the path he has started and consults God-given advice, I believe every Zimbabwean will be proud.
Q: What do you think of the rise of Emmerson Mnangagwa as president? Do you believe the country is in good hands, do you believe he is providing good economic stewardship?
A: I have said this before, President Mnangagwa is a capable leader. Bringing business to Zimbabwe means we believe, with him, the country will move forward. Why must we be pessimistic of the future?
Q: Finally, what kind of advice would you give someone seeking a fulfilling business career?
A: Have a clear plan and work hard.