Britain takes credit but Strive Masiyiwa was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s indigenisation programme

Strive Masiyiwa

Zimbabwe’s richest man Strive Masiyiwa has made history by becoming Britain’s first billionaire but Zimbabwe is not getting any credit for Masiyiwa’s success yet he was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the country’s indigenisation policy.

And Masiyiwa seems to be deliberately deleting this from his history, instead promoting that of his persecution by the same people that built him.

Masiyiwa made history two weeks ago when he made it into the London Sunday Times Rich list to become the first black billionaire in the UK.

According to the British paper: “Strive Masiyiwa fled civil unrest in his homeland at the age of seven and later waged a five-year battle against Robert Mugabe’s regime to launch his business.

“Now he has become the first black billionaire to break into The Sunday Times Rich List with his wealth estimated to be £1.087 billion………

“Born in what was then Rhodesia in 1961, Masiyiwa and his parents fled to neighbouring Zambia amid the unrest that followed the country’s declaration of independence from Britain four years later.

“As the family rebuilt their lives, they found themselves living next door to a British family who educated their son at Holt School, a private boarding school in Edinburgh. Masiyiwa began studying there at the age of 12 when the success of his mother’s businesses provided the money to pay for his fees and flights.

“After Holt, Masiyiwa, who has described his late mother as a ‘lioness mum’, studied electrical engineering at Cardiff University. He later returned to Zimbabwe to work for the state-owned telephone company ZPTC, where he grew frustrated with the bureaucracy of the public sector.

“In 1993 he tried to launch his mobile phone provider, Econet. The Mugabe regime denied him a licence and so the matter went to court, where Masiyiwa successfully claimed that a state monopoly of phone services amounted to a violation of freedom of speech.

“A ruling in 1998 finally granted a licence to Econet but Masiyiwa fled Zimbabwe two years later after deteriorating relations with the Harare government. He has never returned to his homeland.”

The story is totally silent about Masiyiwa’s first company, Retrofit, which he started while still employed by the Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, now Telone.

The company was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the country’s first indigenisation programme and was awarded numerous contracts with Masiyiwa himself admitting that his biggest client was the government of Zimbabwe.

The story is also silent about the Indigenous Business Development Centre where Masiyiwa was secretary-general and took advantage of the cheap loans awarded by the government to the indigenous business sector.

According to a book by Patrick Bond, Uneven Zimbabwe, published in 1998, the IBDC was established in 1990 with its priority to access loans for small businesses. Its membership, he says,  grew from 4 000 to 8 300 by 1994.

“In 1992, the World Council of Churches Development Fund advanced a Z$30.6 million loan (and Barclays advanced Z$40 000),” Bond writes. “But controversy arose over a government budget allocation of Z$100 million to the IBDC in 1992.”

Bond says Masiyiwa did not want anyone to touch that money saying: “There are certain non-indigenous people who are frantically lobbying to be part of this money. But we will fight tooth and nail to ensure that they won’t get any cent from that money since it is us who solely went to the government begging for that money as far back as February.”

Bond says Masiyiwa was also a vigorous campaigner when commercial banks were an issue. In mid- 1992, he publicly accused Standard Chartered Bank of being “the most conservative bank when it came to dealing with indigenous people,” arguing that a century “was a very long time for the bank to start considering localising part of its external shareholding.”

He says Masiyiwa demanded that Standard Chartered Bank appoint a black chief executive: “Certainly this would be a good time for some serious management changes. Do we have to wait another one hundred years before they make a commitment to black advancement?”

Although banks ended up using the Z$100 million to settle loans by small businesses, the government gave the IBDC a further Z$400 million in January 1994.

Masiyiwa sold Retrofit in 1996 to “prevent it from being run down due to the animosity that had developed between him and his largest client, the government”. His problems with the late President Mugabe and his government started when his company Retrofit fitted electricity at Mugabe’s house in rural Zvimbi and sent an invoice to the late President. Mugabe was not best pleased and Masiyiwa’s contract with the government’s Ministry of Construction was immediately withdrawn.

At IBDC while Masiyiwa was Secretary-General, the President was the late John Mapondera who was believed to be related to Mugabe. Mapondera died in mysterious car accident at the time Masiyiwa was having dogged relations with the govenment.

Source: The Insider