I had been travelling non-stop for two days, and was grateful for the two empty seats next to mine on the plane. And then Chamu arrived, another flash business suit I thought. I slept off without conversation, but when I woke, we could not help ourselves.
I found out this was no ordinary businessman, he is a 35 year old Zimbabwean millionaire who started in the townships (getho) in Harare and has built an empire of companies in micro-finance, lobbied his government to ensure that capital stays within the hands of his continental brothers and sisters, and been in advisory positions in influential projects.
He has links all over the continent (including Ladi Delano) and to some very high people in political power in Zimbabwe, and strong opinions about the problems and future of the continent. This is the conversation we had on record. Another exclusive interview by Kolade Arogundade for Africa Interview.
KA: I realize you are a business man. You are a philanthropist. You are also a politician. Who exactly are you?
CC: Well, I grew up in a place called Muvukho which is a township in Harare. I did my education at Kutama College. I have this friend, Simba Chiwore who is now married to Mugabe’s daughter, he told me about Qatar, so I went there to do my uni, a Bachelor of Science in Business Leadership at Qatar. After that I went straight into business.
I have never worked for anybody or even seen the colour of a pay cheque in my life. That is the story of my life.
KA: You specifically said that you grew up in a township and townships are supposed to be synonymous with poverty. Does it mean that you grew up poor?
CC: I grew up poor. I grew up very poor no doubt. And this is one of the reasons that gave me the power to say I want to work hard and I want to become somebody in life. I started doing work at a mechanics business when I was finishing upper six.
KA: Okay, so you started working very early. Tell me about your first business?
CC: Well I opened a company called Primetime Motors. What happened is, I overheard this chat with the guy one day when I went to the bank to open an account. So I kindly asked for his business card because I felt like God was unveiling an opportunity for me. And the next morning I phoned him to say, you know what I got cars that you were talking about and if you don’t mind I can give you a quotation. And he says, no I don’t mind. So I started going around in Harare and I managed to find somebody with the cars and he gave me a quotation. I took it to that guy, I emailed it and he phones me the next day. And then I realized, wow this is business. I can start selling cars to corporates.
KA: And so you have been selling cars. Are you still selling cars?
CC: No. No. I stopped. I sold the business. It was a big business. I made money out of that. That is how I started to realize that there was money in buying and selling companies. And so now I run finance companies and property development, and invest in other people’s business. And do some micro-financing and micro-lending. I also preside over what is known as the Affirmative Action Group which is the oldest and most powerful empowerment block in Zimbabwe. It basically propagates for Black people to go into mainstream business, you know. Because, as you know, Zimbabwe was a British colony before independence in 1980. So before then much of the Black natives Zimbabweans were very much marginalized. Not allowed to access Bank loans. Not even allowed to get title deeds and so many other things. So there has to be sort of a decolonization process and that is what the Affirmative Action Group seeks to do. We want Zimbabweans to participate in global business on a global scale. as Affirmitive Action we have managed to makes strides into that. We have managed to harness our own capital. We control quite a big magnitude of market, probably not much, about six point five million US dollars circulating in Zimbabwe. And our control is affirmative action, we give small loans to upcoming business people but they have to be Black. But we are not racist.
KA: You also have a position in Government, do you?
CC: Not really in government. I advise government.
KA: There is a story about you being fingered as somebody who had mismanaged the youth fund. What is a youth fund?
CC: Um [p], there is money which was put together by banks to assist the youth and Zimbabwe and happened to be part of the first people that the banks approached to say that they want to do this fund because they know that I am entrepreneur. So I was just part of the process of advising people and there was no single dollar which came into my pocket. But when anybody in Africa sees you driving a nice car, they start to say there they go these guys abusing the youth fund. I was just part of the process and I never got a single cent out of that.
KA: You are also reputed to be friends with Ladi Delano, the young Nigerian billionaire. How close are you to him? What is your friendship with him like?
CC: Oh well. I can’t say I am very close to Ladi but we are friends. He lives far. He is in Nigeria and London and I am in Zimbabwe. He is one of the people that really inspired me. I haven’t known Ladi for a long time but I was already in business. But for me to have the more drive to push and push and push is because of him. I read a lot of his stories; he is a very serial intellectual entrepreneur with a lot of capacity.
KA: Tell me what are the major problems in doing business in Africa, one and most specifically what are the problems in doing business in Zimbabwe?
CC: Africa, we need to be emancipated our minds like what Bob Marley says from the mental slavery. You know the worst thing that the Europeans came to Africa, or rather the colonizers what they did to Africans was not even everything else that people talk about but the manipulation or the psychological colonization. We play second fiddle in our own continent. We have succumbed to the pressure that we are not as important as the person with the white skin whether Chinese, Japanese or British.
KA: How do you think we can decolonize ourselves?
CC: Well, I think as individuals we must start working on our selves. Me as Chamu Chiwanza must start to think what is it that I can do for my people as Black people as a whole, firstly. And then secondly as Africa as a whole and then lastly, as my country Zimbabwe. As an individual how is that I can impart positive knowledge to the person who is sitting next to me so that they can know it is special to be African. At primary level there must be entrepreneurial education. Children must be taught simple mathematics of profit and losses. They must grow up with the idea of owning their own companies, their own manufacturing plants, their own production companies.
They must be taught…because I believe that with Europeans and Americans, it is within the education system. They grow up knowing that we can be the masters of our own destiny. And we are educated to become workers, chief executives of companies, doctors of hospitals, lawyers but never to own the law firms. Never to own the hospitals that we are doctors in. Never to owners of the companies that we are CEO’s in. The education system needs to be transformed.
KA: I think this is just one aspect of decolonization because I think it is much bigger than business. Wearing our own clothes, living our culture, our hair, you know. The legal systems in our country, how do we run our parliaments? How do we run the courts, you know stuff like that. So what needs to be done, first in Zimbabwe for us to be able to build a sustainable and well developed economy? And secondly, what needs to be done in Africa for us to move beyond wars, and poverty, and sickness, and disease and other things. What needs to be done?
CC: Well, I think the first instance, we need to root out corruption in Africa. Like I said, the problem with us as African is that there is a lot of corruption in Africa. You cannot do business, you cannot do this you just have to do what they call drinks. Are you doing drinks? You have to pay something to somebody. And that is the biggest problem in Africa. That is the first ugliest thing about Africa that we must to root out.
KA: You are also friends with Mugabe’s son in law. Has that played a role in you advancing the way you are? I saw pictures of you on the internet with Mugabe. How close are you to Mugabe?
CC: He is my president.
KA: Goodluck Jonathan is my president. Robert Mugabe is the father in the continent so I can say he is my father too. I don’t have a close relationship with either of them so…
CC: I never disclose my relationships and I am never going to disclose..he is my president. Basically that is about it. As I was saying, what we need to do is root out corruption and we allow people to travel freely in this country. I don’t believe in Africa with borders. I believe in an Africa without borders. I believe in an African Union like the European Union. In a conglomerate political powerhouse. That is what we should have created here. I would have loved to see…I would have loved to see…all these xenophobic attacks is a result of us being not sure of ourselves, you see? So I would want us to be sure of ourselves and I would want us to have a free Africa. I would want us to root out corruption and if we do root out corruption it would open doors to walk on a very flat open road for us and then progression, development and success will follow us.
KA: What advice do you have for young Africans who want to take the road that you have taken? You are in business and you have succeeded.
CC: I want to say to them that if they want to start a business and they lose their money, they must not lose their heads because they will use their heads when a new business venture comes along. In losing their heads, people tend to lose themselves. They tend to lose themselves to alcohol. They tend to abuse themselves to drugs and you reach a point of no return, you see and you are gone. So I always say to our young people, don’t lose your mind when the money business comes.
KA: Thank you so much.
CC: God bless you.