Trevor Ncube, 49, a Zimbabwean publisher, looks a hard nut to crack. Perhaps he is tough as nails after navigating the murky waters of Zimbabwean politics to set up private papers that have clashed with President Robert Mugabe and given an alternative voice to state-owned media.
It has made Ncube rich, with an estimated fortune running into millions of rand. He prefers to keep this figure under lock and key, the legacy of humble beginnings.
Ncube was born into a poor household in colonial Zimbabwe in the 1960s, when there were few opportunities for black men. His father was an amazing cook, in his words, and his mother, Alima, a domestic servant, later an entrepreneur, who sold clothes to send six children to school.
“Our upbringing was tough… we struggled quite a lot. There were times when I didn’t have shoes, walked to school barefoot; there are times when I didn’t have a uniform, and friends would borrow me shirts. We would run out of things like Vaseline to oil our body and used margarine instead, so we would look good,” says Ncube.
To raise school fees, Ncube often worked as a gardener at the home of a white family, the Johnsons, where his parents worked, in the suburbs of the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo.
“It is this background that has made me humble,” Ncube said.
His mother gave Ncube a taste for making money, his background the motivation.
“I never wanted to live the kind of life we lived, I wanted my life to be different. The life of lack, the type of hand-to-mouth existence I endured, not because of my parents’ fault or anything. It is a life I said I didn’t want to endure. It’s fear of being poor, the fear of the hand-to-mouth existence,” he said.
Achieving this hasn’t been easy in the rough-and-tumble of Zimbabwean politics. Ncube has been in and out of police cells, starting with his student leader days at the University of Zimbabwe in the 1980s. Once, while detained at a police station in Harare, the former head of intelligence threw a pistol in Ncube’s face in anger over a student demonstration.
When he became a journalist, the cells awaited Ncube yet again, as his newspaper, The Financial Gazette, the country’s business weekly, trod on a few powerful toes.
“The discomfort of being in a room with 14 other suspects, with a toilet close by—the stench was awful. Sending us to prison was a way of showing us they could do anything they wished, that they were in charge. It was uncomfortable, it makes you very angry and think of a way to treat these people in kind for what they are doing to you. It was very frightening. I had never been in prison and I didn’t know what would happen next, given the unexplained disappearances of others in similar circumstances by the state,” says Ncube.
These days, Ncube is merely disappointed with Zimbabwe’s leaders whom, he says, had plenty of opportunities to turn things around since independence, but have little to show for it.
Beneath Ncube’s often acid look, as he narrates a painful past, is, in his own words, “a loving and caring man who fears God”.
Ncube also needed guts to set up a company now running three papers in Zimbabwe: a daily, financial weekly and Sunday paper. This, in addition to publishing South Africa’s second most popular paper, The Mail&Guardian, selling just over 51,000 copies every week. He holds 76% equity in the Mail&Guardian.
“Nothing happens at the M&G when I don’t want it to,” he says.
A climb down from chairperson to deputy chair of the M&G group raised whispers that he was being bought out.
“I’m not a CEO. I provide strategic support, wisdom, oversight. I’m not a manager, I’m terrible at management. I’m a leader, I’m not an entrepreneur. There are much smarter, better managers out there. I thought, ‘Well, let me stick to what I know best… I love making babies, I don’t like taking care of babies, so, well, I like conceiving ideas and projects, and letting them happen’.”
Ncube won the German Africa Award, from the German Africa Foundation, for press freedom, human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, a journalistic milestone on the road to riches.
Says Andy Moyse, a journalist who heads Zimbabwe Mass Media Monitoring Project, which scrutinizes news in the country for fair and professional coverage of events: “He (Ncube) is an astute businessman. He has created one of the biggest print media businesses the country has ever witnessed. He has brought his business acumen into the media environment. To be fair, he has created a very dominant single media house. We need this to deal with the repressive media climate.”
Ncube’s career has been eventful and often rocky, to say the least. It all began with a job as assistant editor of The Financial Gazette in 1991. He got fired by the publisher years later for not toeing the editorial line.
“It was a tough time. If you have never been fired, then you have no business being in business. Being fired is a university in itself. It toughens you, it makes you realise how life is like.”
Ncube got fired with a mortgage hanging over him and a family to take care of, despite the fact that he was once nominated Zimbabwe Editor of the Year.
Within months, Ncube had scouted for a financier to set up a private paper, The Zimbabwe Independent. Clive Murphy, a serial entrepreneur, got wind of that; a meeting was set up, and the rest is history. He was initially offered a 2% stake, but increased it to 5%. He paid it off when the business returns looked good.
“I’m scared of debt. When the first dividend of equity came, that was it, I became a capitalist. I never looked back,” Ncube said. After almost a decade, he took over the controlling shareholding of The Zimbabwe Independent.
From The Zimbabwe Independent are two off-shoots: a weekly, The Standard, and a daily, NewsDay, part of a media empire called Alpha Media Holdings.
Ncube smiles at the memory of the next step. When he lost The Financial Gazette job, Ncube applied for a job at South Africa’s Sunday Times and Mail&Guardian. He was turned down by both. The rich irony is that he now owns Mail&Guardian.
This is how it happened: During a trip to Cape Town, Govan Reddy, the previous owner, approached him, having caught wind that Ncube wanted to expand his media business portfolio into the region.
“They wanted someone with a pedigree, who would withstand political pressure but who is also even-handed to both government and opposition,” Ncube said.
Negotiating the deal wasn’t easy. Ncube had to shrug off the challenge from big-hitting potential suitors like Zwelake Sisulu and Anthony Harper. After acquiring it, Ncube says the challenge was to turn it around. The M&G, at the time, was making over R15 million ($1.95 million) in losses every year. “For me, it was the biggest test being in a foreign environment where the players are complete strangers,” he says.
Ncube applied for a New York-based foundation funding loan for media development. It provides seed capital, is run professionally, and they charge interest.
“We have since repaid the loan,” he said.
It’s not an easy job. At the time, the establishment was accusing the M&G of pandering to white interests.
“Naturally, we are bound to irritate the political establishment. That doesn’t worry us, it doesn’t concern us, it happens here in Zimbabwe. That is the nature of the beast. We would worry if the politicians weren’t complaining.”
What bothers the publisher is the politics of South Africa.
“The situation in South Africa is now beginning to approximate what happened here 20 years ago. That’s where South Africa is after 16 years of a new political dispensation—the intolerance around the media, this new secrecy bill. For me, watching South Africa play out is watching Zimbabwe play all over again. I know a lot of South Africans get irritated when you say that. South Africa is Zimbabwe again in slow motion in certain instances,”
It could be tricky for Ncube, when it comes to speaking out about politics. He is known as a journalist who speaks his mind and has an analytical insight into the political machinations of Zimbabwe and South Africa. On the other hand, he is a man with media interests—which can often be vulnerable—both sides of the Limpopo River. This year, he is likely to field a flurry of questions, about the politics of the land of his birth, as Zimbabwe is expected to hold elections.
Referring to Zimbabwean politics, he says: “It is going to be turbulent. I don’t think the Movement for Democratic Change (under Morgan Tsvangirai) has a clue about governance. But (should it win an election) it will only provide that environment necessary for stability.”
A journalist at Alpha Media Holdings, who declined to be named, said: “His (Ncube’s) commitment to democracy and media freedom in particular is not driven by corporate or business interest. It is an ingrained conviction for him. He has this deep-seated belief that people must be free… his downside is his failure to create a balance between the workers’ interests and enlightened self-interest. He would do well if he became more sensitive to our remunerations; otherwise, he is a great guy.”
New Randela Notes
Cause A Stir
With South Africa’s rand under pressure, word on Friday afternoon that there would be an announcement of national importance on the following day, February 11, caused consternation in the markets.
The rand lost 2.5% of its value as traders got the jitters ahead of the mysterious announcement in Pretoria. The invitation said the South African President, Jacob Zuma, Reserve Bank Governor, Gill Marcus and Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan were all going to be there—something highly important, surely? Journalists stayed glued to their phones and laptops—maybe exchange controls were about to be abolished. Imagine?
In the end, it was merely an announcement that former President Nelson Mandela was to replace the big five game animals—lion, buffalo, rhino, elephant and leopard—on the front of South Africa’s bank notes. “It’s the Randela!” joked one journalist.
The announcement was to coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the release of Mandela from Victor Verster Prison, near Cape Town, on February 11, 1990. The notes have improved security marks and features to help the blind. They will be put into circulation before the end of the year and the existing notes will remain legal tender.
Marcus apologised for the confusion around the announcement and quipped: “It shows how little we look to good news.”
As for the losses to the rand during the confusion? The CNBC Africa markets team assures FORBES AFRICA that most of the 2.5% loss to the value of the rand was largely down to the economic woes of Greece, rather than the PR clumsiness of the government officials behind the new face on the notes.
From The Arab World To Africa
In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.
Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.
She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.
In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.
As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.
The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.
In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.
She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.
In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes.
Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty
In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.
The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.
Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing.
“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”
The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”
Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.
Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.
“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”
Covid-19: Restaurants, Beauty Salons, Cinemas Among Businesses That Will Operate Again In South Africa As Ramaphosa Announces Eased Lockdown Restrictions
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the country’s lockdown restrictions.
Restaurants, beauty salons, cinemas are among the businesses that will be allowed to operate again in South Africa.
The country is still on lockdown ‘Level 3’ of the government’s “risk adjusted strategy”.
President Ramaphosa also spoke on the gender based violence in the country.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country. The killing of women and children by the men of our country. As a man, as a husband, and as a father to daughters, I am appalled at what is no less than a war that is being waged against the women and the children of our country,” says Ramaphosa.
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