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51% Or Our Children Will Spit On Our Graves

Zimbabwe’s contentious empowerment laws are the talk of Africa. It has spooked foreign investors, but for many Zimbabweans the policy means business as usual.

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The city of Mutare, set in a hollow on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border, is sweltering under another blue sky. In this border town hemmed in by dramatic mountains, a small scene is being played out in the historic stage play that is Zimbabwe’s indigenization policy.

The lead actor is 52-year-old Charles Tawazadza—a man who has gone from manager to boss at this busy dry dock almost overnight, thanks to the country’s attempt to give black Zimbabweans a larger slice of the economy.

Mutare Dry Port, Charles Tawazadza

“When you talk about this wealth, you are talking about the wellbeing of generations. We did not borrow this land or economy from our ancestors. We borrowed it for the future generations to come. If we don’t acquire it and make good use of it, future generations will be spitting on our graves instead of praising us,” he says.

The company, through which Tawazadza now strolls confidently in his corporate uniform, is one of thousands of foreign-owned outfits across Zimbabwe that appear destined to be taken over by people born and bred in the country. They range from mines to banks and safari companies. The Empowerment Ministry has threatened to revoke or suspend operating licences for more than 500 foreign owned companies, which haven’t yet fallen in line. That is a lot of valuable equity up for grabs and the word is the well connected are hovering.

Tawazadza has taken over Mutare Dry Port, a shipping cargo company with a $3 million asset value. It used to be called GMS Cornelder and had been owned by Mozambican investors since 2000. When pressure came to hand over 51% of the equity, the Mozambicans put forward Tawazadza, who had worked in management at the company for many years, to take control and settled for being minority shareholders.

Even Tawazadza’s name fitted—in Shona it means “to fill up”. Mutare Dry Port has rail sidings with a holding capacity of 24 wagons, a general and bonded warehouse, plus container handling equipment. It has global networks through partnerships operating under specialized air and ocean freights, road and rail transportation, and warehousing and container handling. It means everything from second-hand cars from Japan, to fruit from South America, arrives at Mutare Dry Port to fill up the rolling stock. Many of the goods arrive at docks in Beira in Mozambique and are shipped by rail to Mutare.

Rail runs into Tawazadza’s huge transit shed and container yard, which handles 180,000 tons of shipments every month. There’s even a runway—a legacy of the British Royal Air Force, which used the site as a base during World War II. Tawazadza compares the indigenization laws to the 2000 seizure of farms by liberation war veterans. He says they too are part of an “economic emancipation” program to empower black people.

Against the allegations that these deals are merely for political cronies, Tawazadza says: “I have never met Mugabe. The laws are not anything to enrich Mugabe. He was our leader during the liberation struggle, and he is our leader today in this struggle for economic emancipation. “If you look at the noise which is coming out of the indigenization and economic empowerment, it will come to pass,” Tawazadza says.

The whites in Zimbabwe, Tawazadza says, are “calledRhodesians because Cecil John Rhodes was here to create wealth for them. And this is what President Mugabe is doing for us.” President Mugabe’s jumbled commercial farm seizures have reduced agricultural production, leaving unexploited farms, after driving out over 4,000 former white farmers in the name of an agrarian revolution. Independent economist John Robertson claims farm production is 60% down compared to 1998, although government figures refute this. “Over 4,000 white farmers have been replaced by over 400,000 black owners. All these blacks represent Mugabe’s vision,” Tawazadza said. “People are negotiating and cutting deals without government intervention. I acquired this company on my own.

No one from government came to negotiate on my behalf,” Tawazadza said. But the laws could prove a Pyrrhic victory for a country desperate to emerge from a long recession. Capital could dry up, and the capacity of Zimbabweans to borrow and increase production may be limited. Investors say the laws could scare foreign companies with concerns about property rights, leaving Zimbabwe as a hard sell.

Ray William Black, of Investec Securities, said at a recent investor conference in Harare: “The economy of Zimbabwe has been improving over the last years, but to attract investment, foreign investors have a choice to make. If one country has more onerous conditions than another, then investment will stay away.

Mutare Dry Port, Charles Tawazadza

“No country should make it too difficult for investors if they want to attract money. In Zimbabwe, companies that have been operating are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are already under immense pressures, and facing major changes.”

Back in Mutare, Tawazadza has plans to expand and turn his company into a $10 million asset. For a man in the cargo business, with a name that means filling up, there is no turning back or thought of unloading his new business.

Entrepreneurs

Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania

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Tahira Nizari; images supplied

How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.

But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.

“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.

With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.

“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.

“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”

Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.

But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.

 Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”

The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.

An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.

“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”

It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.

Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.

Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.

“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.

Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.

In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.

“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.

And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.

By Inaara Gangji

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Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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