It is a warm winter’s day in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nkosana Mazibisa is a long way from home but he is eager to make his mark; here and abroad.
Mazibisa was born in the heart of what used to be Zimbabwe’s industrial town, Bulawayo, in 1988. They call it KoNtuthu Ziyathunqa, the place that exudes smoke, in isiNdebele, because of its industry. The harsh economic conditions in Zimbabwe took the smoke from the air.
“There is so much potential in my country. When I was young, I remember the town was full of smoke from industries making many homemade products. Many of these industries have closed down and it is up to us to revive them and create jobs,” says Mazibisa.
Mazibisa wants to be the Bulawayo reviver. The idea of fixing the city dawned on him in his high school debate team in Bulawayo.
“The country was collapsing and we had a debate at school about these issues and how to solve them.”
When it was over, everyone went home and continued with their lives, but not Mazibisa. He started thinking about the role he could play. He graduated and worked hard but that debate haunted him. The smell from Bulawayo factories he was accustomed to growing up was a distant memory. Home-grown brands he had loved were off the shelves and replaced by international and South African brands, so he swapped his well-paid job for entrepreneurship.
“My family was shocked. They didn’t understand what I was doing because there are no jobs in Zimbabwe and I here I was resigning. That didn’t scare me. I knew that I had to do my bit to make a difference. That’s why I decided to start a business to solve the unemployment problems we have and revive our industries,” says Mazibisa.
He founded a food retail brand, Swaad “The Taste of India” and Mazibisa Inc., a brand strategy consultancy firm in Bulawayo Zimbabwe.
“I could have gone to Harare but we need to resuscitate Bulawayo and I am playing my role in its revival. Most countries have a brand that represents their nationality. In Zimbabwe we used to have such brands like Willards but now there is nothing. My country at one point was the breadbasket of Africa. Seeing all the big brands we had disappear from the shelves gave me a challenge. I realized Zimbabwe is in a way an extension of South Africa. We have South African shops and brands now, but very few of our own, those brands don’t necessarily resonate with Zimbabwean consumers,” he says.
Swaad makes snacks such as biscuits, potato crisps and dried fruits in a small factory in Bulawayo.
“I want to one day see the smoke from factories cover the blue sky like I used to when I was child. It would mean the country is healing and we are making our own products again instead of importing.”
Mazibisa’s ambitions to make a difference are far and near. He chairs Mawaba School Development Committee (SDC) in Bulawayo as the youngest SDC chair in Zimbabwe’s history. He built a state-of-the-art computer science laboratory which has been adopted for all city council and government schools. He is currently working on a $2-million double-storey lecture theater block and multi-purpose swimming pool project which is due before end of 2017. He is also one of FORBES AFRICA’s 30 under 30s for 2016 and a Mandela Washington Fellow.
These accolades were born of struggle.
“When I decided to start a business, I applied for the government youth fund twice but I didn’t get it. I saw this failure as a stepping stone and not a stumbling block,” he says.
With Zimbabwe’s harsh economic turmoil, dreams are often bleak. He used the little savings from his job to start a brand strategy consulting firm to raise funds for Swaad.
“Lines of credit are slim but the fact that we have a crisis means we have an opportunity to create a new order. Crisis means opportunities for entrepreneurs to rise and create opportunities. Sometimes it feels like I am fighting a losing battle but I always remind myself of the bigger picture. This is my purpose and I am ready to see it through. And this is more than about making money but also creating national pride and valuing local brands, ” says Mazibisa.
He says each of their products have a message from the CEO to ensure the clients feel valued.
“People also fill in their names and birthday details at the till when they buy our products. On their birthday, I send them birthday wishes. Buying local is more than just the brand but a story of national pride and I am hopeful that Zimbabwe will rise again.”
In Mazibisa’s eyes, where there is smoke there is pride.