Love him or hate him, Phillip “Tsivo” Chiyangwa is undoubtedly a great example of African entrepreneurial success. He has the business acumen and most importantly, the guts to make some very shrewd investment decisions that have seen his empire grow from obscurity to the well renowned Native Africa Investment Group (NAIG). It would never surprise to see NAIG being listed on one of the world exchanges one day.
Chiyangwa did not just find himself where he is today, and at times people speak of him as if banknotes rain in his bed while he is deep in his sleep. His is a case of hard work and determination and having his sights onsuccess. Chiyangwa, unlike most here today gone tomorrow Zimbabwean millionaires who have the tendency to squander seed money, seems knows when and where to spend his money.
Re-investment and venturing into uncharted territory has been the hallmark of his success. The overtly flashy Chiyangwa does so with restraint because there are so many people who never thought Chiyangwa was splashing without touching the base of his finances but most have been proven wrong.
Born in 1959 Phidza has had his share of the hard times, rising from the dusty environs of his village roots in Chegutu, in the Mashonaland West province of Zimbabwe to pride himself of probably one of the best houses in Zimbabwe at the moment. One thing that makes him a genuine and sincere example is that Chiyangwa has never made a secret of his humble beginnings. Neither has he ever hidden his desire to succeed, an outright recipe for success.
Over and above what people know and have seen of him struggled to get where he is now, Chiyangwa has made his own case chronicling how he started off vending vegetables and at times washing cars for those who had them then. One of his only known regular jobs was his short stint in the BSAP in the years to independence in 1980. The rest have been literally scrounging his way to success.
I remember meeting or rather seeing Chiyangwa for the first time in 1990 at the shopping centre in Harare’s Meyrick Park on the outskirts of Malbereign where my uncle used to operate a welding and mechanical workshop. He (my uncle) was doing a gate for Chiyangwa’s Meyrick Park house.
There were a few other businesses running from behind the dura wall and most prominent among them was Green Minicab, a taxi operator. Meyrick Park was a quieter and more secluded version of Warren Park’s Mereki where some of the “boys” in town would converge on the odd weekend to sip cold beers while readily available henchmen roasted chunks of beef and pork for them from conveniently located brae stand.
One by one the nicely polished cars would pull up and get parked carefully as space was limited. Careless parking would always attract the ire of other patrons and nobody dared double parking.
Then on this sunny Saturday afternoon pulled up a gold Mercedes Benz and out of it came a man in a colourful suit and he was almost inatsantly, literally mobbed by everyone who greeted him with great affection. Then a few words with my uncle and he was gone. Later on I asked my uncle who he was and what he wanted.
My uncle replied while pointing to a gate that looked quite massive and said that’s why he was there to check progress and they would be fitting it later on that day. I was surprised that although he seemed quite popular and everyone would have loved him to stay, Chiyangwa made his excuses and sped away.
From then on and into the mid 1990’s I would see Chiyangwa a lot especially in the morning while he drove into town along Sherwood Drive and then into Pat Palmer Avenue. Driving was and understatement because Chiyangwa literally swept past motorists alongside the left verge leaving a cloud of dust.
He would weave in and out of traffic hurriedly if not dangerously, leaving everyone asking themselves if they too were in a hurry. Even when he got into town, Chiyangwa remained an untamed motorist because he had several run-ins with Harare City council parking attendants who found his reckless parking in front of his offices along Samora Machel something of an insult to their profession.
Chiyangwa finally broke on to the national scene in the most prominent fashion when he teamed up with the late Peter “Pams” Pamire to start the Affirmative Action Group AAG. This was a rival business empowerment vehicle that was specifically set up to compete with the now defunct Indigenous Business Development Centre IBDC that was then led by John Mapondera.
The AAG was the more militant and youthful version that catered especially for the young entrepreneurs. Most importantly, the AAG was purely business oriented then, with very little or no dabbling with politics to gain cheap mileage or grabbing the news headlines. Neither the organisation nor its leadership were ever involved in the frogmarching of foreign owned company executives or toy-toying in front of company premises to force them to do business with clients they were uncomfortable with.
There is a confusing or misconceived notion that the naturally entrepreneurial Chiyangwa is successful because of his connection or relationship to President Robert Mugabe. That’s not a very fair assessment in the context of his business success because ZANU PF has actually tended to lean more on Chiyangwa than he on ZANU PF.
There are closer relations of President Mugabe who have also shown similar zeal to venture into business but have not been as successful as Chiyangwa and again this has been purely down to their own business ethics. Notable among President Mugabe’s relations are his nephews especially Leo Mugabe.
Leo is the best example of survival in business through connection because was it not for his name or his uncle, he would not be in business today. I remember his (Leo’s) steel company in Southerton would struggle to pay its suppliers and it would be a real struggle to get any form of payment at all.
Chiyangwa has actually had his own share of ill treatment at the hands of ZANU PF. He was arrested and jailed in 2006 but then went on to be released without charge. If Chiyangwa’s businesses were in any way a direct result of ZANU PF benefaction he couldn’t have left ZANU PF at will because he would have been mortgaged to the party.
Chiyangwa did dabble with politics but he kept his business at arms length and he even admitted after his ordeal that there was nothing to be gained through politics if one wanted to be successful in business. There are times when political power does facilitate the advancement of business interests, but there has to be the business acumen on the ground to meet with that facilitation without there would be no success story.
Most criticism directed towards Chiyangwa seems to be out of petty personal jealousy. Chiyangwa has build a very strong business based on turnover and investment and that is what gives him more money to re-invest into even more ventures. Unlike most children of rich people, most of Chiyangwa’s numerous children have and continue to be moulded into well educated and hardworking young entrepreneurs who remain an integral part of their family empire.
There are so many people who have benefited from Chiyangwa’s exploits through employment that his businesses create. He has helped a lot of young Zimbabweans realise their dreams and potential through investing in entertainment and beauty shows. His involvement with the Miss Zimbabwe pangeant and his sponsorship allowed a lot of Zimbabweans girls realise their dreams and some became household names.
In typical fashion, Chiyangwa brought the late Michael Jackson to Zimbabwe in 2002 and it was an an experience of a lifetime for many Zimbabweans who attended the show at the then Sheraton Hotel. He also had a hand in the promotion of Don Williams who played for charity concerts in Harare in 1997 and those were events that put Zimbabwe on the world entertainment map. Instead of Zimbabweans seeing a lot of bad in Chiyangwa, there are a lot positives that could be drawn from his personal story.
The whole world has people who have helped shape it through their different contribution to its success. He may not be Saint Phillip but Chiyangwa is a classic example of hardwork and determination because so many people never thought he would get far especially because of his big mouth. But he does seem to put his money where his mouth is or maybe is it his mouth where his money is?