LIKE or hate him, PHILIP CHIYANGWA (PC) is one of the most known Zimbabwean black businessmen to emerge in independent Zimbabwe, who features prominently in Africa’s Richest Black People List. His meteoric rise from a barefoot and spike haired vegetable vendor in the dusty streets of Hartley (now Chegutu) in Rhodesia to a flamboyant businessman, property developer and politician in Zimbabwe has never been understood by many, who have more often than not, claimed that his wealth is ill-gotten. Daring and unshaken in his spirited quest to get richer and richer, Mr Chiyangwa — who says he has a PhD in Common Sense — has courted controversy on his road to riches. Features Editor ISDORE GUVAMOMBE (IG) talks to Mr Chiyangwa (PC) about his upbringing, Business Empire, wealth and the future.
IG: Who is Philip Chiyangwa?
PC: I am a businessman, who has gone through a long way. I did not get my wealth yesterday. I got it through years of hard work, investment, reinvestment and strategic planning.
I am Christian but I must say these things are not manna from heaven. Where others see disasters and problems, I see opportunities. Even when I diversify, I remain focused. My mother Marita taught me to be astute and to be an entrepreneur from pamusika, the vegetable market. She taught me to buy and sell and my father taught me to cast visions and to stay focused. That is me.
IG: People say you are a crook . . .
PC: No, no, no! They are mad. If I stole a cent from anyone or anyone’s mother, grandmother or so, they should come and claim it. Kana ndakabira mai vemunhu kana tete kana mbuya vake ngavauye vatore because I now have the money, I have the money! My money is clean. When people are spiting me or sleeping, I am thinking hard and strategising to make more money. I have a doctorate in common sense, where academics and professional end, is where I start.
HOW did you make your money?
PC: There is no magic in making money. You must characterise money as your friend. As blacks we have over the years believed that no one makes clean money. There is no magic in making money. They think money is difficult to make and that money is for those who have it already and that is wrong. If you have a problem with money it’s you because as for me, I have the money and I don’t have a problem with money.
In many homes people fight over small money and how then do they expect money to visit them when they fight over small money? If you value money and you wish to create and accumulate wealth, you must be able to sacrifice and do things to make it happen. All my investments are in Zimbabwe not outside Zimbabwe. I can export but I remain in Zimbabwe.
IG: That is a bit philosophical. Anyway, where did you grow up and how?
PC: I was born in what is now Chegutu. You know there is no tarred road in those locations? I grew up in the dust. I was born in a family of 14, same mother, same father and I was number seven, now I am number one. All those senior to me died. My mother was a vendor, a vegetable vendor and she was the first to teach me to buy and sell, which is what I do to make money up to today.
What differs is the scale. My mother sold vegetables, I sell stands and properties. I buy companies and sell, when it becomes necessary. My father was a restrictee, a political detainee in Whawha and Gonakudzingwa. He was in and out of detention for politics.
I went to school with old people, in Grade three, you would get someone 15 years old and in grade six or seven you would get someone 20 years old. You needed to be clever and it made me clever. In between school I was a vendor helping my mother.
Chiyangwa’s White House
IG: That famous story about your scramble with bigger boys to get to the top of the rural bus and grab vegetables . . .
PC: Ah, that story. Okay, as vendors we would get our vegetables from buses, Dikita, Matambanadzo and Masiyandaita, that came from rural farming areas like Musengezi.
Each time a bus arrived, there was pushing, shoving and jostling among vendors to grab the vegetables first. I was too small and young but I would run for my mother.
The other boys were big and strong so it was a struggle for me to get the vegetables from the bus career for my mother.
One day, I cycled to a place 15 km away and parked by the bus stop and when the buses arrived I paid for all the vegetables and when the buses got to Chegutu, the other vendors were told that they had all been bought by me. I was a rendezvous buyer.
This is how my mother became a wholesaler of vegetables and all vendors would get vegetables from her. It became a norm. This is how my mother managed to send all of us to school, as a vegetable wholesaler.
IG: After school did you ever work for anyone?
PC: Yes, my first job was working as a garden boy for an elderly Portuguese family that had abandoned Mozambique when Samora Machel took over power.
I was later to learn that those are the people who blocked sewer and water pipes in protest of black rule in Mozambique.
Between running their errands and tending their flowers and hedge, I would dream of getting rich.
I would think of having my children growing the same way like I did. Like I said, my father was a restrictee. My situation did not make me despair, it hardened me and made me more ambitious. My poverty inspired me. I always dreamt of getting rich. I knew my situation would change for the better.
IG: How did you leave?
PC: Cutting hedge as usual, the milky liquid accidentally got into my eyes and the old lady would not understand seeing me rinsing my eyes with water at the tap continuously.
She was enraged and shouted at me so I ran to my mother who took me to the shops and bought milk. She cleaned my eyes with the milk. I never went back.
IG: People say you are not educated, how far did you go?
PC: I am educated. I attended Universal College in Highfield and did bookkeeping, elementary, intermediate and advanced certificates. I did typing too. That was in 1976. In 1977, I did Accounting Machines (NCR and Burroughs) at Commercial Cotcers College, now Zedco; ask the old folk what it means.
It was a special course. I then went to work at York House in Bulawayo, now owned by Mines Minister Cde Obert Mpofu. While there I did an advanced diploma in accounting.
I left in 1980 to join Dunlop Zimbabwe as an Industrial Engineering, Assisted and Work Study Trainee. I learnt the whole process of making a tyre. That time my elder brother, the late David popularly known as Mr Bulk, was working at Chitungwiza Council as a debt collector and he pressurised me to relocate to Harare.
I made seven applications for jobs in Harare and was finally called by Willovale and I shocked them in that interview, where I finished answering questions in a record 15 minutes of the stipulated 30 and I got 100 percent. I was later to move to Van Leah together with Tichafa Ndoro, who is still Managing Director there and that is where I first met Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, way back in 1982. So all those people who say things about me and Gono don’t know what they are saying, man. I have known him since that time, not yesterday.
IG: When exactly did you go into your own business?
PC: When I left Willowvale for Van Leah, my brother David, had left Chitungwiza Council and was buying and selling cars. I used to market cars for him from my office. I then decided to do my own thing and left.
IG: What did you go into as your first business?
PC: I formed Phids Electric Sounds, a disco that became very popular in Chitungwiza, Musami and St Ignatius and massive promotional work. I managed Hosea Chipanga, the Erosion Band and others. I dominated boxing promotion and wrestling. I managed the African Boxing Champion, Proud Kilimanjaro Chinembiri, Gilbert Josamu, Ambrose Mlilo, and Langton Tinago. I accompanied Kilimanjaro on his fight with Lennox Lewis, which was a fluke. I also did accounting books for many black business people who had shops. I felt I should be a businessman.
In the 1990s, I became the first black to own a Betting Licence and the whites were after me. They wanted no black person in that industry. I was minting money; I had 43 branches throughout the country and employed more than 183 people.
IG: What did they do to you?
PC: Mashonaland and Matabeleland Turf Clubs were after me, man. They were white-dominated and there were an enclave of classic white racists, diabolic and protective of their interests. They spent three years fighting me. Suddenly, I was fighting all white people because I had gotten deep into their enclave.
I touched their raw nerve and white law firms came after me big time. Some blacks are apologetic to the whites because they don’t know these people. Most of them are coconuts for the whites to crush and eat. For whites to respect you, you must know that you are black, good and equal and as hungry for money as them.
IG: What can you tell us about Affirmative Action Group?
PC: I had enough reason to enter and fight agriculture, the white man’s nerve centre after my ordeal with the turf clubs. The only way was black empowerment and this is how we mooted AAG with the late Peter Pamire. I attacked them where it hurts most and founded AAG, 17 years ago. AAG has done extremely well for black Zimbabweans. It was the entrance of blacks into the private sector.
I am also a strategist.
IG: How did you leave politics, was it your involvement in the so-called Tsholotsho debacle?
PC: After MDC got into Parliament through the backdoor by taking advantage of the relaxation and infighting within Zanu-PF, the internal struggles took their toll on a lot of us. Some ended up cooking stories about me. I was caught up in that. Some said I was leading the Tsholotsho team. That led to my unfortunate exit from politics. I had to come to terms with the machinations of politics and I forgive those small-minded people who created the story for me.
IG: How have you received the Inclusive Government?
PC: After the formation of the inclusive Government I have been able to analyse the total ineptitude in dealing with the MDC-T. Tsvangirai has a collection of touts, bad apples, people who have failed in life yet to be in Zanu PF one has to have a distinction of competitive edge. Criminal perverts and excretes collected into MDC and Tsvangirai buries himself into the pus.
It is common cause that the Prime Minister is not among the most learned and he talks about me while addressing Harare councillors, without getting the facts right. I have more money anybody has ever come across and he said I was a crook. No one who has associated with Tsvangirai has ever made money like me. I challenge them.
IG: That brings us to your land deal with Harare City Council. What really happened?
PC: This was an unfortunate incident that was cooked up and made believable for the people of Zimbabwe. I wonder if the MDC-T can govern.
An incompetent assembly of people, who had absolutely no idea of law, facts of the deal gathered and decided to deal with Chiyangwa of Zanu-PF.
Firstly, the council was broke and I gave them money for salaries, US$7,1 million and they gave me land but as usual, this is a sign of the poverty in MDC-T. Tsvangirai brought into councils a baggage of corrupt councillors. We are now locked up with this kind of councillors, bereft of ideas and procedure. They sat and discussed my issue without getting in touch or inviting those who crafted the deal. It was a land swoop deal and they still owe me a lot of land, ask Tendai Mahachi the town clerk. I gave them 22 ha of land and they gave me 17 ha. Stupidity took over reasoning. If they owe me a public apology and if they pay little money I will forgive them. I have an affidavit from Mahachi on the deal.
IG: What positions to you currently hold?
PC: I am the president of the Construction Industry Federation of Zimbabwe, Vice president of the Zimbabwe Construction Industry Council which incorporates Zimbabwe Institute of Engineers, Zimbabwe Building Contractors Association, Institute of Architects of Zimbabwe and Real Estates Institute of Zimbabwe, among others. There are seven of them. Of course I am the founder and chairman of Native Investments Africa Group.
IG: In your life, which incident do you regret most?
PC: When I lost my daughter. She was my first child and she drowned in a swimming pool together with my friend’s daughter at Jameson High School in Kadoma. Apparently, I had influenced my friend Isaiah Chabveka to send his daughter to the same school with mine. Both girls drowned. It was very sad. It was a double tragedy.
IG: What is the future of your business empire?
PC: The future is to diversify; there are a lot of foreigners coming for our diamonds and other minerals. We need to look into that area. The housing project is being reviewed so that we provide cheaper stands at around $25 per month for 30 years. The poor must have access to decent accommodation. This is what we want.
I am a trendsetter, I want to take advantage of the situation and look at econometrics. I want to write my autobiography, I want to release two books on how to make money.