BY TAFADZWA MHLANGA
A Zimbabwean start-up says it has set its sights on becoming one of the top cigar producers in Africa by empowering women through job creation in the communities it operates in.
Mosi oa Tunya Cigars operates from Harare and one of its main objectives is to add value to tobacco — one of Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency earners — and cultivate export markets.
Shep Mafundikwa, the Mosi oa Tunya Cigars CEO, said his company employed seven women after people who initially helped him to set up the project left prematurely.
Mafundikwa said the women’s duties include rolling and packaging cigars.
“When I realised that I could come up with a project of this nature, I travelled to Cuba to learn how to make the cigars,” he told standardbusiness.
“I came back with a group of guys, who helped with the initial development of the project and production of the cigars.
“They unfortunately left and I had to recruit a number of women and took a guy, who is now helping us with some training.
“These ladies have trained for two months and they are already doing an incredible job.”
Mafundikwa said he decided to employ women only because he considered the venture to be an empowerment project.
“So far we have seven ladies, who are doing the rolling and the packing,” he said.
“We recruited from the close by community there in Sunningdale.
“We have only seven employees because of the lockdown, but we have the capacity to have 13 women working in the factory.”
Mafundikwa said his project was mooted to tap into the abundant supplies of flue-cured tobacco in the country.
Zimbabwe is the largest producer of tobacco leaf in Africa and the fourth largest in the world after China, Brazil and the United States.
The country, however, does not process much of the tobacco locally before exports.
“What we are doing is adding value to the tobacco instead of just importing only tobacco,” Mafundikwa said.
“Initially we imported the tobacco so that we could start the business, but we are planning on partnering with tobacco farmers so that we can get the tobacco we use locally rather than importing it.”
Mafundikwa said his company was yet to come up with distribution strategies, but said they were targeting both the local and international markets.
“We are still to come up with distribution channels, but we are targeting local, regional and the international market since in Africa there are only three cigar-making companies, that is, the one in Mozambique, the other in Morocco and then us,” he said.
“Locally we are going to start with Victoria Falls where our name originates, but we will be selling all over the country.”
The name of the company was inspired by the Victoria Falls’ indigenous name, Mosi oa Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders”.
Mafundikwa said after the ongoing lockdown, his company would hold roadshows to educate Zimbabweans about cigars and dispel myths that they are only for the affluent.