Prominent businessman and cleric Shingi Munyeza says he is raising his voice because he feels betrayed by authorities in the system. Munyeza told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube on the programme In Conversation with Trevor how in 2014 and 2015, together with nine other businesspeople, they had used their own resources and traversed the world to push for the removal of sanctions on Zimbabwe imposed by the European Union and United States government.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Today I’m in conversation with Dr Shingi Munyeza, an entrepreneur, a pastor and a philanthropist. Dr Shingi Albert Munyeza, welcome to In Conversation with Trevor.
Speak to me on the importance of having someone who holds you accountable, the importance of having safe spaces where you go and cry, a shoulder to cry on and to be able to share stuff knowing that it’s not going to get out to the public.
SM: I guess you and I are what I call public profiles. We do have a constituency that monitors, looks at us and the problem arises when everybody thinks you are always okay and that you got your act together. But we also have mastered the art of packaging yourself correctly… You want a space where you want to talk about everything and anything without feeling exposed, insecure, judged, because we are fickle and feeble. We are human beings, we make mistakes, and we have our own fears and concerns. You don’t want it to be a public discourse, but you want to make sure that you are being built and you are moving on and that’s how our relationship has been. I would like to make it known that, Trevor, you have been a big impact in what I have done at business level, even at national level.
TN: One big thing, looking at this year Shingi, is your very outspoken position that you took on corruption and the impact of poor leadership in our country. I want to find out for the benefit of the world out there where this came from, for you to speak out, for you to be so bold and say corruption is messing this country, the worship of idols and occultism is messing up this country, poor leadership is messing up this country — where did that come from?
SM: First of all, whenever there is an issue for me, I first have to ask myself: what can I do about it? What can I say about it? So along the way I put myself in harm’s way or in abuse’s way, to find out how we can solve our problems. I will go back, not many people would know this, but in 2014 after the 2013 elections, 10 of us as businesspeople put ourselves together, at our own cost, paying our own bills to approach the European Union and Washington to take off the sanctions on Zimbabwe because we felt that they were crippling the common man and not the targeted ones. We journeyed to Europe with the blessing of the President of the Republic at that time and the blessings of the EU ambassadors. We were actually given red carpet treatment by the EU ambassadors to their parliaments. We visited six countries at our own cost, no one paid for our bill; for the love of the country and we went there as private sector, saying if we put our voice and say that these sanctions are hurting the common man and I’m talking about 2014, Trevor. So when we went there, we were received graciously by everybody, at the end we met the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I must say this, at the House of Commons they said we hear you and we had dinner with the House of Lords members and they told us unequivocally, to say that we will drop the sanctions for everybody except for the President and his family and the Zimbabwe Defence Industries at that time.
That was in January; by end of February that was done and aid was received from EU, in that year, 2014. I remember it was €231 million that was allowed to flow through to Zimbabwe; so the sanctions on Zimbabwe were lifted at that time.
The following year, 2015, we went to Washington, 10 of us again and guess who we met? We met Linda Greenfield, who is now the nominee US ambassador under Joe Biden. She told us, Zimbabwe you punch above your weight, how we wish that you could do more so that we raise up a better Africa. But she told us that Zidera was going to be a long way off, but we could work on companies that were on the OFAC list. I was put on that subcommittee to work on the following companies: IDC, Agribank and ZB bank.
The reason for me raising my voice was because I felt betrayed by the authorities in the system because they know that somebody like me, what I have put in to be where we are. So even in the recent past, 2018, when we were saying we needed to stop what was going on. Cholera was on our doorstep, the country needed help so we needed to get everybody with goodwill to make sure that we fight this cholera thing.
TN: You were born September 17, 1966 and your dad has a very big name. He is late now, Jackson Munyeza. Share with us, Shingi, the principles that this big man imparted to you; part of those principles you held so dearly when you were growing up.
SM: May his soul rest in peace. My dad probably has had the biggest impact on my view of the world around me as well as my entrepreneurial thrust. I was born in poverty. My dad was just an artisan builder. He was building tobacco barns initially in the farming communities; that’s how he met my mom who was a maid at one of the farms. He is the first generation away from me on poverty. I was raised by my grandmother not because my parents were not together. It was because as a first child my dad believed my grandmother needed someone to send around, at that early age we learnt to be domesticated males.
TN: You are a chartered accountant; you have done some advertising, you have been in tourism, you are now in a new season in your life, talk to me about your getting into EY; your training as a chartered accountant.
SM: Well, getting into EY was a mistake. I chanced and I got in. I had done physics and maths at A’ Level so I wanted to do mechanical engineering, but I didn’t qualify. I didn’t have enough points. I just decided let me just apply and get into accounting and I got admitted and I started accounting. It wasn’t really my passion.
TN: Chamba, Goto and Munyeza, talk to me about the experience of putting this threesome together and for the long time that you were there and the lessons you got from there.
SM: It was us thinking that there was a good market for our skills and our connections. We worked together and moved from CM&A. It was good because we learnt some lessons, but the bigger lesson is that even if we work together in an organisation we can go out there and start our own. The dynamics are different, out there it can be a challenge. It was a premature jump. We were not prepared for what it took to get the business going. We thought we were on a runway and taking off, but actually we were supposed to be thinking we were going to the airport.
It was an exciting time because in 1999 tourism was at peak and in 2000 tourism was grounded because of the land reform program, that started then. It was like sweet and sour. It was the biggest growth point for me in my life because I had to adjust; I had to stretch, I had to be strong and courageous. All my skills were put to test in a space of less than two years.
TN: When you look back, what were the biggest highlights?
SM: The first one was, I needed to build personal capacity, I had to start hotel and tourism so that I didn’t always have to lean on marketing. To understand the politics, politics affects our economy and our businesses. One of the problems that we have in this country is that we have the private sector which always plays timid to politics in the world.
I realised that our private sector in Zimbabwe has been beaten many times and won’t raise its head. My learning curve was how we bring the private sector to be more initiative on policy issues without feeling afraid.
TN: Talk to me about the courage to tell an employee “you are fired”.
SM: People might not remember the first days with you, but will always remember the last days with you. The parting shots are critical. When you part with people anywhere in life, they will always remember how you parted. I have to prepare them for where they want to go to.
I have to come up with almost a support to where they are going even if they do you wrong. Let’s say they have stolen, I have to find a redemptive path so they have a life to. That is the bit I have worked on for years.