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‘No one will come from Mars to rescue us’

LABOUR and commercial lawyer Rodgers Matsikidze (RM) was two weeks ago voted Zimbabwe’s best board chairman by the Institute of Directors Zimbabwe (IoDZ). In this interview with our business editor Shame Makoshori, the National Blood Service Zimbabwe (NBSZ) chairman and Masvingo Mirror boss opens up about Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and a corporate governance rot.

Matsikidze warns Zimbabweans that unless they put their house in order, no one will come and do the right things for the country.

Below are excerpts from their discussion…

SM: Who is Rodgers Matsikidze?

RM: Rodgers Matsikidze is a  father of five.

I am married to Edith Matsikidze, an oncologist. Professionally I am the chairman of Matsikidze Attorneys-at-Law. I am also the deputy Dean of Law and director of Access to Justice. I am also a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. I am an elder with Zaoga Forward in Faith.

SM: Tell us about Matsikidze Attorneys-at-Law

RM: I would have told you more, but as you are aware in terms of our regulations, we are not allowed to advertise. So I will just give you a general snippet  and brief of the firm. Attorneys-at-Law dates back to 2008 when it was still a two-man partnership before demerger in 2019. Since 2019 we have been working on a rebranding project of the firm and widening our expertise into other fields of law like commercial law and investments law. We run a charity arm called Matsikidze Foundation International and we pay school fees for poor students and support evangelism.

SM: Which boards have you chaired in your career, and which ones are you chairing now?

RM: I am currently the chairman of National Blood Service Zimbabwe, Employment Council For Harare Municipal Undertaking, Masvingo Mirror  and board of examiners with of the Council for Legal Education. I am also a board member for Community Working Group on Health. In addition, I am a board member for the board of examiners for the Estate Agents Council of Zimbabwe.

SM: What do you attribute to winning the Board Chairman of the Year Award?

RM: Firstly, it is by God’s grace. Secondly it’s because of the strong support from my wife and children, who allow me to be involved in these appointments and give me 100% support. The credit goes to the owners of the award though being the NBSZ board, the chief executive officer of NBSZ Lucy Marowa and her executive team and all blood donors. They all played their part. They worked hard in making sure that we meet our targets and set goals.

SM: What changes have you made to the firms that you chair and how has the companies’ performance been?

RM: In most of the organisations I have chaired, I love bringing sustainable changes anchored on a strategy that stretches beyond my term of office, delivering value to key stakeholders, the shareholders, your customers etc.

I believe in a strong institutional framework, putting your policies, procedures, following up on implementation and performance evaluation framework coupled with incentives as an icing on the cake. The greatest asset in an organisation is human capital, hence focus also should be on the wellbeing of employees if results are to be achieved. More importantly, organisations should walk their values.

SM: What would you think are the weaknesses in Zimbabwean boards and how can they be addressed?

RM: I think it is key to have renewal in boards, board members must be appointed on merit. We must measure their performances, particularly in public enterprises. In private enterprises the shareholders will simply fire you, but in public enterprises and parastatals, it is key for performance measurement. We have a wide pool of really qualified people in this country and if those people can only be found in boards that will make a huge change. We need to increase accountability right from the appointment to decision-making in all areas of organisations being run.

SM: Tell us about multiple board directorships. Is it a good idea?

RM: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that it brings diversity of experience and ideas. The more you are exposed to various boards, the more you are likely to learn the good and the bad and then easily convert such to benefit of the organisations you are in. No, in the sense that if you are not available, then it’s a challenge. It means no benefit is being accrued by that organisation.

SM: There have been reports of a corporate governance crisis in Zimbabwe. Is this true?

RM: This is true in some organisations where we hear of complete breakdown of corporate governance tenets. But it’s up to the shareholders to wield the axe. Do you know in countries where in the public sector, for example, has achieved real  change and growth it has not been that easy for directors. You are given a target that you have to meet or you are out. Some boards here go for two years, three years but without real results, so you then think the shareholders are happy.

If they are not happy they know what to do. Sustainable development does not come cheap.

It comes out of sweat and hard work.

Let’s work with targets.

Boards should set targets, get the resources  needed and then create value and results.

Secondly, let’s fill in boards with qualified persons who have hunger to succeed, and, thirdly, regular audits in organisations is a must. Fourthly, the governance and implementation framework should just be to standard, no compromise.

SM: You are a labour and commercial lawyer. How do you balance between protecting workers’ rights and corporate interests?

RM: There are two things I do not compromise because they work for the betterment of corporate interests in the short to long-term.

Firstly, get the qualified staff and equip them with necessary tools and the remunerate them competitively and set targets for them to perform.

There should be zero tolerance to poor performance, and inefficiencies.

A hungry employee is a threat to corporate interests.

Sustainable profits are made from a holistic cost management anchored on real and massive production.

If we produce and manage our pricing well from the input side right to the output side, we will realise that we will benefit from small margins to huge outputs.

That is where the Chinese beat us.

SM: Tell us about the economy. Will Zimbabwean companies survive the multiple headwinds?

RM: I believe companies can survive. If they survived the period prior to 2008, they can survive anything.

What is really left is for this country to rightly price our labour and our goods and services and we will make it. The major threats to growth of domestic companies are imports. Imports are coming cheap and as a result they out-sell local products.

So the game-changer would be when our companies decide to focus on innovation and go beyond the traditional methods of production. After that, we will be back in the race.

SM: What should be done to ride out the crisis?

RM: Currency stability is key. There is need for further  innovation in ensuring that our currency remains stable and likeable, trustable etc. There is need especially for government-related institutions to incentivise those who use the local currency.

Our major goal should be to make people lose the appetite for foreign currency. Once that stage is reached we are good to go. But that can be achieved if our productivity is increased.

If you go to Europe and even South Africa you will realise that Saturdays and Sundays are normal working days. Shops in those countries open at 9am and close at 9pm to 10pm.

People work and then shop after work and at weekends. So labour, business and government have to come to a social contract where we make our economy work than waiting for someone to come from Mars to make the economy work. More lines of credit yes, but in my view innovation and self-belief are key ingredients to success. Agriculture should be really driven from all angles, and then feeding into manufacturing. The universities and polytechnic colleges must be ready to develop products and sell  patents to industry for further processing. Even with the land audits currently happening, we need to see our agriculture graduates getting 20 hectares, etc, local companies leasing lands for agriculture. In that way we will be heading for better days.

SM: In 2021, which sectors will be driving the economy and why?

RM: Agriculture, manufacturing, and the tech industry.  Let’s move away from this education for jobs and get to real tech education. Let’s produce goods and services. We import toothpicks. Why surely? Even leather sandals, why surely, chicken, pork, oranges, fruits which we can grow?

Milk imports surely? If we concentrate on food and the tech industries we will get it right.

It’s all going technological and on technology economies will be built. Another lying giant is tourism, let’s package our heritage, our natural sites, and make it affordable to locals and  we will reap rewards.

SM: What gives you sleepless nights?

RM: The desire to give all I have to this country I love so much, Zimbabwe.

SM: What should anyone aspiring to reach your heights do?

RM: Pray, work hard and be a team player and believe in yourself and in our future as a country. I dare to believe and dream.

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