Denis Makomva was a Zimbabwean businessman in the retail sector. Some say he was a mistrustful autocrat. He was the son of a village headman. He attended primary school up to Standard 3.

Background

He was born in 1926 in Mutare (then Umtali district). Having been trained as a bricklayer, the young Makomva trekked to Salisbury (now Harare) where he survived as a self-employed builder.

Business Career

In 1959 he opened his first shop in Highfield. As was the norm with businessmen of the time, in 1969 he added a petrol station. He subsequently opened a supermarket in Highfield in 1978, followed by another one in Glen View in 1980.

In the mid-seventies Makomva joined the board of the Progress Trading Company, a wholesale firm that had both African and white shareholders. A few expected him to succeed because of his minimal education. However, it is opined that much of his success was mainly because of personal supervision, suspicion and taking drastic action against employees. As a result, he managed to cut back on shrinkages and established an enduring business empire.

He put his three sons and a few other relatives in key positions. For some strange reason, he did not employ female relatives. Also he didn’t rely on advice, opting instead to trust his own business instinct. His greatest undoing, however, was that he did not keep books. Well, it is said he had a bookkeeper, but bookkeeping was only done to suit the taxman. He used to tell the book-keeper what he was prepared to pay as tax and the books would be prepared accordingly. It is unsurprising that after Independence, Mr Makomva was slapped with a US$3 million tax bill.

“My father imposed control by his sheer authority so that his employees were scared to do anything against his rules. Anyone caught on the wrong side was fired straight away because he believed that if anyone got caught that person would have been doing that for a long time.

“My father was a strict man, he was somehow omnipresent, he would pitch up anytime. He would always want to be in his shops unless duty called. His aim was always to be on the spot especially as long as we had only one shop. Later he tried to frequent these other places and to make his presence felt regularly. He would randomly check and his employees would never know when he was coming next. You would not even see his car approaching. He would try to sneak in. The element of surprise was his biggest weapon.

“His workers were scared of him. He would deliberately make sure that no one was idle or just chatting . . .” – Morgan Makomva, his son.

After his death in 1986, his three sons – Morgan, Stanley and Rodwell – took over the business.[1]


References

  1. Darlington Musarurwa, [1], The Sunday Mail, Published: 12 April, 2015, Accessed: 14 July, 2020