For the full biography on Strive Masiyiwa, see this article.
Below is the account of Strive Masiyiwa's battle in founding Econet Wireless, as recounted by him on his official Facebook Page.
- 1 My Five Year Battle To Set Up A Cell Phone Business.(Part 1)
- 2 How I Entered Into The Cell Phone Business (Part 2)
- 3 Preparing For Court (Part 3)
- 4 The court decision that changed my life... Forever (Part 4)
- 5 The Decision That Changed My Life And Put Me On A Path To Victory (Part 5)
- 6 A miraculous phone call, and a dramatic return to the courts (Part 6)
- 7 Something Spiritual, Then Monopoly Is Struck Down (part 7)
- 8 The Seeds of Persecution (Part 8)....
- 9 When "a Storm Arose"( Part 9)
- 10 "When the storm was lashing our house" ..(Part 10)
- 11 The Whirlwind and The Storm (Part 11)
- 12 Whose Report Will You Believe? (Part 12)
- 13 The Audacity of Faith (Part 13)
- 14 The Meeting with Joshua Nkomo (Part 14)
- 15 Victory in Court, and Something Spiritual to Remember (Final Part)
- 16 Using the Stock Exchange to Raise Money (Part 1)
- 17 Raising Our Game For The Next Level (Part 2)
My Five Year Battle To Set Up A Cell Phone Business.(Part 1)
The investment from the IFC had taken me to a completely different level. For the first time, I had real EQUITY in the business and I was not just relying on bank LOANS.
I had to meet tight conditions on how I conducted every aspect of the business. I now had a “boss” again; they were called the BOARD OF DIRECTORS, experienced businessmen and women who took their job very seriously.
My management team were well selected; a team of the best young professionals, I could find in my country.They were absolutely the best. I was finally doing the kind of projects, I always dreamed about. We were making money, and growing fast.
Although I had worked for our national telecoms company, called PTC (now TelOne); since leaving them, I had not had anything to do with telecommunications as an industry, because my business was in electrical power construction work. I had however kept subscriptions to all my professional magazines on developments in telecoms. I knew that Mobile Communications was beginning to emerge as the next frontier. And yet in Africa, there were less than 5 countries that had built such networks, at the time. Most countries only had state owned fixed line operators providing poor, poor service.
I began to put together a business plan for a network in Zimbabwe. I travelled to trade shows, and I visited manufacturers, and operators, to gain greater understanding.
That was 1993.
How I Entered Into The Cell Phone Business (Part 2)
It took me more than a year of research and study to finally have a business plan. I then approached the best investment banker in the country, at the time. His name was Dr Nkosana Moyo, and he was CEO of Standard Chartered Merchant Bank Zimbabwe.
I called my new business, "Enhanced Communications Network". Dr Moyo read my business plan and his key comment was " can I suggest a name change? I think you should call it, ECONET. This is a great project, we are happy to fund it. I have put together a team to work on it. I also have the support of our head office in London".
Since we would need access to special radio frequencies, we would have to approach my former employers the public telephone operator, They were not only a monopoly they were also the regulator!
We decided that it would be best to propose that they form a joint venture with me. They could have 51%, and I would have 49%. I would also raise all the funding and manage the business. The bank wrote the letter on my behalf, to show them that this was a serious proposal.
What happened next must surely rank, amongst the greatest follies in the world of business: They could have owned the Econet Wireless Group, but Instead they declared war on me!
They told us that mobile telephony was a passing fad which would never succeed. And that they were too busy, with more important things!
I immediately, suggested that since they were not interested. Could they please allocate me the necessary frequencies, so that I could proceed to offer the service, to the public. This time, they read me the "Riot Act"; reminding me that they have a monopoly over everything telecoms.
I refused to go away: " How can you have a monopoly over something you do not want to do?" I asked. They responded by threatening me with prosecution, if I so much as tried!
One of the bankers in Dr. Nkosana Moyo's office, was a lawyer, by the name of Ian Donovan. As we sat in their offices, studying the latest reply, he pulled out the Telecommunications Act, and began to take me through it. "...these guys are wrong about this Act. If I were you, I would approach the court and obtain a declaratory order, saying you have a right to proceed".
"Is it really, that simple?" I asked. "Yes". "Let's go for it!" I finally declared.The bank said they could not get involved in a legal battle, but wished me well. And this is how the most celebrated legal battle, in the history of telecommunications in Africa began. It was to take five painful years.
Preparing For Court (Part 3)
Always get the best people to advise you
"The best lawyer for this kind of case, is Antony Eastwood. He is semi retired, and only does cases that interest him. He used to defend the freedom fighters during the fight against colonialism. He is eccentric, but a genius.If you can persuade him and his partners to take this case, then you have the best legal team." That was the advice of Ian Donovan, the lawyer at the bank.
The team at Kantor and Immerman, the firm where Antony was a partner, just loved the case. After brooding over it, Antony suggested that we get a legal expert in telecoms law, to advise us. We chose an American lawyer from New York, called Dr. Judith O'Neil; easily one of the most amazing people, I have ever had the privilege to know, in my entire life. She was the heart and soul of the battle, that was to unfold.
And so the team was assembled: Antony Eastwood, Mervin Immerman, Canaan Dube, Beatrice Mtetwa, and later Tawanda Nyambirai, Nic Rudnick, and young Jo McNally. At times it seemed the whole firm, was just fighting one case. We just became one big family. For the presentations in court, we selected one of the greatest legal minds our country and region had ever produced; Advocate Adrian De Boubon. But for Dr O'Neil, the entire legal team, were all Zimbabweans. It had become what the French call a "cause célèbre". For the next six months, I did nothing else, but work on the court case. I handed over management of the company, to my team. I met with the lawyers daily.
And so we went to court seeking a declaratory order, to state that Mobile Cellular telephony, was not covered by the monopoly enjoyed by the PTC. On their side the PTC, assembled an impressive legal team, led by Advocate Chris Anderson, who had once served as Minister of Justice. He was absolutely brilliant, and I enjoyed listening to him, even though he was on the other side. Many years later we became great friends.
Exactly six months, after we filed our papers, on 24th January 1994, the court ruled...
The court decision that changed my life... Forever (Part 4)
It was January 1994, I was in South Africa on one of my "spy missions" watching MTN and Vodacom roll out the first GSM networks in South Africa when I received the phone call from Zimbabwe. It was Antony Eastwood, "The High Court, has declared that PTC does not have a monopoly over cell phones. They have ordered that they should give you the frequencies immediately and you can begin your business. CONGRATULATIONS, YOU HAVE WON!"
Yes, I could roll out a cell phone network in Zimbabwe! However, within two weeks the PTC appealed to the Zimbabwe Supreme Court. I was stopped from proceeding until this apex court could hear the case and give its ruling. Six more months.
Nigeria had been doing really well in the World Cup in June 1994, and I was an avid supporter of the Green Eagles. I was watching them play Argentina when a call came that I had to be at the Supreme Court to hear the verdict on PTC's appeal the following day.
The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruled against us and said that the monopoly of the PTC extended to cell phones. They overturned the earlier decision of the lower court. It was over! We had lost....and there was NO appeal possible!
This LOSS CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER!!!
The Decision That Changed My Life And Put Me On A Path To Victory (Part 5)
When we lost the Supreme Court case in June 1994, I was totally devastated. Two years of work appeared to have gone down the drain. My dream was shattered. The lawyers made it clear that there was no appeal possible, and we packed away all the files.
Although four years earlier, I had survived an abduction by what I believed, at the time, to be divine intervention, I never pursued this further from a spiritual perspective. Church for me, remained a place of funerals and wedding ceremonies.
When we got married, my wife tried very hard to get me to go to church, but whilst always respectful of her values I never went. On Sundays, I would drop her and our, then young daughter, at her church and go for my weekly squash game with "the boys" and dutifully pick her up, after the service. She was then pregnant with our second daughter.
On the Sunday after our Supreme Court defeat, I was still too gutted to go and play with the boys, but I took my wife to her church, as usual. She begged me to come in with her, but again I refused. I drove round the block and decided to return...... I sat at the back, by myself. My wife did not know I had returned: It was the first time, in my life, I had listened to a church service, without the compulsion of duty for an event held there. It seemed as though everyone in the room, except me was so happy! The young American pastor, was preaching about Jesus Christ, whom I thought I had known all my life. And yet now I realised that I did not know Him; I only knew of Him. Disturbed, I left hurriedly and went and sat in the car.
Throughout that week, I continued in my miserable daze, but I was also disturbed by what I had heard, in that service..... I went back the following week. At the end of the service, there was a call for those who wanted to "accept Jesus Christ, as Lord and Saviour". I stood up, and went to the front. This is, and shall ever remain, the most important decision of my life. "Now that you are "born-again", you must read your bible everyday", the Pastor said, to the small group of us standing in front of him, after he had led us in prayer.
Arriving home that day, I realised that the misery of my court defeat, had completely lifted. It just seemed so unimportant. Sitting down that afternoon, with a borrowed copy of the New International Version Bible, I sat down to read the bible for the very first time, in my life. Since the Pastor had said, "read the bible", I presumed that you must read the whole thing (cover to cover); and my wife did nothing to disabuse me of that: I just read, and read, and read...Often, I would read the whole day, and the whole night... Finally I finished it after about three weeks. What I did not tell anyone at the time, (including my wife), was that almost every night I laid my head down to sleep, I would begin to have quite extraordinary dreams...
One evening, I attended a special church event, held at a local hotel. The Pastor preaching, had never met me. As he preached, he suddenly stopped:
"There is a man in this room, you have been having these dreams.... in these dreams, you are building towers, rather like broadcasting towers...everywhere, all over the world. God is asking me to tell you, that He is the one giving you those dreams, and He is going to make it happen. He has also given you a new heart, you are going to have such compassion. Please come forward, if you are that man."
There could have been 500 people in that room, that Sunday evening. I got up, and made my way to the front of the room.
A few days later, a miracle would occur, which would take us back to court, in a very dramatic way...
A miraculous phone call, and a dramatic return to the courts (Part 6)
Lancaster House, was the venue, in London of the negotiations to end colonial rule, in the then Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe. It was there the first Constitution to be adopted by the country, was agreed at the end of 1979.
'There is a clause in the constitution, which specifically says that every Zimbabwean, "shall have the right to impart information, without hinderance.".... I was there, when it was adopted. Discuss it with your lawyers; I think it could be helpful with your case. It's not over, if you have the courage to go to the Constitutional Court.'
'This caller of yours, did he also tell you that you have to file a completely new application; one that has nothing to do with the PTC? If you want to strike out a monopoly, you have to sue the government, before a special court, that rarely meets, called the Constitutional Court.' This was the opening remark of Advocate Adrian De Bourbon, as we sat down in his office, with my lawyers, from Kantor and Immerman. We had gone there to get his legal opinion on whether, a special application could be made to strike down the monopoly of the PTC, to allow private companies to offer telecommunication services. He continued, 'I have studied Clause 20 of the Constitution very closely, I believe it is possible legally to strike down this monopoly, on the basis that it is hindering freedom of expression. Our challenge is that is has never been done anywhere in the world; and there are monopolies like this everywhere, including in the developed world.'
It was not a long meeting, and it ended by my authorizing them to start working on the papers. I asked them not to file, until I was ready. And by this I meant, "spiritually" ready; meaning weeks of prayer and fasting, until I knew The Lord wanted me to proceed..
I never saw my caller after that call. He did not call me again. Then one day, more than 10 years after the call, he called me, and told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. I arranged to visit him, with a friend and Brother-in-Christ. He had specifically asked that I come and discuss my faith in Jesus Christ. Taking my bible, I carefully took him through my own journey to believing, and accepting that Jesus Christ is the Lord. I will never forget the expression on his face, when he said quietly, "yes, I believe ... Yes, I believe ... What shall I do?" And with that, I led him through the prayer of salvation in Jesus Christ.
"All along, as I watched you fight, I thought it was courage. I kept saying, this boy has courage, but it was not really courage...now I am beginning to understand something." He later remarked.
"No, Mukoma (senior brother), it was not really courage, as people usually think of courage, mine was simply an outward manifestations, of what we call FAITH."
He died peacefully a few weeks later.
Something Spiritual, Then Monopoly Is Struck Down (part 7)
The court papers had been ready to file for two whole weeks, and yet I had not authorised their filing. People who knew thought I had got cold feet..... I kept praying. Those were days,when I was still young in The Lord, and I was still learning like the young Samuel, how to hear His voice:
One Sunday morning, as I left a church service, I heard someone calling me. It was the wife of a dear friend and business colleague, Nigel Chanakira. He was following closely behind his wife. They were both excited, and fighting to catch their breath: "This morning, The Lord spoke to me twice, saying tell Strive he can now go ahead. It was such an amazing experience! I am still totally shaken!"
His wife chimed in, equally excited, "I was right there, when he woke up twice, saying he has had this amazing dream about you!"
Then he asked, "do you know what it is, He wants you to proceed with?"
Although we were to become very close friends later; at that time, we were just beginning to know each other, and he knew NOTHING about the court papers,waiting to be filed. "Thank you, my brother. I shall proceed, immediately."
We filed the following day. Jesus said, "...my sheep know, my voice."
I believe in God, therefore, I believe in miracles. When I pray, I ALWAYS get an answer; sometimes like in this case it can be quite dramatic, but usually it is whilst, I am "meditating" on a scriptures.
After the filing, it would be 18 months of waiting, until the highest court in the land, delivered its judgment. During those 18 months I went about my business. My company continued to do very well. We had become the biggest in our industry, employing over 1000 people nationwide. I had no difficulty paying the legal fees. The court hearing was a titanic duel of legal minds, before a full bench of judges, called the Constitutional Court.
Perhaps the nicest compliment I got that day, came from the Attorney General, who led the government team. He came over and shook my hand firmly, when it was all over: "Don't let anyone tell you, that you are fighting the government; why else would we have a constitution, if you the young Zimbabweans would not come, and fight for it? By your challenge, you have strengthened our constitution. Then he added, "it does not matter what happens here, you are going to go far. One day you will be richer than some governments."
On 18th December 1995, two and half years after we had first gone to court, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe, struck down the monopoly in telecommunications.
The Seeds of Persecution (Part 8)....
As soon as the Court ruled, I moved quickly to bring in equipment. And organise the launch of the network. Within two weeks of the ruling, I had secured a shipment of a small system, for just 5000 customers, from Ericsson's the giant Swedish company.
It was 31st January 1996, 5 weeks after the decision of the court to remove the monopoly of PTC. The old man, waiting to see me, that evening, was a legend. His name was Gary Magadzire, and he was head of one of the most powerful farmers organisations in the land. He had asked to see me alone, and I could see from his face that he had something very grave to tell me. Having congratulated me on the court victory, he then went on to tell me, that a friend of mine, had set up a rival consortium, and was working behind the scenes, in high government circles to, as he put it, "hijack your project."
He went on to give me in the most elaborate detail, how the conspiracy against me had all been put together. He also told me who was involved and all their plans. "He has managed to lie to some very powerful people, that you are working for a foreign government, hostile to this country, and that you should be stopped at all costs, and the project given to more loyal citizens. An emergency draft legislation has been prepared, which will stop what you are doing, and reverse, this decision of the court. Not everyone is in agreement with this. You must not be intimidated, I know you will prevail, because you believe in God."
He told me he was indignant that people could create such an elaborate "conspiracy of lies, because of greed. "They want you declared an enemy of the state, and to have you imprisoned." He was so distressed by it, that I found myself comforting him, even though I was the one under threat.
"Thank you, Mukoma Gary."
Once again, I marvelled at how God works.. This man was not my relative, or even close friend. To this day, I do not know how he had obtained all the information, that he gave me, including detailed intelligence reports. Time and space constrains me to mention, so many others, including people sent to arrest me, who would forewarn me, and ask me to disappear for a few days. God knows them all.....
When "a Storm Arose"( Part 9)
When Mr Gary Magadzire finished briefing me he had slipped a document into my hand; it was a draft document of a new law that would be announced in exactly 5 days. It would ban anyone from setting up and operating a cell phone network even though the monopoly had been removed by the court. Violation of this proposed law would mean a jail sentence.
It was about 8pm as we parted company. Having thanked God for sending him, I moved swiftly that night: I first went totally unannounced to the home of our lead lawyer. I gave him the draft document. After reviewing it, whilst I sat there he said to me the only way, I could save my project is if I could prove within 5 days, that I already had a cell phone network before the new law came into force. It would allow us to go back to the Constitutional Court.
Since the ruling 6 weeks earlier, I had managed to get some equipment for a small network, but it was not yet working. I would need to get it all working, within 5 days! It was a daunting task, and to make matters worse, some of the critical equipment I needed was still at the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, 500km away.
After leaving the lawyer's home about 10pm, I called an emergency meeting of my small team. I also called one of our contractors a gentleman called Pat Cox. He volunteered to leave for the border that very night. What he managed to do at the border remains one of the most remarkable events of the whole saga. Arriving at the border, he found that there were 23 trucks, in front of our own convoy of trucks. Now this is a border with truckers from more than 6 regional countries. Pat went to each and every trucker, and spoke to them, and they agreed to let our convoy go to the front. When Pat arrived with the trucks, we had all been up for 24 hours, since Mr Gary Magadzire had come to see me. By this time, he found a hive of activity; I had spoken to my friends in the construction industry, and every single moveable crane in the country had been released to me. My friend Christor Hohenthal, the Swedish MD of Ericsson in South Africa, had flown in a team of technicians by special charter.
We worked continuously for 4 days; I never left the site. Finally, we began transmitting cell phone signals over the city of Harare.
Once we had the system operating, and transmitting with just one base station, I called a press conference, and announced that I had a fully operational cell phone system, and invited journalists to try it out. It made headlines the following morning. And on the same day, a special Government Gazette, was published on the new law. Exhausted, we all went home, knowing that our "grandfather rights", had been secured.
That afternoon the police, arrived with engineers from the PTC, to inspect my operations. They had an order to take me into custody, if the system was operating, but I had switched everything off, to comply with the new law.
It was February 1996, we would return to court, for another Constitutional battle, at the end of the year. Meanwhile, I would have to face extraordinary persecution, and the loss of my business, and income.
"When the storm was lashing our house" ..(Part 10)
When the new law stopped us from proceeding with the project, in February 1996, we had no option but to go back to the Constitutional Court; a process which would take almost another year.
Meanwhile my detractors turned their attention to forcing me out of business altogether. Their plan was to force me into bankruptcy. They knew that over 80%, of my projects were for government. I was given an ultimatum: "drop your interest in telecoms or we will shut down all your other businesses!"
I was facing bankruptcy. It also meant the loss of jobs of over 1000 people.
I had to act quickly:
I decided to sell all my businesses that relied on any type of government contracts. I sold my businesses within 2 weeks. This meant I was not paid the proper value of the businesses; I agreed to basically walk away, with almost nothing... It was more important to save the businesses, and the jobs, but it meant that 10 years of my work was all gone.
... I was not bitter.
Meanwhile the PTC announced that they would launch a cell phone network, now known as NetOne. This would ultimately give them a 2 year head start.
... I was not discouraged.
The lawyers asked me to come and see them. It was the senior partners of the firm, Mervin Immerman, Harry Kantor, the Jewish- Zimbabwean, founders of the firm, Also present were Antony Eastwood, Canaan Dube, and Beatrice Mtetwa. We discussed the challenge of meeting the cost of ongoing litigation. They said they would continue to help me fight the case, even if I run out of money. A new group of young lawyers, had joined the firm and these included Tawanda Nyambirai, Nic Rudnick and Jo McNally, and they were now the mainstay of the legal battles, under Antony Eastwood's supervision. Dr Judith O'Neil also made similar arrangements with her law firm in America.
In the weeks and months to come many other creditors either forgave my debts or deferred them, until I was able to pay, at a future date. I visited each and every creditor, no matter what. This is when I realized the mantra, that "integrity is better than money".
The police called me regularly for "interviews", and I would always go with one of the lawyers. It was a ritual, which they did not enjoy and they were often very courteous, and I was never mistreated. We always had to avoid, Fridays, because it would mean weekend custody. On one such occasion, one of the policemen tipped me off, that I was to spend the weekend in custody; not knowing where to go,I called Pastor Langton Gatsi and his late wife. They came and collected me in a small van, and I slipped away, hidden under a blanket. I spent a weekend in their home and on Monday morning, I handed myself in, only to be released without charge.
The persecutions, instigated by the small group of powerful business people, who wanted to take over my project, intensified. The months ground on. My financial resources were almost gone. We still had almost two years to go.
And we continued hard in prayer "without ceasing", now joined by almost the entire Christian community in our country. I could not walk down the street without someone shouting, "we are praying for you, hang in there!"
The Whirlwind and The Storm (Part 11)
In December 1996, the Constitutional Court, ordered the Minister of Telecoms to end the PTC monopoly for a second time. They gave her six weeks to run a tender process and select an operator, or simply allow Econet to start operating. Whilst many people, expected her to let us operate since we already had a system, and had been fighting for nearly 5 years, I knew through my network of sympathisers that a massive conspiracy, was being hatched, to try and thwart us, once and for all.
The Minister set up a Technical Committee (TC), and within 2 weeks, they published a public tender. Whilst many people wondered how they had managed such an extraordinary feat, in such a short time frame. It would all be revealed spectacularly, in another court battle!
We submitted a tender response, along with five other companies. Exactly 4 weeks later, on 28th February 1997, the Minister announced that another company had won the tender, and was immediately issued the license. They announced that we had come fourth, out of five bidders, even though we had a working system, on the ground!
The following day, the Minister announced that they had complied fully with the order of the court and she also directed that I be arrested for illegal possession of telecommunications equipment.
The headline of of one of the newspapers read:
"Masiyiwa's Dream Crumbles"
That morning, I received a very interesting visitor...
"...The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet..." (Nahum1:3).
Whose Report Will You Believe? (Part 12)
I was sitting in my office, looking at the headline of the newspapers, in front of me. One paper was a picture of the jubilant head of the company that had "won" the license. The other headline simply said:
"Masiyiwa's Dream Crumbles".
My PA told me there was " a big white man" wanting to see me urgently. Even before she had finished telling me he had breezed into my office, uninvited and was standing in front of my desk. His name was Pastor Jerry Barkus, an American missionary recently arrived in Zimbabwe. After introducing himself, in a booming voice, he then told me, he had come to buy "cell phone service"! I politely showed him the newspapers in front of me. He brushed them aside and stared down at me:
"Whose report will you believe? That or the Lord's? I am here to buy service and I would like to pay for 12 months."
He then slowly poured out $10,000, in crisp bank notes on my table. I told my PA, to call Zac Wazara, then our Chief Marketing Officer. I directed him to count the money, and register our first customer. I understood what was happening spiritually, and I knew that something miraculous was about to take place.
Then came the intervention of Vice President Joshua Nkomo.
The Audacity of Faith (Part 13)
When Pastor Jerry Barkus, left our offices, invigorated I turned my attention, to our next move:
Due to a sad family tragedy Antony Eastwood, had been forced to retire as our lead counsel. A young Christian lawyer, at the company called Tawanda Nyambirai, was now leading our team. Over the years, I have had the privilege to work with great lawyers from all around the world; but I say this with all humility, Tawanda Nyambirai has one of the finest legal minds, I have ever met. He proposed that we should avoid going back to the Constitutional Court, but instead go to a lower court (the High Court) and seek a "judicial review", of the Minister's decision, since it was a public tender. We had to act very quickly, otherwise our matter would not be accepted, as "urgent" by the courts.
We also needed evidence to show that there had been bias against Econet; we did not have any evidence whatsoever. To get this evidence Tawanda came up with a strategy whereby all the documents used by the adjudicating committee, that advised the Minister had to be "ceased and sealed" by a court order. This had to be done before anyone was ordered to destroy them. Tawanda and his team made a special application to the court, and it was granted, they then rushed (quite literally), with a Sherif of the Court, to the place where the committee had been holding meetings, and ceased all the documents that had been left in the room! It was audacious, and caught everyone by surprise. It all happened in just one day, and less than 48 hours, after the license award to our competitor.
The chairman of the Technical Committee, as it was called, kept a pile of documents, in a locked drawer next to where he sat. Amongst the documents, were found correspondences he had been receiving, by fax, from someone in South Africa, directing him on how to manipulate the results of the tender... we would later present this all in court, and use it to overturn the recommendation of that committee. Meanwhile I had to deal with a very furious Minister, who could not believe what had happened! She ordered my immediate arrest.
I arrived at my office the following morning, knowing that I was due to be picked up by the police. I did not try to run away and I did not try to lobby anyone. Our sources said they were preparing a charge sheet against me to ensure I got a lengthy jail sentence.
"Fear not. I am with you!"
The call from the office of the Vice President of the country, Joshua Nkomo, came in the afternoon. It came completely out of the blue.
The Meeting with Joshua Nkomo (Part 14)
Joshua Nkomo is one of the fathers of African nationalism, and stands alongside Africa's greatest fighters against colonialism, and injustice. He is right up there with the greatest of them.
He was the epitome of courage.
Although he was now in his eighties, he had still kept much of the huge frame, which was one of his distinguishing features. He also had a quick temper:
Even as I entered his office, in the central government offices, he shouted loudly at me: "What are all these bad things I hear being said about you, young man?" I stood there, frozen, at first. Then he gestured to me, with his walking stick, and pointed at the door; telling me to shut it, behind me. I then sat down on a chair in front of his desk. "Baba", I said in a quiet voice, "you do not believe that, do you?"
He stared at me, for a few moments, then he shook his head, slowly, "No, I don't. But let me hear your side of the story."
He listened quietly, and intently, occasionally asking sharp questions. It was clear that he had been well briefed about it. I also realised that the shouting had been for people outside the room to hear, as there were always large numbers of people, in his reception. He was a very shrewd man.
I shared with him, pretty much, all that you all know now, including my deep faith and trust in God. I even shared with him some of my testimonies. He wanted to know everything.
Finally, he rose up, and asked me to stay where I was sitting. Initially, I thought he had gone to the bathroom, but he was gone for what seemed like an hour. I just sat there, and prayed. When he returned, he slumped himself in his chair, and began muttering audibly to himself. I heard everything that he said. He looked deeply concerned, and shook his head, several times. After a few minutes, he asked me to walk out the office with him. We walked out slowly, together, into the bright African sunlight. He insisted that I walk by his side. He wanted people to see me, walking with him, and I escorted him along the corridors to his waiting car. Several people, seeing me, walking with him, came nervously out of their offices, and also shook my hand, or patted my back. Others just stared.
On a number of occasions he said loudly, to people who came up to greet us, "this one is not a sell out. He is true son of Zimbabwe." People loved him.
The persecution against me, ended that day.
Victory in Court, and Something Spiritual to Remember (Final Part)
It was 30th December 1997, I had travelled with Pastor Tom Deuschle, and leaders of our church to Boston, in the United States, to try and raise money for a hospital.
Nearly 3 months had gone bye since our last court appearance. It had been a dramatic hearing. We had shown the judge, how the Technical Committee Chairman, had manipulated the tender results, using the evidence, we had got from the "ceased papers".
Although it had been 9 months, since the intervention of Vice President Joshua Nkomo, no one had persecuted me:
There was now a new Minister in charge of telecommunications, and although the court battle had gone on, he was very friendly. He told me that government would accept whatever ruling came from the judicial review, if it was in my favour.
Several other leading political figures had now also expressed support for me publicly. A former Minister of Justice, and member of cabinet,Dr Edson Zvobgo had given a public lecture on the importance of the original Supreme Court ruling. No one knew, until today as I write, that he was the one who had tipped me off about the constitutional provision, that led me to court, in the first place. He was the man, I led to The Lord, just before he died of cancer, several years later.
Zimbabwe's other Vice President, Simon Muzenda, sent me a wonderful message through a former freedom fighter, whom he knew prayed with us. He commended me for my faith, saying, it had "taught him something, about God".
The night of 30th December 1997, in Boston, will forever be one of the most incredible spiritual experiences of my life: As I slept, I had a dream, and in it, I saw a judge sitting down to read a ruling. It was so vivid, and one thing, I distinctly remembered was that the judge was white, and all our lawyers were there, as were the lawyers of the company that had been awarded the tender. The judge was very angry, and declared that the courts were upset that this case kept coming back to them. He then declared Econet licensed, and said it would never be overturned. I woke up to find that it was about 2am. To be honest with you, I do not really care much for dreams, even today, and I always caution on taking dreams seriously, unless you have really prayed. After sometime of prayer, I called my colleague Zac Wazara in Harare, on the hotel phone. I asked him to enquire of our lawyers, if there had been any developments. He called back a few minutes later to say that Tawanda Nyambirai, had told him that the courts were closed for the holidays, until mid January. After Zac's call, I got dressed and then began to pray again, as I was now unable to sleep; about 30 mins, or so, later, the phone rang. It was Zac Wazara: "Justice Sandura's clerk has just summoned all the lawyers to court. Apparently, he has been promoted to the Supreme Court, from the High Court. He has been working during the holiday, to clear his High Court cases. He is about to hand down the ruling!"
Justice Sandura overturned the award of the license to the other company, and declared us, "duly licensed". It was an emphatic court victory.
A few days later, the company, whose license had been canceled by Justice Sandura, made an urgent court application, seeking to set aside the ruling pending their appeal against it, to the Supreme Court. This would have to be heard urgently, by the "duty judge", the following day: Justice George Smith, was one of the few white judges in the country, and he was the duty judge...
He declared that the order given by Justice Sandura, was above appeal, as he was confirming an order already given by the Constitutional Court. There was no court in the land, that could overturn it!
The new Minister of Telecommunications called me, and congratulated me on the outcome. He said the Cabinet had given its support, and he was looking forward to working with us.
I briefed our Pastor, and he called other church leaders across the country. We agreed to have a special thanksgiving service. It would be attended, a few months later by virtually every single church leader. It was an amazing event. On my arrival back in Zimbabwe, I went to Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo. I went with several leaders of the church, including Pastor Franz, who prayed for him in flawless Shona!
Tawanda Nyambirai, was deeply affected by what we have come to know, as the "Boston vision", as I described to him the details of the proceedings, I had seen on the phone before, they occurred. I like to think of it, as our Heavenly Father's own way of "signing off"!
God bless you, for following.
We shall now return to other issues... Next week I am off to Rwanda for a very special event.
Using the Stock Exchange to Raise Money (Part 1)
After our license was finally issued, we quickly turned our attention to raising the money to build the business.
I had long realised that this kind of business was capital intensive. I knew that I had to have a very good team on Finance. This was not just a job for an accountant, I needed a banker, to lead the team that would look for the money. I approached Jeff Mzwimbi, who had been working as an international banker, to return home, and lead our team. He had wanted to start his own bank, but I persuaded him to delay his plans, and come and work with me. We also recruited a Chief Finance Officer, Marion Moore, a very mature and experienced Zimbabwean executive. Together with Zac Wazara, our Chief Marketing Officer, the four of us, had worked every day for years, preparing our business plans. Even when we were in court, we never stopped planning.
Initially we thought that it would be best to bring in an international operating partner. We found a very respectable potential partner, but we failed to agree terms, and we walked away. Our financial model showed that if we simply borrowed money from the banks, the business would not grow properly. We needed to raise EQUITY, as well.
As soon as the case was over, Tawanda Nyambirai left the legal profession, and joined a bank, called NMB. Another young lawyer at the same law firm, came and joined us, as our legal advisor, at the company. His name was Nic Rudnick, and he is one of our most senior executives today.
Another young banker, who had been a member of Dr Moyo's team, at Standard Chartered Bank, and now working with Tawanda, at NMB, was Pateson Timba, One morning , I gathered this group, in my office. I had an audacious proposal that I wanted them to debate. It is how we make decisions, even today:
"Can we list a company on the Stock Exchange of Zimbabwe, that has no trading record, and has never actually operated?"
Pateson Timba: "Mukoma, the exchange say we need minimum 3 years experience, and audited accounts".
Tawanda Nyambirai: "Mukoma, its just a tradition they have been applying. It's not underpinned by law. If we go to court, we will win."
Nic Rudnick: "I agree. We can win."
Jeff: "My brother, we need to raise just $5m, in equity. Why don't we just go to London. I know investors who can write a cheque for that kind of money, without all this hassle."
Me: "I want to give all those people who supported us, over all those years, a chance to own shares in this company."
And so we discussed, well into the night. Finally, I made the call: "Tawanda, and Nic, tell the Exchange, that unless they give us, an exemption, we are ready to test it in court."
Raising Our Game For The Next Level (Part 2)
The stand off with the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, lasted less than two weeks. They quickly realised that we had found a legal loophole in their regulations, and they had no choice but to let us list the company, even though we had no trading history!
The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange is the second oldest in Africa, having been established in 1896.
Getting permission to list the company on the Stock Exchange, was not my biggest challenge. The exchange knew it, and I knew it, and it was probably why they said, "go ahead".... No one seriously expected us to pull it off, and there were many good reasons why it was practically impossible: Whilst I strongly believed that the general public would buy our shares, the problem was that we needed foreign exchange, not local currency. This is because 85%, of the money you need to set up a cell phone network goes into importing equipment, which is only produced by a handful of international manufacturers, even today. To raise the money we needed as a public listed company, in what is called an Initial Public Offering (IPO), meant that we would have to raise the money from international investors, in Johannesburg, London and New York........ And this was 1998!
- For a "start up" company, to try and raise money, through an IPO, was just unheard of;
- for a start up company coming from Africa, let alone Zimbabwe... That was also unheard of;
- we were considered an inexperienced management team, with no previous experience in the industry, and no "technical partner"!
- the long legal battle we had been through also made investors nervous.
- the cell phone industry in Africa, was just starting. Many African countries, including places like Nigeria, did not even have cell phones. Those countries that had cell phones, still had very few subscribers. It was an unproven industry.
After all those years of struggling to get a license, I was financially exhausted.
Investors who had the foreign exchange that we needed were only willing to invest, if I gave up control, and allowed a "technical partner" with experience to provide management. Most were not even willing to discuss the idea of my listing the company, before it was profitable, after three or four years.
In part three I will reveal to you, how we managed to raise money on the international capital markets. I also kept control of the business...And most important for me, I gave an opportunity for thousands of ordinary Zimbabwean's to buy shares.
Today's Top Pindula News2019-07-20T17:25:40Z
- Strive Masiyiwa, My Five Year Battle To Set Up A Cell Phone Business.(Part 1), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:20 February 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, How I Entered Into The Cell Phone Business (Part 2), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:24 February 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, Preparing For Court (Part 3), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:26 Feb 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014 Cite error: Invalid
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- Strive Masiyiwa, The court decision that changed my life... Forever (Part 4), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:28 February 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, The Decision That Changed My Life And Put Me On A Path To Victory (Part 5), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:3 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, A miraculous phone call, and a dramatic return to the courts (Part 6), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:6 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, Something Spiritual, Then Monopoly Is Struck Down (part 7), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:9 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, The Seeds of Persecution (Part 8)...., Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:12 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, When "a Storm Arose"( Part 9), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:14 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, When the storm was lashing our house" ..(Part 10), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:17 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, The Whirlwind and The Storm (Part 11), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:19 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, The Audacity of Faith (Part 13), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:24 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, The Meeting with Joshua Nkomo (Part 14), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:26 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, Victory in Court, and Something Spiritual to Remember (Final Part), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:28 March 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, Using the Stock Exchange to Raise Money (Part 1), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:4 April 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014
- Strive Masiyiwa, Raising Our Game For The Next Level (Part 2), Strive Masiyiwa official Facebook page, Published:8 April 2014, Retrieved:12 April 2014