Reflection: A painful moment remembered

__And neighborly kindness remembered, too.

Zimbabwe’s night is over and we must work together now to bring in the dawn. We must work hard to turn away from (and learn from) the pages of our pained past. This includes talking about it, because this is part of the healing process…

I was on my way to Singapore several years ago where some investors had promised me a huge investment fund for Africa. I was excited! This was my big break.

My flight connection from South Africa where I lived, was through Bangkok and as I ran to the gate, my phone started to ring. It was my brother-in-law who worked for the intelligence service in Zimbabwe. I could hear my cousin sister sobbing in the background.

“They are going to arrest all your directors and senior management tonight.”

“Why?!”

“It is meant to force them all to resign so your company can collapse.”

I could not turn back because the door of the plane had closed. I switched off my phone and sat quietly. I did not eat or drink water the entire flight. It was time to pray and fast.

When we landed in Singapore, I called my brother-in-law. He confirmed that the arrests had been effected. Directors and executives (including CEO Douglas Mboweni) of the largest public company on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange had all been away to the maximum security prison in leg irons. Even retired former directors had been arrested.

I tried calling our leading lawyer. He, too, had been arrested. My brother-in-law suggested I not go to South Africa.

“There is a team there who have been sent to abduct you,” he warned. “They will say you came back to the country by yourself.”

My cousin sister grabbed the phone from him and begged me: “Please do as he says!”

I cancelled my meetings with investors. I sat in my hotel room making calls. I found Beatrice Mtetwa, a fearless human rights lawyer. She had already began to work on the case. They would not tell her what the issue was.

There would be no bail. They were held in a section of the prison which houses death row inmates. Years later, one of my executives was still traumatized by the wailings and lamentations of those on death row. (Like the new President of Zimbabwe, I’m a fierce opponent of the death penalty, and I hope he will push for its repeal in Zimbabwe, and anywhere else in Africa).

No one seemed to care about the fact that this was a company majority-owned by tens of thousands of ordinary people directly, and through their pension funds. At the time, I personally owned less than 40% of the company. Had it collapsed, anyone who held a pension plan or life policy would have been affected, including public sector workers.

Our lawyer finally managed to get a hearing for them after more than a week. They came to the court dressed as convicts with leg irons. I was sent TV footage of it. I continued my prayers. They were sent back to the prison. There were no charges pressed against any of them for anything.

I reached out to the prayer network that had always stood with me within the country and around the world. We agreed to “pray and fast without ceasing until they were released.” During the day, I would be on the phone with Beatrice, then I would have a light meal and go to join my wife in prayer until the early hours of the morning. All in all, they were held for 16 days. Then I broke my fast and finally got some real sleep!

After they were released, my team went back to work as though nothing had happened.

I flew first to England and then back to South Africa after getting security assurances from their government. (I’m grateful to the South African government even to this day for coming to my aid and protecting me and my family). When I finally met the entire team in South Africa, we agreed that as Christians we had a duty to forgive those who persecuted us, including the leader of the country.

With my team, we decided to redouble our efforts to help Zimbabwe through its dark night. This is just a “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to what we went through.

We forgave.

Wisdom (not fear) compelled me to develop business interests around the world, going even as far as New Zealand and South America.

Nigeria, Kenya, Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia, Burundi and Rwanda were some of the interests I developed during that time. All the leaders in these countries back then knew about my plight through their embassies, and went out of their way to make me welcome.

I appreciate it to this day. That is why I always stand so firmly with those countries, supporting them as though I am a citizen.

Although I never had a business in Senegal, then-President Wade and his foreign minister learnt about my plight, and even asked me to come and live there. I knew it was the grace of God that in the midst of such persecution, world leaders began to take notice of me.

President Wade and President Obasanjo were like fathers to me. Hey, I just hope I won’t have to watch Nigeria vs Senegal in the World Cup finals on Kwesé TV! (Actually, the perfect final for me is those two countries playing each other!)

We forgive always.

We love always.

Strive Masiyiwa

End.

by 11 Replies

About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

11 thoughts on “Reflection: A painful moment remembered

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1.

    I left Zimbabwe in 2000 and the first year after that was particularly difficult. The state seemed to spare no expense in sending people to follow me wherever I went. For instance, like most business people I usually stayed at the same hotels, as this leads to discounts on the rate (tip for you!), but in my case, it meant there were “certain guests who are here with you” (as one hotel employee told me quietly). Then I had to change how and where I travelled.

    At times it was embarrassing for the agents when they would realize I was very much aware of them following me, as happened at a hotel in London. I simply went to them and greeted them politely in our local language, then went my way!

    Reply
  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2.
    When my team were being held at the prison, several women would come to the prison gates every day with food. They told the guards it was because of our support for orphans. It was an extraordinary gesture of solidarity and courage, and one I will appreciate all my life.

    Reply
  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3.

    Every Sunday, I fast and pray for Zimbabwe and Africa. This means I do not eat a meal all day until the evening. I will do this as long as I’m on planet Earth.

    Reply
  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 4.

    A few days ago when the Vice President of Zimbabwe, Mr Constantino Chiwenga, visited our stand at a national trade show, you cannot imagine how appreciative we were of the gesture. Even though our company is the largest single employer of our fellow citizens, it was the first time we had felt accepted publicly by our own government.

    Reply
  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    With many of us in the Diaspora [living and working outside our home country] having left almost 20 years ago, it is perhaps not always realistic to expect our permanent return given that we have now built our lives elsewhere.
    Nevertheless, it does not mean we cannot contribute from where we are. We can do much.
    Personally I will leave no stone unturned to help and support my country of origin; in my own way, even as I have always done. Respectfully, I feel I have also earned the right not to have others prescribe to me how and with whom I should contribute.

    Reply
  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    When my passport ran out, the passport authority refused to issue a new one without giving any explanation. I was forced to approach the Constitutional Court, and it was only after the court set down a hearing that the authority suddenly relented and released a passport. For over a year, I was virtually ‘stateless’. My battle to get a passport was not published in newspapers. One day (time permitting) I will write about this little saga.

    Reply
  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Reflection:
    There is a story I was told as a young boy about a powerful ruler who was informed that a poor man at the gate wanted to see him and would not go away.

    “He says his father fought alongside you in the war.”

    The ruler was about to take a nap after a long day of state, so he snapped in anger to his aide, “Get rid of him right now. I need to get some rest!”

    A few hours later, after resting, the ruler said to his aides, “That guy who came, please bring him because I do remember him now. I think he is the son of a brave warrior who fought and died during the war.”

    “Sir, you directed us ‘get rid of him,’ the aide replied. “We cannot bring him, sir.”

    “Why not?!” the ruler asked, agitated.

    “We can’t, sir. We got rid of him, after he resisted us.”

    Question: What were the people who told me this story trying to convey about leadership and its responsibilities?

    Reply
  8. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Reflection:

    King David was a wise and able leader. But even he had his fair share of crises, and sometimes made a bad call. For those of you who know the story of his life, you will no doubt remember the story of Ziba and Mephibosheth:
    David allowed himself to be misled by Ziba who had his own ulterior motive, even though Ziba brought him vitally needed assistance. When David finally discovers that Ziba has misled him the damage to his relationship with Mephibosheth had been done. David’s own attempt to solve the problem cannot be seen to be just, and it is ultimately Mephibosheth who must go done in history as the more honorable man.

    When you have time, read the story of David, Ziba and Mephibosheth and tell me what you would have done in the same circumstances. Take your time, because great minds have wrestled with it for millennia.

    Reply
  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    One practice which we had to live with was the deployment of state agents within our businesses. Documents, emails, and other communications were constantly and permanently taken, sometimes openly but more often than not covertly. It is only in the last few months that our executives have begun to feel they are operating in a normal environment, but the wariness and mistrust will take years to deal with. There are still some people who believe it is their job to make life difficult for us, and we look forward to a time when it will not be like that and we can all work constructively towards building one country.

    Reply
  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Dan Omondi writes,

    Had read that part. My judgement was that David had made hurriedly unwise move… he had also went to the extent of taking a binding oath which was irreversible… Ziba was crafty. Personally I believe David ought to have consulted God first.

    My reply,
    Every leader (even those in business) must always be on the lookout for both the ‘Zibas’ and Mephibosheths’ around them:
    Ziba is cunning, crafty, ambitious and wicked, and pursues their own agenda by making themselves helpful and indispensable to the leader whilst misleading him or her. They exploit moments of vulnerability and fears of the leader to sow seeds of terrible discord against others.
    Mephibosheth is honest, loyal, but vulnerable to exploitation. It is important to ensure he or she always gets a fair hearing, even when the report against them appears negative.

    If a Ziba tells you something negative about another person, don’t react angrily. It will later turn out to have been rash, and unjust.
    ….
    Now you know why I told the CNN Interviewer [in that famous interview] that the Bible is the best teacher of leadership principles.

    Reply
  11. EMEKA ONUCHUKWU

    I have studied the story of David, Ziba and Mephiboshet.
    Ziba was an opportunist who knew that David was in a time of terrible distress and needed all the help he can get, especially from trusted allies.
    it is obvious he was waiting for an opportunity to discredit Mephiboshet before David to get a favour. I think so because his answer was like a pre- meditated response.
    David was only overtaken by the stress he was going through, otherwise the David we know will not be so rash with his decisions as we can see how he handled Shimei and the rest who even ridiculed him to is face.
    It could happen to anybody looking at the circumstance at the time.
    To be able to remember the word of God at the time of distress will help at such time.

    Reply

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