NATHAN Shamuyarira, Webster Shamu, James Makamba and Supa Mandiwanzira are some of the names that easily come to mind as having made the successful transition from journalism into the murky world of business and politics.
Out of these — and possibly several others — James Makamba will proudly count himself as one of the pioneers of that craft, as he has, over the past four decades, built an empire that straddles international finance, property, retail, insurance, agriculture and broadcasting.
For the older generation, the radio moniker JCJ conjures memories of the husky voice on radio, which popularised the “ndikati nzvee kwaAmato, wandiona” slogan on the African Services of the then Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation, which morphed to Radio 2 at independence and is now called Radio Zimbabwe.
Besides “On top with Amato” (with the popular ndikati nzvee slogan), James Chafungamwoyo Jinja Makamba also presented the Lyons Maid Hits Of The Week; Assembly Special Hits (which was a daily pop news bulletin); King James, The King Of Jazz sponsored by Jazz Stores; The Bata Movement Get Into It, which was about the latest shoe and clothing designs, as well as hot music and gossip.
Equally, the name brings back, especially for those who grew up in and around Bindura, memories of Thurlows, the retail outlet that Makamba fronted with the late Solomon Mujuru, to bring retail service to Mashonaland Central.
In later years, the Thurlows name was to morph into Blue Ridge (paribe matsotsi).
Travellers along the Harare-Bindura highway might have noticed “opening soon” placards plastered all over Blue Ridge Sweet Valley.
Is Makamba reclaiming his stake in the retail sector?
“I had built Blue Ridge into a formidable brand in the retail sector and I am pleased to announce that the Mutoko Road branch is now open after extensive renovations, which are still ongoing, and Blue Ridge Sweet Valley in Mazowe should be opening in the next 45 days.
There are always two sides to any coin.
When Makamba fled the country in August 2005, on one side, Robert Mugabe, may his soul rest in eternal peace, alleged that James Makamba ran away because he was busy externalising foreign currency, whilst on the flip side, Makamba alleges that the externalisation charges were a cover for punishing him for having an alleged affair with former First Lady, Grace.
Appearing in court this year through his lawyer Charles Chinyama, Makamba defended his years in self-imposed exile — and partly explained the affair — saying: “The person whom he (Makamba) suspected may harm him is none other than the former Head of State, Robert Mugabe, who suspected that he was dating his wife, Grace.”
Years before the Grace and externalisation counter-accusations, and as the Fifth Industrial Revolution took hold in Zimbabwe, Makamba was at the forefront of bringing telecommunications to almost every doorstep, fronting Empowerment Consortium — a grouping of well-meaning and “disadvantaged” groups to form Telecel Zimbabwe.
That amalgamation, though with good intent, has not been without its headaches, most of them of a legal nature, which has seen Makamba enter and exit court, probably with as much frequency as any other court official, over the shareholding and ownership of the telecommunications concern.
He acknowledges that the most recent court appearance, though with a victory, was as bruising as it emboldened him: “Telecel will reclaim its position as one of the leading service providers in Zimbabwe. The shareholders are determined to see to that.
“We have a strong professional management team, which will be strengthened as efforts are underway to identify additional experienced managers to add to the dynamism and wide-ranging expertise to address the emergent sector of data and mobile financial services.”
Once a broadcaster, always a broadcaster — the axiom has proved true with Makamba, who did not want the fame gained during the “Amato days” to go to waste.
In July 1998, he leased spectrum from the national broadcaster, ZTV, and broadcast Joy TV to within a 40km radius of Harare.
That dance with Joy TV, which brought refreshing programming to many households, should have left many wondering if the broadcaster applied for a national broadcasting licence when the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe called for applications recently.
“Radio and television were the platforms to my professional being and are some of my greatest passions. I have continuously advocated for the reopening of Joy TV, maybe as a joint venture or in a partnership format with the broadcast entity.”
After the many years in exile, Makamba was to come back in 2018 to throw himself into the deep end, showing interest in contesting the Mt Darwin South constituency elections on a ZANU PF ticket.
Always stalked by controversy, that decision to contest was not without raising eyebrows, as some felt he could not just pop in from the “wild, wild west” and represent people.
Does he still harbour the same intentions, come the next general elections?
“I am a member of the National Consultative Assembly, so my participation (in politics) is wide-ranging, it is not limited to seeking a suitable Parliamentary constituency at the time of any general election.”
Previously, he had served as town board chairperson for Bindura, legislator for Mt Darwin constituency, a member of the ZANU PF Central Committee and is currently a member of the party’s National Consultative Assembly.
In December 2011, at the peak of his stay in exile, tragedy was to strike the Makamba family, with his daughter, Chiedza, dying in a road traffic accident — a funeral he could not attend.
When he came back two years ago, and as he was trying to find his settings in the country, what with the numerous court appearances, trying to resuscitate the Blue Ridge brand, re-positioning Telecel and making up for lost time as an absentee father, tragedy struck once again.
People from the East — must have been descendants of the three wise men — once said that an apple usually does not fall far away from the tree.
Within a very short 30 years, Zororo Makamba was one such fruit and was following in the footsteps of his father, launching and making a footprint in the broadcasting industry.
Then the novel coronavirus visited Mother Earth and Zororo was to be the first victim of the virus in Zimbabwe.
Emotional as it is to discuss deaths, how did the loss of his son, the first coronavirus victim in the country, impact the Makamba family?
And more so after the death of Chiedza.
“It is known that parents never recover from the loss of their children. The loss of both Chiedza and Zororo has had a devastating effect on the entire family. Sadly, we have to live with that loss, that sense of deep loss for the rest of our lives.
“Zororo’s demise in particular could have been avoided had the health institutions been prepared for the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as the nation witnessed, they were not. I hope the health officials and facilities are now able to respond effectively to the pandemic so as to avoid the loss of valuable lives.”
Unity of purpose
A rare breed that has managed to mix business and politics, would he have any advice, after all he sits in the ruling party’s National Consultative Assembly, for the country’s leadership?
“It is no secret that the economy has underperformed for many years. The situation has been made worse by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. This presents a big challenge to Government, business, labour and all of us as Zimbabweans to work together to fix the economy,” he said.
Where is James Chafungamwoyo Jinja (JCJ) Makamba based? South Africa? Zimbabwe? Or Egypt.
“Is that the question you want to ask, or you want to know the inspiration behind the names? First, I am based here in Zimbabwe. To answer the question that you didn’t ask, Chafungamwoyo is my indigenous name and Jinja is my father’s name.”