Together we can change the world

via Together we can change the world | The Zimbabwean 20 August 2014 by Eddie Cross

Some years ago Ronald Reagan, a former President of the United States, started a programme to identify individuals and organisations that were exceptional and deserved recognition – he called them stars in the long night of human experience.

I have always thought that this was a great idea because no matter how dark the night, the stars are always with us and the darker the night the more they glow, especially when viewed without all the haze and other pollution that so often clouds our view. In Zimbabwe today we are in a dark place – the GNU failed to bring real change and the old guard has resumed full control of the state. The economy is again in serious trouble and there just seems no way out.

When that happens, you have to look around you and gaze at the stars in our firmament. The beauty and the contrast is always breath-taking as is the realisation that we are a tiny part of it all, and no matter how rough things get, there is more to life than our daily struggles and in the end there is the unknown infinity above us.

I just want to pay tribute today to two organisations – both businesses and both exceptional in many respects. The first is Econet. Strive Masiyiwa was a young engineer when Zimbabwe became independent – he formed a company and was reasonably successful in the field of electrical engineering.

He spotted the opportunity that was coming in the communications field with the development of the cell phone and began a long struggle to secure a license to become the first operator of a cell phone network in Zimbabwe. He sold his company and sunk the whole of the proceeds into the pursuit and development of his own network which he called Econet.

$10 billion

To get a license he had to fight the corrupt and politically biased administration and, despite frequent rebuttals, he persisted. Eventually with the support of the former President of Zapu, Joshua Nkomo, Strive was given his license and the rest is history.

Today Strive is the majority shareholder in the largest black-owned multinational in Africa and has a personal worth of perhaps $10 billion. Never a supporter of any political party, his unwillingness to pay homage at the feet of Robert Mugabe and his entourage made him unwelcome in official circles and he was forced to leave the country of his birth and go to South Africa and from there to the UK where he lives today.

At home the network has grown and grown. I bought my first cell phone in support of Econet and have had that account through to today – as far as I am concerned BC means “before cell phones” and I do not know what I would do without it. I can use my phone now almost anywhere in the country. I think I saw somewhere that coverage is now at 95 per cent.

Transformed lives

We can now send money through the system and I can tell you that it has transformed the lives of ordinary people, made the State controlled media almost irrelevant and is connecting people across the globe. When I recently travelled to a remote village to express our condolences to a peasant family who had a child burned to death in a politically motivated incident, I found the local community of about 300 people at the homestead. The one older man I found there was on the phone to his son in New York – arranging a money transfer to help with the funeral and the emergency needs of the family.

The following day I bought the Daily News and found myself on the front page. One of the other farmers had photographed me with the family and sent the photo by cell phone to the paper with a short story – I was astounded. These were the poorest of the poor, eking out a living in the remote rural areas and yet they were totally up to date with this new technology and even there, over the worst roads imaginable, they were connected to the world.

The whole system has been created and developed with the best technologies found internationally. The system here is certainly better than in many other countries, even the US. Yet not one cent has come from government and there has been no subsidy. Instead, Strive and his local management team run the company professionally and adhere to the highest principles. They are major tax payers and decent employers with offices across the country.

When I had a stroke four years ago and needed surgery and treatment in South Africa, my cell phone rang and on the line was Strive. “Eddie” he said, “go to South Africa and get the treatment and send me the bill”. I did not need his help but I have never forgotten the gesture. I know that he is paying the school fees for thousands of children and doing much more that I do not know anything about. These are shining stars in my firmament.

Solid contribution

The other organisation is lesser known company called Padenga. They produce crocodile skins outside Kariba. They produce about 50,000 skins a year and sell in the toughest markets of the world – the fashion end of the international leather trade.

They make a good profit every year and are now leaders in the technologies that support this new industry. They make a solid contribution to the communities in the area where they operate and are, like Econet, totally Zimbabwean in ownership and management.

I am a shareholder in both organisations, not large, just a token of support and recognition. I invested not for the dividend, but simply to try and back young people who in my mind are doing an exceptional job in tough conditions.

Giving hope

There are many such stars in this country as there are throughout the world. Some are like black holes – they suck everything into themselves and give nothing out. These are not like that, they shine in the darkest night and give light and hope to the world around us.

At the very height of the civil war in Zimbabwe, I was CEO of a large industrial organisation. We could see no end to the war, the country was crashing about us, life was characterised by total uncertainty.

I called my management team together and said to them, “no matter how tough things get, we are going to present our products to every household in this country every day and show people that life goes on.” We did just that and I think that we were a light in a dark place at that time. It’s up to each of us to do our bit and together we can change the world we live in.


  • comment-avatar
    Roving Ambassador 8 years ago

    This is why I have hope with life after Mugabe.the embers of success are still smoldering. Let’s kick these idiots out .

  • comment-avatar
    Shenanigans 8 years ago

    And they arrest MDC Cecil Zvidzvai on a trumped up charge of illegally importing wind up shortwave radio receivers into the country and distributing these in rural areas.Dont these idiots realize that we can read all the latest news on Zims on our internet enabled cell phones and charge such on solar panels.Yes,when the Zanoid Gods look down at earth from their heavenly domain they will see inverted stars over Zims which represent the lights of all our POVO cell phones connecting to the internet and reading the truth about Zany Zims;we got Zesa chargers now fm rural electrification programme!!!

  • comment-avatar
    Naison Nyereyegona 8 years ago

    I normally do not comment favourably on amything that Eddie Cross has to say but I think this time I have to take a different view. If only other white Zimbabweans could realise that working to destroy their own country simply because they are no longer in charge of the political and economic policies is foolish. What negatively affects our country negatively impacts on us all. What the fools have fought for is to show that a black rulled Zimbabwe can never be good as denoted by the recent headline I saw which read “Indiginised Eaglesvale Broke” So obsessed with this idea that anything black people touch collapses that they fail to see all the good things being done by black people arround them. Here, Cross is acknowledging that a black run company Econet is doing well despite the harsh economic conditions the country faces due to sanctions. All whites should realise that black people can run businesses and are more educated than they are. All what white people had before was white privilege and nothing else no intelligence and no education.

  • comment-avatar

    Econet charges are very high: 24c / minute as compared with about 10c / minute in South Africa. In the UK and USA, mobile phone handsets and operating costs are vastly cheaper than in Zimbabwe. Contracts for 600 minutes per month plus unlimited data, including a fancy phone, are about $45 per month.
    Strive’s star would burn much brighter for me if Econet profit margins were fairer.