I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2009. Having been in school when the nation of Zimbabwe broke all the wrong hyperinflation records, I was starting out with hardly any savings. Many around me had had theirs wiped out. No non-warring country has ever reached Zimbabwe's hyperinflation levels of 200 million percent.
Prices were going up like mad, and before you ask, you would have needed a wheelbarrow full of cash to do something as basic as buying a meal.
Zimbabweans weathered the storms even as shelves were empty. I've come across many accounts of people who essentially worked for just enough to pay for transport. Still, the people marched on.
In the midst of all this, there was an election that didn't quite turn out as people had expected, and a government of national unity was negotiated into effect through the Southern African Development Community. Within a year, Zimbabwe was booming, growing at 9% with inflation crashing below 3%. With comparatively sound infrastructure, getting the Zim engine going again wasn't that hard.
That doesn't mean it was easy either.
My first company was called Uhai Media. Uhai means life in Swahili. I've always believed in this continent, and I smiled as I sipped from a bottle of Uhai Water in Tanzania a few days ago. One of my very first projects was pitching to the Cosafa Cup organising committee. The idea was simple - soccer has largely been a men's game. We would introduce a mascot as a character brand to draw in the rest of a household. It was supposed to be warm and experiential.
I was 19 then, too young and foolish to be scared, meaning that it was the perfect time to start out. Fabula (Farai-Jabula) was received well as a concept. Those fat cats in their shiny suits just smirked as I worked. The value of contracts or pitfalls of taking on government projects never dawned on me. My 19 year old self just wanted to deliver awesome and serve the nation and continent I love...
The final greenlight for Fabula came barely weeks before the tournament began. We went through hell to get him. A company that had made the Soccer World Cup 2010 Mascot got it done, pledging their weekend to deliver. All this was funded by my first angel investor, an ordinary Zimbabwean who had seen me grow into a curious tinkerer, who was now pledging his own cash to make it all possible.
Another ordinary Zimbabwean who I'd grown to know waited at the producer's factory until it was done. Due to tight deadlines and even tighter resources, Fabula came up in a bus. Driven by ordinary Zimbabweans...
He was a hit! He was featured everywhere, from newspapers to SuperSport and tournament flyers. This green bird was rallying us all into action. I had submitted invoices and hit the ground running. Everyone was drawn into my grand plan, from the designers to the "mascoteers" who actually wore the suits. We made sure he was present as expected.
Weeks into the tourney, we ran out of cash. This mean't that we couldn't travel to one of the final games in Bulawayo, about 440km south of Harare. Not to worry, I had to find a way.
There are minivans that crisscross the Harare - Bulawayo route. For about $15 or less they'll get you through in a few hours. I will never forget hopping onto one early that morning. I got on with a bag so big it's hilarious now in hindsight. Fabula was neatly packed in there. All that mattered for me at that time was delivering no matter what.
The van reached Bulawayo at about 2:30 pm. Another ordinary Zimbabwean a family member had introduced me to, assisted with a lift to Babourfields stadium. That's the biggest stadium in the south of the nation. When I got there, I could feel the buzz. Ordinary Zimbabweans, mixing mingling and hoping for a better future. Our nation was back.
My big plan when all else had failed was that I'd reach Bulawayo and wear the damn mascot costume myself. Everything is nice on paper. In practice, hopping off that bus at 2:30 on a typical hot southern day, then getting into this furnace of a costume in time for kickoff at 3 was crazy.
It's the kind of stuff even I would never believe if I didn't have photos. I completed a full sprint around that stadium as Fabula. I've never been a sports person!!! One moment gave me energy to go on in that furnace. It was the time I reached the corner where schoolkids had been bused in to come and support the national team. They went nuts with excitement!
We did it. In typical Zimbo never say die, I'd made a plan. Squeezed water out of rocks and was getting congratulated from all over. People i'd pitched on the idea rung me up and just poured their amazement (and amusement) at how I'd pulled it off. An email arrived from my suppliers; they'd never believed me until they so it on SuperSport.
The next few months and year after was a horror movie. Heavily in debt and betrayed by a system I'd trusted. It emerged that tournament funds were caught up in that corrupt entanglement that's destroying our nation and continent. I have never been as depressed and hopeless in my life as I became during those days. Punished for serving my nation. Fat cats would congratulate and acknowledge the work I'd done. Nothing ever came of it as I was told that young people like me with no "big people" behind them were firewood.
It's been a few years now. Those formative days define who I am today and even our current company could never have been without the Fabula awakening. Having said this, I will never forget the lesson of injustice and DISEMPOWERMENT grown men taught me. Did someone pocket the $20 000 this kid was calling his little big break? We may never know.
What I do know is that hundreds of thousands of people in our nation have been robbed of their hopes and dreams:
- A nation with huge mineral deposits (the biggest diamond find in recent times), parceled out to party loyalists then an announcement is made that $15bn is missing in diamond revenue.
- Pensioners saving wiped out by mismanagement
- Being told about western sponsored sanctions as an answer to every question.
- Failure to meet regional integration obligations by imposing silly restrictions when everyone knows what the real problem is.
- Being told to "respect your elders" when legitimate questions are raised. Said elder is older than 99% of the world
- A mining minister that buys banks and half of towns as said diamond industry takes off. Then gets reassigned when corruption allegations surface
- Taxpayer money is used to take someone to Singapore to give birth while the masses have to do with public hospitals. Said public hospitals just happen to be short on drugs and are run by staff who are underpaid if paid at all.
- Human capital running enterprises across Africa, pushed away by the hardships at home.
- Youths with degrees resort to selling mobile credit on the streets. Either that or sit at home, all this while the ruling party's manifesto gushes on about 2 million jobs? WHERE ARE THE JOBS?
- A nation miraculously still holding onto title of Africa's highest literacy rate yet prioritises paying "enforcement" before it's reputed teachers?
- Corruption scandal after corruption scandal.
Zimbabwe was and can be a great nation again. We have the right to not only dream, but also to pursue those dreams. We all deserve to live normal lives, not just the corrupt elites who continue to thrive while everyone else is wallowing in poverty. We should be able to stand on our own and not be at the mercy or pity of outsiders.