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How Econet Boss, Strive Masiyiwa Transformed the Face of African Telecommunications Industry.


Strive! Strive! strive!

This is a story of a man’s struggle, resilience, hope, total dependence on God and ultimate breakthrough.

Indeed, there is a great deal in a name, which is why Strive Masiyiwa remains an African wonder and a testimony of God’s faithfulness to mankind.  The antecedents of his birth are a lot similar to those of his peers born in Rhodesia at the time,  but time and purpose distinguished little Masiyiwa from his peers.

He was only four when his family fled to Kitwe in Zambia, away from the conflicts that were threatening to crumple Rhodesia at the time.  Shortly after that, Strive was sent to Edinburgh boarding school for his primary education.

He returned to Africa ten years later, 1978 precisely to join the guerilla fight for independence, but a cousin in the army at the time informed him that independence was nearly won.

Just then an opportunity presented itself and young Masiyiwa grabbed it and proceeded to the University of Wales, where he earned a degree in engineering. He returned in 1984 and worked briefly for the government telecom company, before destiny called out to him. After borrowing the equivalent of $75, he started a construction business. To a great degree, this prepared him for the big deal.

The mid nineties was a very pivotal time for Strive. That was the period the young man made history in Africa and beyond. The events of the time can best be termed a mysterious trajectory.

Driven by purpose, Strive offered to develop a cell phone network in collaboration with the state telecom company, but the Mugabe-controlled government rejected his offer, claiming it had a monopoly.

Indeed, Strive Masiyiwa saw something that even his government could not see which was why the government’s refusal to him, “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!” –His words exactly.

“In the early nineties I argued to anyone who would listen that cellphones could go to mass communication, but even some of the industry’s best people couldn’t see it,” he says.

Never one to flinch or cower in the face of disappointments, strive sued in 1994 and that was when the all-time convoluted battle began. The matter went on for five years, and at some point, the Supreme Court gave a ruling against Econet; clearly leaving no room for further appeal.

“It was a five-year legal battle,” Masiyiwa recalls in his testimony.

“It was intense and I became persona non grata. I couldn’t even be quoted. I once told Winnie Mandela you weren’t the only one who couldn’t be quoted.”


Now with his back against the wall, strive knew at the point that he had used up his options and that the only way out would be to turn to God and hope for a miracle.

It was time for him to heed his wife’s advice. His wife had been urging him to come to church for years, but each time, he resisted.

After the Supreme Court defeat, strive took up his normal Sunday routine, which was to drop his wife off at the church premises, but for some reason, that Sunday was different. He dropped his wife off and then drove around aimlessly; broken and weak, he decided to return;

“I sat at the back, by myself. My wife did not know I returned,” he recounts

“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.”

Masiyiwa was soon a changed man with an unwavering faith in God. Years later, his resilience paid off and he won the matter in court.

The story, in his words will make you see life differently;

“You probably heard about the long legal battle that Econet fought in Zimbabwe for the first licence. It came when I was a baby Christian. You must not be a baby Christian all your life. Sadly, some people remain baby Christians,” he said in a recorded testimony to a packed congregation in South Africa. As was published by Daily News.

“I remember going to see a very senior advocate in Zimbabwe after the government turned down our application for a licence and somebody had drawn my attention to the provision in the Constitution under what is called ‘freedom of expression’.” He continues,

The clause says: “Every man has a right to receive and impart information without hindrance.” A middle clause in the Constitution.

“I went to see the senior advocate. He read it and he said to me, ‘yes, I think you will win. But I think it will be easier for you to go and steal a tank and drive it into the centre of the city because the reaction of the government to what you are thinking of doing is the same reaction they will have if someone stole a tank and drove it into (Africa) Unity Square.”

“I thanked him. I had been saved a couple of months earlier and encouraged by the lawyer I was consulting in the States who didn’t understand these things.”

Although the senior advocate was not confident he would win the legal battle, he insisted that Strive prepares court papers for the application.

Strive Masiyiwa

“We prepared our papers for the constitutional challenge to the right of government to be the only one to operate a telephone company,” Masiyiwa said.

“When the papers were ready, I sat on them for about six months until the year came to an end. And still the lawyers were waiting for an instruction from me to file them. After the service, I stood outside and a friend of mine, his wife came up to me and said ‘what are you up to, my husband never slept last night, the Lord kept waking him up and saying ‘go tell Strive do it.’ So I filed the papers. To find out what happened, I think you should just have to visit our websites or all the newspapers. It ended up even in the Parliament of Denmark.” Well, I guess that’s his way of saying that the rest is history.

Econet has since grown into a massive establishment. The company generates revenue of more than $300 million annually, making it one of Africa’s five largest telecom companies.

The company’s operation includes cellular and fixed-line businesses in Zimbabwe, Malta, Lesotho and Botswana. It owns the leading VSAT business in Morocco and an Internet video and audio streaming business servicing 60 radio stations in the United States and Africa. Econet also boasts of over eight million cellphone subscribers, or 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s market share, controls banks, and insurance companies.

The company also owns a 3G license in Australia. In New Zealand Econet will soon launch that country’s third GSM network; and Britain, where Masiyiwa is targeting the major market of African expatriates.

The business mogul has won numerous national and international honors, In 1990 he was the youngest ever recipient of Zimbabwe’s coveted Businessman of the Year Award; in 1998 he was named his countries Manager of the Year as well as Entrepreneur of the Year.

He was recently named by Junior Chamber International (JCI) as one of the “Ten Most Outstanding Young Persons of the World” for 1999. In 2002 he was named to Time Magazine’s Global Business Influential List.

He is also called the Bill Gates of Africa, on account of his business and entrepreneurial expertise.

Amongst his other business leadership achievements Strive was a member of the coordinating committee which set up the Social Dimensions Fund (SDF), an initiative to alleviate the impact of poverty arising during the implementation of economic reforms in Zimbabwe. He was also a founding member of the African Latin American Institute at Punta Del Este in Uruguay in 1994. An institute which promotes cultural, educational and business linkages between Southern Africa and the Mercusior region of Latin America.

Strive Masiyiwa

Strive has served on numerous boards and trusts both locally and internationally. In 1995, he was appointed by American President Bill Clinton to a Board Member of the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund (SAEDF) which is chaired by Ambassador Andrew Young.

He is currently also a member of The Be Investment Corporation of South Africa, an empowerment company that was set up by the Mbabatho Trust of the ANC.

Despite his numerous commitments, The Econet boss still dedicates an hour every morning to studying his bible. For him, that’s the surest way to face each day. He attributes his success in life to his faith in God.

He has served on the boards of such international development agencies as the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation. .  He is also a trustee of the Capernaum Trust, which provides funding and welfare for over 26 000 children.

The philanthropist and his wife Tsitsi also founded and funded a charitable trust that had provided scholarships for more than five thousand AIDS orphans as of 2003.
Masiyiwa also became the largest shareholder in Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), publishers of the Daily News, the country’s largest-selling newspaper.

Mugabe’s government banned the publication in 2003 but it has since been relaunched after the advent of the unity government. Strive Masiyiwa is indeed an African wonder.

He currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with his wife, Tsitsi, and six children.

Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor is a Journalist/Writer, Poet, Lawyer and God-Lover. She enjoys a good read and sees everyday as an opportunity to live and enjoy her calling whilst working towards perfecting it. She believes that someday soon, Africa will reach her full potential as the light-bearer of the world. You can find her on Twitter: @lovelyn_o

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