Zimbabwe Independent Business Editor Chris Muronzi (CM) this week caught up with former African Sun chief executive Shingi Munyeza (SM) at his Sam Levy’s Village offices in Harare. He spoke about his exit from the hotel group and the need for leadership renewal in all facets of society to rescue the country from the doldrums. Below are excerpts:
CM: The reason why I am here is to basically touch base with you and update our readers on your path after you left African Sun. What are you up to now?
SM: It has been two years since I left African Sun. Time flies. When I left African Sun, there were a few things that needed my attention and time. First of all, there was my office and leadership in church which needed time and I think that takes about 70% of time. I am also the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and senior pastor at Faith Ministries. On the business side, being an entrepreneur I was opening up food franchises such as Mug & Bean, Ocean Basket, Panarottis, Newscafe, among others in the country. This is a journey I had started. That became a focus for me to open up a few outlets.
CM: How has that been going for you?
SM: It started off very well. Obviously 2013, 2014, and 2015 were very good years for the business. In 2016, because of the financial challenges, the economic decline and also the problems of liquidity challenges and the economy forced the consumer to be more restrained in their spending patterns. What I have are casual dining restaurants and so they do have a niche and in some instances it is not a necessity, but it is very resilient. We have had a come down of 20% in volumes. In some cases, it has gone to as much as 35% in some of our brands. It has been tough. Also the macro-economic environment, the cost structures, rental costs and labour costs have not been merciful at all. We have had to adjust and renegotiate on rentals to stay afloat.
CM: Do you look back sometimes and say that African Sun was a good asset? Did you get a good deal out of the sale of your African Sun investment?
SM: Definitely, I think it was a good time to sell for me. It was the right time to move on. I do not think it was just an issue of selling and investment. It was also about moving on. One sometimes has to look back and say I have done my best and allow for new leadership to take control and move the company forward. It may be a direction I agree with or may not, but the fact that the asset is still there and that there will be people looking at it to unlock value is a source of comfort.
I have no regrets at all and the value I got for it was not disappointing at all because times were bad and I suppose that was a good deal. One obviously wants more and naturally people have a tendency to wait for better prices. In our environment, the longer you wait, the more you stand to lose value in some cases. I believe that after one has left, like I did, a company or an organisation must have a life of its own after you are gone. It is a good thing because one needs to go back and say I allowed that to happen.
CM: You have been vocal on the political scene. What do you think needs to happen on the political front?
SM: Well, first of all, there is need for a paradigm shift that has to happen. I think we have been around this mountain for too long and our people are suffering. It is not just a political thing, it is a common man’s cry and we are in bad shape. At the moment, one cannot tell how we intend to resolve or solve our current crisis and how we are going to solve the problems.
Therefore, there is need for various things to be done.
Firstly, we need a paradigm shift in our thinking. Secondly, there is need for renewal at all levels. People need to see a change in our behaviours. A change in how we do things.
There is need to change as a people and heal as a people. We are very much toxic towards one another and very much anti one another. We need to build one another and we tend to fight more than we build.
We need the decency to engage one another constructively and need to find a Zimbabwe we want, which I think will then give us an impetus to engage one another with the decency we deserve and in a constructive manner. At the moment, we do not have this. We need to form a rallying point.
CM: You spoke of renewal. Can you be specific?
SM: We have been talking about my leaving African Sun. This, for me, is part of the renewal issue. I had to leave so that new leadership comes in. The initial renewal is a mind shift thing.
When we start seeing things differently, it is easier to make practical changes. Then it becomes a change of guard and leadership. If we can see things differently, then there is a renewal that can happen. We need new leadership at a church level, a national level, civil society level and the private sector level.
Political parties have to embrace new leadership and I mean all of them. We need to change leadership.
CM: So for you it is not about Zanu PF or MDC or some other party?
SM: It is easy for the common man to point at the political leaders. But I believe one should look at what is happening elsewhere.
It is the same spirit elsewhere, everybody wants to hold on. There is a sense of entitlement which speaks to the problem of “until I get what I think I deserve, I will not go anywhere.”
This kind of mentality is entrenched and I feel that is what is stifling development and growth. Now, we have burgeoning youths who are becoming restive. If we do not move to empower, instill some sort of empowerment in them and bring them to a place of responsibility, we are heading for a major crisis.
For instance, when I was 28, I already had my own house because there were mortgages. Today, a 28-year-old has no mortgage. What can he/she do? I did not even have a degree when I got the house yet. But most of the young people now are educated with degrees.
I was finishing my degree with Unisa for instance when I got my first house. Some of them have degrees and some of them have masters now. What do they do next? There is a real problem.
If we do not address what the young people want and deal with their cries and aspirations, we will have the old folk aging in a very difficult environment. And we need the older folk to rest and know that they have left behind a good leadership in the hands of the young generation.
CM: What are you doing as the church to ensure there is leadership renewal?
SM: We are talking about it openly in the church now. Just how the pastor succeeds another pastor. How does a bishop prepare their young ones to succeed them? We need to talk about succession. Basically, this entails engaging at that to say who succeeds the bishop and I know how the bishop handles succession when he is gone.
We have started talking about it openly. I believe that if we openly discuss this, then we can start making progress as a people.
Our view is that we must start talking and discussing renewal openly at all levels, church, civil society, national and political. I believe only after addressing this, we will not have these suspicions and the witch-hunts and this toxic language that we have. The single biggest problem that has brought the country to a standstill is definitely succession and leadership renewal.
CM: I realised that the Ocean Basket in Avondale is closed.
SM: It is part of the creative destruction process. We are opening three more outlets in Westgate. The rentals at Avondale were just not cutting it because rentals were too high. We have seven operational ones.
CM: How many outlets do you have in the country?
SM: We have seven. We have two Newscafe’s and two Mug & Beans, one Simply Asia, one Ocean Basket and one Smooch. If we add three more on the way, we will be at 10.