‘We need men who build Africa’

TINASHE MAKICHI

Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) executive chairman Donovan Chimhandamba has been captivated by a book: The Men Who Built America and believes Africa also needs its men to replicate the works of a few individuals credited for building the world’s biggest economy.

“You have to admire how four to six men made what America is today. You have to be inspired by the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt (rail), John D Rockefeller (Standard Oil), Andrew Carnegie (steel), JP Morgan (investment banking and General Electric), and Henry Ford (commoditised the passenger vehicle). 

We surely need our own “Men Who Built Africa” and the Dangotes and Phutuma Nhlekos to mention a few are leading the way,” Chimhandamba told Business Times this week.

The executive lists his grandfather and a South African diplomat for playing a big part in his life.

The grandfather worked for rail parastatal, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ). Some years later, DIDG’s plans modernise the parastatal in a US$400m deal was derailed and they are pursuing legal actions with the aim to come to an amicable solution with NRZ, he said.

 The failure of the deal is a blot on his curriculum vitae.

“…My biggest disappointment has been around the politics affecting a clearly laid-out plan for Zimbabwe’s railway rehabilitation letting factors outside my control derailing the project,” Chimhandamba said.

DIDG remains optimistic that there will be a resolution within the “interest of our country Zimbabwe that will enable us to get NRZ back on its rail sooner than later and avoid being left behind by the region as they aggressively pursue by pass options”.

“Zimbabwe is the capital of the Southern region and we must leverage our geographic position and not sit idle while we lose our strategic advantage,” the executive said.

The South African diplomat, now posted in a South American country, has been a big influence on the executive and “continues to be a wise counsel when the youth in me gets the best in me”.

Chimhandamba is also CEO of Nyanza Light Metals which focuses on manufacturing of titanium dioxide pigment.

The titanium pigment manufacturing project is valued at US$350m. It employs 50 directly and 200 indirectly. The figures will grow to 1,200 for a period of 24 months and once fully commissioned directly will be over 550, he said.

Nyanza Light Metals is a manufacturer of titanium dioxide pigment and other co-products such as gypsum, aluminium and ferrous sulphate.

Its manufacturing operations are in the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone, KwaZulu-Natal Province. It will produce 80,000 tons per annum of titanium dioxide pigment which is used in paints and plastics, cosmetics, inks, dyes and a whole range of other everyday products.

This project excites Chimhandamba as there is an opportunity for Nyanza to become the leading force for titanium mineral beneficiation.

Nyanza has started construction and over the next 30 to 36 months it will be a massive construction site, Chimhandamba said, adding that different plant sections would be commissioned in phases.

The company has no competition in South Africa and the continent.

“We will be the only producer on the continent and using modern technology and manufacturing best practices.

We will be one of the low cost producers of titanium dioxide pigment. This is so because we are physically next to the titanium mines, and the only plant that will be able to blend various qualities of raw materials,” he said.

Chimhandamba said Nyanza stands well to become the leading African supplier of pigment with the opening up of the continent the African Continental Free Trade Area.

He said DIDG has turned its attention on the “infrastructure-related opportunities on projects we are leading”.

“For example, Nyanza needs independent suppliers of Utilities and Infrastructure services for things like water, solar energy, steam, rail and material handling services.

We have taken a conscious decision to use the capacity in DIDG to develop these utility and infrastructure requirements for project we lead,” Chimhandamba said.

Born in Chikangwe Township in Karoi, Chimhandamba attended schools in Mashonaland West, Masvingo and the Midlands provinces. He proceeded to the National University of Science and Technology where he graduated with an Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering degree.

He holds an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science, an affiliate of the University of Pretoria.

Chimhandamba’s parents are late and he was raised in Zimuto by grandparents and in between parents, siblings and cousins.

The executive describes his career path as a journey laden with success.

“I am proud to say that I now command more than 18 years of professional experience at senior levels in blue chip companies. I started my career as an industrial and manufacturing engineer at Engen Petroleum Refinery in Durban, and progressed to occupy senior management roles that included roles as operations engineer, production manager, general manager and business development director,” Chimhandamba said.

The trailblazing executive also boasts of experience in investment banking, private equity, and project finance.

“Due to my passion to be involved in building industrial projects, with my engineering and manufacturing experience, coupled with my experience in investment banking, private equity and project finance, I started Arkein Capital Partners with Anglo America’s Sishen Iron Ore Development Company in 2011 as a fund manager,” he said.

“Through Arkein Capital, over and above the mergers and acquisitions transactions, we have managed the Anglo American community Trust which had assets worth over US$1bn and also set up a healthcare fund now listed on Johannesburg Stock Exchange and has raised more than US$200m.”

African countries have been on a crusade to lure investors. Zimbabwe has not been left behind with President Emmerson Mnangagwa propounding the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra. This has seen his administration creating the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency to speed up the approval process. Chimhandamba said investors want security of contracts and contract law to prevail beyond any political interference.

“Long term money needs to know that contracts are honoured and not abruptly terminated by individuals who might have own interest. A country can only be built using long term money and long term money needs to know that it can be deployed and recouped without interference,” said  the executive who co-founded DIDG in 2016.

As an African entrepreneur he hopes that “the political economy and governance improve in Africa to allow and propel for more African entrepreneurship”.

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