INTERVIEW: VANESSA GONYE
ON March 1, Nyaradzo Funeral Assurance Company attained its 18th year in business, celebrating a milestone of quality and improved service to Zimbabwe and the region.
NewsDay (ND) reporter Vanessa Gonye spoke to Nyaradzo group chief executive officer, Philip Mataranyika (PM) to reflect on achievements as well as controversies surrounding his company; the latest being the Oliver Mtukudzi funeral, among other services he provided.
ND: Congratulations on turning 18. Please take us through the journey.
PM: Thank you. On March 1, 2001, with only 10 of us, we followed our dreams and opened our hearts and doors to the public as Nyaradzo Funeral Assurance Company. A few years later in 2003, Eureka Insurance Brokers was born.
Old Mutual, where I had worked for 15 years, were generous to provide us with office accommodation on the ninth and tenth floor of one of their prestigious properties in Harare. Eighteen years later, we have grown into a sizeable organisation with a staff complement of over 1 500 and more than 42 service centres and branches countrywide, many of which we built from the ground. We now have a regional presence in Randburg, South Africa and soon we will have a global presence in England.
ND: What inspired you to start the company?
PM: Growing up, I remember attending funerals and at almost every one, relatives would struggle with transport to and from the burial site, which was often in the rural areas. When I started working in the insurance industry, listening to clients repeating the same issues brought me to the realisation that lack of adequate transportation was a constant challenge faced by many of my fellow brothers and sisters, and so I decided to come up with a solution that would transform funerals.
ND: How did you come up with the name?
PM: Understanding and respecting our traditions as Africans led us to name the business Nyaradzo. We chose to not only to be different, but to be true to our identity and African-ness. Eighteen years later, our name is our biggest asset.
Despite some early criticism and discomfort, we stuck to our guns and continued with our name. With time the name Nyaradzo resonated with our clients as it means comfort and peace, as well as referring to the memorial service after a burial where family and friends gather to comfort each other and celebrate a life well lived.
ND: You are well known for your humility and kindness, is it because of your company’s traditional footing or it’s a personal trait?
PM: I can say it is something from within. I have also employed the trait in operating the business. I can easily take up assignments meant for any level of the business and still do it as if I were doing it for my employer.
We are a team – you can equate my character with the army where army generals lead from the front. Every position in the company is important; if the CEO can do the rest of the jobs, then it becomes clearer and easier to do. It is something that has helped us to extend quality services to our customers.
ND: You recently sparked controversy when you personally drove and offered services at the late music icon and national hero, Oliver Mtukudzi’s funeral, with some accusing you of wanting to steal the limelight. How can you explain your actions?
PM: It was Maiguru Daisy [the late Mtukudzi’s wife] and the Mtukudzi family that chose Willowvale service centre as the venue of his chapel service ahead of our Hebert Chitepo Avenue branch due to its location, a stone’s throw away from Highfield where he was born and bred.
Thirty-nine years after our independence, in his death, Mukoma Tuku becomes the first national hero to be laid to rest with full services provided by Nyaradzo Funeral Services. Given the many years of our friendship and brotherhood in which I was privileged to tap into his wisdom, inspiration and rare talent, I could not delegate the undertaking duties to our staff. For me personally, it was time to honour another of the unwritten contracts between brothers.
Tuku had a unique relationship with Nyaradzo, built on our firm foundation of friendship, brotherly love and mutual respect dating back to our days as boys dzeku Fiyo. I have done this countless times, though. Some notable funerals where I personally offered services include Tobias Musariri, Paul Chingoka and Charles Mungoshi, among others. Even to date, I still go to our 120 Herbert Chitepo branch and they give me overnight assignments in any part of the country.
ND: Following government’s call on citizens to consider cremation as the country is running out of burial space, do you have plans to establish crematoriums and policies to cater for that?
PM: We are currently working on our own cemetery and crematorium in Chishawasha. I believe it [cremation] is something that has to be embraced with time as space is quickly running out. Although there is a religious undertone that specified religions base on cremation, we have to take the route of countries like India, Japan, China and others.
I believe that Zimbabweans will embrace cremation with time, just like when we started; people were reluctant and were opting to stick to their beliefs at the expense of the funeral policies. Several years down the line, the number of policyholders is overwhelming, with time, they embraced the idea. This is the same with cremation, people may be reluctant at first, but with time they will embrace it.
On policies, when we have completed work on the crematorium, we will certainly introduce policies linked to cremation, but at the moment, we are offering the service per request to those who are comfortable with it.
ND: You are active in environmental issues; please give an insight into the Friends of the Environment initiative?
PM: Friends of the Environment is our attempt to try and reverse the effects of environmental degradation. Several nurseries have been enlisted around the country for this initiative where we have a target of planting 500 million trees by the year 2026 and we are currently at 25 million.
ND: Nyaradzo has several subsidiary companies and widened service offerings, how many are they and what are their roles in the broader image of the company?
PM: We have three subsidiary companies namely, Calundike Exports, Eureka and Nyaradzo, which is divided into two, that is, services, which also focuses on events among other things and assurance which deals with coffins and caskets.
The Nyaradzo brand continues to grow within and beyond our borders and more services are on the cards.
For those of our compatriots in the diaspora, Sahwira international plan (SIP) is what you need. With SIP, we provide your repatriation cover in the event of death. In addition, we provide you with two air tickets, a double cab vehicle and an apartment both of which are for seven days.
Through Calundike Exports, we manufacture high-quality coffins and caskets. We also manufacture customised office and household furniture.
To provide a one-stop shop events management solution, we are building an events management and lifestyle hub, which will be home to our equipment. Our resident team of specialist consultants will make it possible for our customers to design their dream events.
In the Sahwira Events and Lifestyle stable, we have houseboats on Lake Kariba for the comfort and leisure of our customers.
We are in the process of finalising our outdoor camping beds and tents package. Soon, our clients will be able to add these to their policies, enabling friends and relatives to experience comfortable sleeping arrangements at big family gatherings.
As a brand that is rooted in innovation, we have several other exciting projects that are in the pipeline. In good time, our clients will get to know what it is that is keeping us awake at night. They must, however, rest assured knowing that, Sahwira Mukuru always listens and will continue to work on products and services that best cater to their needs.