I WAS on business in London, when I got a call from a senior Zimbabwe government official. He simply asked me where I was staying, then he asked me to wait for him, and he arrived within minutes.
“The President (Robert Mugabe) wants to see you. He is passing through London. We will pick you up.”
It was not the first time, I had met him, but I had never been summoned to see him on my own.
I was only about 32 years old.
I met him in his hotel suite. He had no one else with him, and he was wearing bedroom slippers.
It was the most relaxed I had ever seen the guy.
He had no particular agenda and he moved through many topics.
He even asked me what I liked to read. When I told him, he asked why I did not read politics, to which I said:
“I want to be a global businessman, Sir, so I read about business, and economics mostly.”
He laughed as though the concept did not really mean much to him. Still he suggested books I might want to read.
I could not do the same. I just copied the titles, and read them just in case he ever raised them again.
I was glad he never did!
He asked me about a lot of things that I did in my day-to-day work, and even asked my opinion on a number of economic issues.
Sometimes he would say “really?”.
When allowed to speak, I told him to trust entrepreneurs to help him create jobs in the country.
“Small businesses like mine create jobs.”
I did not speak about people, or voice my opinion on anything political.
“You know some of my ministers don’t like you?”
He said at one point: “Avoid giving advice in public on the economy, because they think you are trying to expose them.”
It was my turn to exclaim “Really?!”
Then he added: “There are some who really like you though, like Bernard Chidzero (then his Finance minister). When you have some of your bright (youthful) ideas tell him, and he will no doubt share anything interesting with me.”
“Even some of the businessmen that you hang around with, many of them hate you.”
He said chuckling: “They all come to me, hinting things about you, but I know it’s just jealousy.
“You unsettle them, so just be careful how you deal with people. Don’t be so trusting.”
Finally he said to me: “Don’t let anyone know about our meeting. We will talk again sometime.”
Two years later, our relationship crashed completely because of a campaign by some of the people he had warned me against.
They told him I was an “economic saboteur working for foreign interests”, while others said I wanted to take over from him.
He never called me, and I never reached out to him.
I kept my distance and left the country eventually.
The irony of it never passed my notice.
Two decades would pass before he would reach out again, but by then too much water had passed under the bridge.
He sent someone to tell me that he was sorry for what had happened, and wished he had done something to stop the attacks that led to my departure.
We did not meet even though he offered the opportunity, this time in New York.
He had a good memory because his emissary said that he wanted me to know that he remembered that I had once told him, I wanted to be a global business leader.
Adding that he was quite impressed that I had pursued my dream despite the attempts by others to detract me.
- Strive Masiyiwa is Zimbabwean billionaire businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder and executive chairman of the international technology group Econet Global.