Prominent businessman Donovan Chimhandamba has spoken about how losing his parents at a very young age shaped him to be a trailblazer in the corporate world.
Chimhandamba (DC), who is CEO of Nyanza Light Metals and founder of the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that growing up as an orphan toughened him.
He spoke at length about how losing both parents aged 10 influenced his outlook in life and how he rose to build a business empire.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Donovan welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.
DC: It is a pleasure to be here Trevor.
TN: Delighted that you are able to join us.
- Donovan your life; I wanted to start at the beginning, but before going to the beginning I want us to take a helicopter view of where you are right now.
- I want you just in as succinctly as possible to tell us about these companies that I am going to run through: You are founder and CEO of Nyanza Light Metals, founded in 2011, and you hold that position right now.
- Tell us briefly what Nyanza does?
DC: Well Nyanza is a manifestation of our ambitions.
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What we have said to ourselves is that Africa predominantly just mines and exports minerals, but there is no one actually taking the industrialisation effort to say 'what can we do to do value addition'?
So, Nyanza is basically that, and what we are doing is taking a heavy mineral sense, particularly or specifically titanium, and taking that up the value curve and processing ulminite and making what we call titanium dioxide pigment.
So, a pigment is what is used to make a paint; industrial coating.
So whenever you paint your house, when you touch your car, the paint on the car when you look at toothpaste to make it white, when you look at even sunscreen for when you play golf, that is titanium dioxide pigment, right.
TN: So that is Nyanza Light Metals. Then you also, in 2016 founded the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group.
Again, as succinctly as possible, what is that all about?
DC: Well we thought we are in the diaspora, and we have capacity to leverage on our own networks, both as individuals but also with institutions.
So, ideally what we wanted to do was to focus on infrastructure development, and one of the first projects that we worked on and sadly did not make progress, was the National Railways of Zimbabwe.
In a nutshell it is there to effectively do infrastructure development.
TN: Fantastic. And then the last one, I have a problem pronouncing it, what is it? How do you pronounce it?
DC: Arkein Capital.
TN: You are also founder and chief executive officer of Arkein Capital from 2011 and it is a position that you hold right now. What is Arkein Capital all about?
DC: It is a private equity fund.
So, we started that fund ourselves.
Initially we had Anglo-America in it, they used to own 26% through a community development trust.
The focus there was for us to seed projects like Nyanza, like DIDG, and that is what it is.
It is an investment holding company that drives all these projects.
TN: Fantastic. So we have done this helicopter view, but I want us to go to your beginnings, because I think your beginnings have amazing lessons for a lot of people out there.
- You have been able to achieve all this much, having lost your father at nine-years-old and your mother when you were 10- years-old.
- Talk to me about that beginning?
DC: I think only now when I look at it, I see some of the, maybe, positives that I drew out of that.
You know at that tender age or young age it is very difficult to understand where you will end up at, but being a first born, you have no choice.
I do not think I had any choice to try and dither around and cry myself to failure.
So it was a difficult period, my father succumbed to cerebral malaria and as we were relocated from Mhangura Copper Mine where he was a production superintendent my mother then had a car accident, which was unfortunate, and we relocated from Mhangura to Harare.
Instead of going to Harare we ended up in Masvingo.
One of the things that probably we were blessed with, and we only started to understand it today, is that you know family systems are very important.
From my father's side all the other siblings were still alive, the firstborn in the family was still alive, (my dad) was the last born in his family.
Between them they took responsibilities to take care of us.
Back then it was tough, we were four children, and they had their own families, in some families they had eight kids, so you can imagine adding our own burden on those families as well.
In the long run we ended up settling with our grandparents in rural Zimuto, and while at the time it seemed like we had been, you know, sort of like relegated into...
TN: Back of beyond?
DC: Back of beyond in rural Zimuto, herding cattle, we learnt a lot of things that today actually probably guide how I approached life.
With my grandparents we learnt the community aspect that one cannot be full when the other is hungry, we move as a group, you do not move as an individual.
And that material things in life sometimes probably are distractions to your ability to actually see beyond.
Having been born, well kind of okay, and then all of a sudden in the abyss of life you appreciate that material things are just material, they can just vanish overnight.
So those things probably later on in life, even when I was faced with hardships, I was able to push aside some of the things that people today might think are hard, but they are tougher things in life than just lack of material things sometimes.
We learnt quite a lot from my grandparents, and my grandfather funnily enough, he worked at NRZ, and he always used to joke that I used to share a bed with him when he was much older and he would say do not worry muzukuru (grandson) because he could see I as thinking about why I was less fortunate while others were in Harare.
He would say do not worry grandson your time will come, just focus on your books.
I managed to get some distinctions at ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level, you know operating from there.
My mother's side also was fantastic, everyone tried to chip in where they could, and like with all families you will have some squabbles here and there, and you think maybe they are doing certain things because you are an orphan.
But then later on, like now when I reflect, I realise that they did more than what possibly I can do today for somebody in my situation then.
TN: There are certain instances, you have got three siblings? Where are they now? What are they doing?
DC: Two of them are here in South Africa.
DC: One works with me, the other one has got her own little business she runs, the other one also works in marketing. She is married and she is in Zimbabwe.
DC: So everyone is sort of like kind of found their way.
TN: The point I was trying to make is there are people who walk around blaming their past for where they are.
- People walk around with crutches of 'I do not have a father, I am an orphan, I am not educated, this is where I am'.
- With your experience, what is your response to that kind of attitude?
DC: It is a very sad situation, and I can actually speak to my own siblings when it comes to that because it took them quite a long time to get out of that. You know sort of like crutch, or everything almost was like because we are orphans.
My advantage was that I was the first-born so I did not have any choice or option to actually worry about those things.
But it took a toll on my siblings.
I think to some extent they never reached their full potential because they spent quite a lot of time crying or in that space.
What I can say to people in a very bad space or in a dark space is that you have to find a mechanism to stop asking yourself questions about the dark space, you have got to find yourself immersed in the future, in what you aspire to be, and if you can sort of like have your mind 90% of the time just talking about what you want to be instead of the misgivings or the misfortunes that you are facing, because you end up being a result of what you think, what you think is what you become.
TN: So, how have you dealt with that yourself because you have a double burden in a way?
- You have to lead yourself in that space to try and avoid going to those dark places?
- You have to provide support for your siblings not to go to those dark places?
- How do you deal with that double challenge yourself?
- How have you been able to do that? What advice would you give to people out there?
DC: I have not been perfect Trevor, it is very hard and it is almost like you construct solutions on the go and they evolve as you engage with the situation.
So, having lost parents, it is probably one of the worst things that can ever happen to anyone, but then the sad part that comes with that, or the unfortunate part that comes with that, is your ability to empathise, sometimes it becomes very difficult.
So when people come to you with the problem you look at it and you say come on...
TN: Are you serious...
DC: There is worse than this, you cannot really come to me crying about this.
But the reality of the world is that everyone has challenges in different ways, so when I was dealing with such issues, especially with my siblings, I probably took a very hard road on them and maybe I was of not much help to them because I kept on saying stop being a sissy, you know, let us get on and move instead of spending more time empathising and understanding exactly what they were going through and trying to hold their hands.
But then eventually as you grow, it comes around and you soften a little bit, but it is on the go.
TN: Wow. So you are talking to somebody who lost, I lost my mom and my dad three years ago through Covid, and here is the difference between you and I.
I lived with them for 45 to 50 years. You did not have that opportunity? Speak to me about that space?
DC: I was nine-years-old when I lost my dad, and I have got a few memories, well it is quite a bit, but I have got a few memories.
My younger sister was one year old and has no memory at all of them.
When we lost our mother, she was two-years-old.
You hold on to the few memories that you have.
But then if I look at you, your story when you say at least you lived quite a bit of your life with your parents, it is still sad to lose parents and I think it is even worse when you have so many memories because your life is actually almost entangled.
Your life has been built up around having your family around. So, I think you cannot say because we were younger it is different.
In fact, you might have more painful feelings because you have more memories than we have.
- “In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. The conversations are broadcast to you by Heart and Soul Broadcasting Services. The conversations are sponsored by WestProp Holdings.