GROWING up in Harare’s high-density suburb of Warren Park, young Tatenda Mungofa would see oil leaks, engines and car fumes daily.
His father was a respected mechanic and, as fate would have it, Mungofa (32) developed a passion for the automotive industry.
His is a story of an ordinary Zimbabwean who defied all odds and dared to believe in his dreams. Mungofa founded Mureza, a car-manufacturing company whose first model, the Prim8, has just been launched.
The journey has been bumpy.
The South African-based Zimbabwean’s company has become Africa’s first black-owned car manufacturer after overcoming challenges in securing a manufacturing licence as well as in gaining acceptance from sceptical people.
Mureza Auto Co has rolled out its first 100 vehicles into the market with a pre-order facility available for buyers in South Africa and Zimbabwe, starting this week.
Mungofa hit the headlines in November 2020 when he promised to launch the first car in two months. However, the company has rolled out its first car on 14 July due to challenges in clinching the licence.
“At the time of that announcement, there was hope that the process would be swift.
The reality however showed us that we needed to re-adjust our timelines and focus on the process to ensure success.
This meant we had to re-do a lot of things to align to the safety and quality standards that come with licensing,” Mungofa said.
Besides the licensing hiccup, Mungofa said he also faced resistance from car suppliers and other local people who had trouble accepting a car brand from one of their own.
“Acceptance is the major challenge which we deal with on a regular basis. When we create a design for a car and approach component suppliers to make for us, they usually just look the other way and think we are not serious. Another group that has trouble accepting what we are working to achieve with our vision is some of our local people. It has taken time for them to warm up to us as a brand,’’ he said.
“People have doubts and problems accepting that something big can come out from scratch and worse coming from someone they don’t expect because there are usually comparisons with other companies that have done well and usually non-African companies.”
“On the other hand, the benchmark has been set high and we are usually compared with other brands that have been in existence for over 100 years. The expectation from officials processing paperwork, a fund manager you are lobbying for investment or a potential client – they mostly think Mureza should start with a high production capacity and have a five-model line-up”.
Nyasha Kaseke, an independent economist, said the reason why people are often reluctant to accept local products is due to perceptions and uncertainties over back-up and quality.
“People prefer to have brands that are actually more common for issues to do with spare parts and reputation,” Kaseke said.
Mungofa also said Covid-19 has also played its part because most government departments are under lockdown, making physical inspections, for instance, difficult. However, this has not stopped him from fulfilling his dream.
“It is the nature of an entrepreneur to face the likes of Covid-19 with a positive attitude. While the environment is very unpredictable and there is great risk and delays owing to the lockdowns, we decided to look at a long-term strategy of getting ourselves through this period one day at a time and we managed to coordinate with our major suppliers and partners to get our business moving,” Mungofa said.
He had to reduce pace in entering the market in order to conserve energy and resources and also to focus on other aspects of the business to generate income.
“A lot of design work is being done by the team for other entities as well as offering consultancy services while production was idle,” he added.
Mungofa said he ventured into the motoring industry due to passion and the idea of problem solving.
“The only continent without a commercially successful brand of vehicles is Africa because it mostly serves as a market for raw materials and a human resource supplier for most global OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). We saw an opportunity to be the flagship of the automotive industry in Africa, hence the name Mureza (which means flag in Shona),” he said.
Mungofa he said the Mureza Prim8 is the company’s entry model at an appealing retail price of US$13 500 in Zimbabwe and R196 000 in South Africa.
“The vehicle is equipped with all the modern-day tech like Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control, satellite navigation, reverse camera, steering controls and dual airbags. There is a choice of either automatic or manual transmission and two engine choices (1.5 litre and 1.3 litre) and an electric version (EV) is in the pipeline”, he said.
Many Zimbabweans have resorted to taking their innovations and launching them from abroad. One example is Takwana Tyaranini, a Zimbabwean based in the United Kingdom who launched a digital money transfer platform called Sendtoo.
Sendtoo was launched in March 2016 as an airtime transfer network comprising about 400 mobile operators with a reach of 4.5 billion prepaid phone users in more than 140 countries with 40 of those in Africa.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Henry Ruzvidzo said the problem is usually lack of capital. The market for big projects is relatively small as well.
“People tend to go where capital is accessible and also the market. If you are going to go into manufacturing, it would make sense to do it in a place where there is a large domestic market before you even look at export. So those are some of the limitations of our environment where our market is relatively small,” said Ruzvidzo.
He added that our financial service sector has been unable to offer long-term financing and this affects green field projects.
Mungofa said that it was difficult for the locals to embrace the idea of a locally made car due to the fact that there was comparison with big foreign companies in the automotive industry.
However, Ruzvidzo said it is not only a Zimbabwean problem but human nature for people to think something that comes from beyong the borders is always better.
“It’s not necessarily true, but what is needed is for our local companies to market and profile their products better so that people understand that they are as good, if not better, than imported products.”
Economics professor Gift Mugano said the Zimbabwean environment is toxic for business.
“If you go into a business in Zimbabwe, you are committing suicide because you lose money due to the poor policy framework. How do you do business when there is no policy clarity, policy predictability and policy consistency?” Mugano asked.
Mureza says it seeks to solve transport problems on the continent and is positioning itself as a flag bearer of Africa’s promising automotive industry.