Prominent banker Nigel Chanakira recently featured on the growing platform In Conversation with Trevor to share the story about his rise in the banking sector from working for the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to founding Kingdom Bank.
In the wide-ranging interview, Chanakira (NC) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) about efforts by Celebration Health, the philanthropic medical arm of Celebration Ministries, to revive Zimbabwe’s health delivery system.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Delighted to have you here, you have just come from a trip and the way we started the show by an arm bump, as it is called, we live in that kind of world. Has the coronavirus affected your business in any way, have you felt it? The lockdown, has it inconvenienced you?
NC: Well, just a little, Trevor, I was actually on a trip to Atlanta when this thing broke out and so I was quite cautious in coming back, if truth be told, I actually had a diversion into Italy. I flew Emirates and they pushed us through out of JFK into Milan. Fortunately, we didn’t stay long. So I proceeded to Dubai, then Harare.
So that’s when the whole thing actually broke out and subsequently I still had travels scheduled, which meant ‘do I cancel or I don’t’, but we had a major meeting on the go in Johannesburg on one of the firms where I sit on the board. They preferred that I be there despite the outbreak and I ended up just going and here I am, thank you for accepting me.
TN: Wow, you are a role model and a lot of people look up to you. As you read the comments under our shows, a lot of people have been saying you must interview Nigel Chanakira and we do listen to what the people at home say we should do. You went to the US, do you mind sharing with us the purpose of your visit to the US? I gather you went with the church or something.
NC: Yes, we have a project with our church; I guess it’s still a bit under wraps, but I think it’s of public interest.
We decided with Pastor Tom Deuschle to see what we can do to assist on the equipment and medicines whilst we were there and in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus, to see what type of medicines we could also bring in and ship into the country. So that’s a project that’s been on the go for the past couple of years.
I was asked to coordinate it in the past two years and eventually I think we have got it right and hopefully we will be able to bring a consignment of equipment, about to redo or re-equip the 79 major hospitals in the country and, as you know, I guess we are reformation people.
If we can make a dent in that sector, which is underperforming, ill-equipped and we have demotivated staff because there are no medicines, I think it will be very useful, so it’s a church and government sort of initiative.
TN: It comes in at the right time.
NC: Absolutely, I think it couldn’t be better. We have partners, we are always looking for partners.
So, for example, now they say it’s an ill wind that blows in no one’s favour, but if you look at it the whole cargo industry is down, so the rate at which we will be able to ship and airlift medicines will be a lot cheaper than what normal rates would be. So we are trying to take advantage of that window.
TN: So you are a ghetto boy, born in Highfield, in the township, tell me about your upbringing and where you went for school.
NC: The nuns brought me up. I started up at the Regina Mundi crèche in Highfield and then went on to Martindale Primary School out in Seruwi or Selous as it was then known, and then came to St John’s High School at Emerald Hill before making the leapfrog, I guess, to a white school, a multiracial school.
There I was amongst the first blacks that actually made the transition to the truly multiracial schools. So I went on to Churchill Boys High where I played a lot of sports, took on leadership responsibilities and was the first black head of Spencer hostel, for example.
I played soccer very well and was a captain for Mashonaland Central schools.
So not only at the school, but at a provincial level we were an unbeaten volleyball side. I played tennis and I won a Bata tennis tournament.
I also have national colours, Trevor, in basketball. So I went to the Africa Games in Tripoli back in 1983.
It was the first African Games soon after Zimbabwe became independent.
So funny enough actually we were a forgotten country, they didn’t realise we had become independent and they almost by default said ‘oh there is a newly independent country, can Zimbabwe come to Tripoli and they couldn’t put together a full team and I happened to be playing club basketball for the then Dynamos basketball club during the school holidays. I happened to have a passport and guess what, I travelled.
TN: So I guess you are a sports all-rounder, interesting. Talk to me about the values that were instilled in you as you were growing up and your parents were pioneering businesspeople What values were instilled in you, which explains who you have become?
NC: Interestingly, my mum, to begin with, was the disciplinarian in the family. So my mum desired that we get a solid education as opposed to venturing into business.
She was a matron at Harare Central Hospital and so she craved for the academic side of things to be developed.
My dad, interestingly, had a carpentry background but he had, you know, adages that were interesting, you measure twice, cut once and, that was dad.
But then he joined his brothers in business. So hard work was certainly instilled, discipline and then knowing that there is reward at the end of it all. But we were very much family-oriented people.
My dad up to date is still very much a community-type leader in his own church, active in a church building project, always at Machipisa and Highfield.
He sponsored Black Hunters, a soccer club, which incidentally the likes of Shackman Tauro played for and he sponsored that club all through until he joined Chibuku Shumba.
He was on the executive of Chibuku Shumba till the transition to Black Aces.
So that whole community culture that I think I have in that I want to be part of my community, we are reformers in the sense that we want a change in the community, which is positive and all, those, I think are family values.
TN: Tell me, do you see those values when you look around? What’s your view?
NC: Well, I think I see them in the work that I am doing and the people I associate with, for example, the church.
I was telling you of a church project we are doing with doctors and nurses, so that’s practical and addressing a real challenge, and then I am involved with something else called Network 58.
TN: We will talk about Network 58 later on. Let me move to when 23 or 30 years ago you moved to join the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, we are going to reveal your age now. Talk to me about that journey from joining the Reserve Bank to eventually founding Bard Discount House, that period of your life.
NC: Trevor, working for the central bank at that time was counted as a privilege. They recruited only first class and upper second class graduates. So it was the elite of the academics being churned out from the University of Zimbabwe and there were only six of us at the time and not all who automatically passed the interview were guaranteed a job in the central bank.
The bank was the bank with all the research capabilities, the respect it earned at the time and it was very disciplined in the conduct of economics studies with a lot of input from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the World Bank and IMF programmes.
I remember joining the young professional economics programme sponsored by the World Bank.
Of course, the bank went on to become something else in the sense that a lot of rigour in terms of economics, econometrics seemed to be lost somewhere in the era when we threw away the books as it were, but it was very good and it gave me an understanding of how the financial system works and I was then ready to be catapulted into the private banking sector after that experience.
“In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. Please get your free YouTube subscription to this channel. The conversations are sponsored by Titan Law.