The Wattle Company managing director (MD) Victoria Jakazi (VJ) was recently elected vice-president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI).
It was a befitting endorsement given her commitment to the development of Zimbabwe’s manufacturing industries, seen through her regular presence and participation in most of the CZI’s major events.
Our business reporter Fidelity Mhlanga (FM) spent time with Jakazi, a veteran of the timber estates that line up at the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the east of the country, to undersAtand more about her plans for the economy.
Mhlanga also took the opportunity to ask the industrialist about her journey to the top. Below is their discussion…
FM: Firstly congratulations on your recent appointment as CZI VP. Tell us about yourself.
VJ: I am a Mutare/Manicaland person. I was born in Bocha, Marange at Munyoro Primary School where my parents were teachers. I started my primary education at Shundure School in Bocha and finished at Matika Primary School in Dora.
You see, I was trailing my father as he was transferred from one Anglican school to another.
From there I went to St David’s High School, Bonda up to the end of Form 5.
We were then at the height of the liberation struggle and the school was closed at the beginning of 1977. I re-located to St Augustine’s High School, Penhalonga to finish my secondary education.
I then went to the then University of Rhodesia in 1978 and did a three-year Business Studies Degree.
My class were actually the pioneers of this programme. By the time we finished in 1980, it had changed to the University of Zimbabwe.
I have done further post-graduate studies and also did a Masters Degree in Business Administration at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States of America.
FM: Share with us your first job experience and other jobs, before your rise to be managing director of The Wattle Company?
VJ: My first job was with the then Income Tax Department in Bulawayo.
I found it not very inspiring as it involved more of number crunching and less interaction with people.
I love interaction and I missed that.
I then moved to the City of Mutare as an administrative assistant.
I rose through the ranks to become a senior committee officer before getting married and leaving for the United States of America.
FM: Tell us about The Wattle Company. What does it do and how big is it?
VJ: The Wattle Company Limited is a forestry company situated in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe with a head office in Mutare. It is in the business of timber and timber products.
It was founded in 1945, primarily to develop a wattle extract industry in Zimbabwe.
Wattle extract is a vegetable tannin, which is derived from the wattle tree and is used for the processing and manufacture of leather.
Our wattle extract plantations are in Chipinge and Chimanimani, while the wattle extract factory is at Silverstream in Chimanimani.
The tree matures at 10 years and the company makes wattle extract from the bark of the wattle tree and makes charcoal from the residual log. Both products are sold locally and are also exported.
FM: There is a rich history here.
VJ: In a move to diversify its business, the company started to establish eucalyptus plantations in the Vumba mountains in the late 1960s. It also established a creosote pole treatment plant in Mutare.
The company manufactures and sells locally and exports transmission poles for electricity and telecoms, as well as light poles, mainly for fencing.
The tree takes five to seven years for the light poles and 12 to 15 years for the transmission poles.
In the early 1970s, the company started to
develop pine tree plantations in the Nyanga/Juliasdale area, which culminated in the commissioning of the Nyanga Pine Sawmill in 1993. The pine tree matures after 22 to 25 years.
The company manufactures both structural timbers, mainly for construction as well as industrial timber which is mainly for furniture and related purposes. At any given time, The Wattle Company employs about 2 000 people.
FM: What is your vision for The Wattle Company?
VJ: This is my 30th year with the The Wattle Company, having joined in 1991.
The most important issue with a forestry company is sustainability. For the company to survive, there is need to continuously plant as you harvest, so that there is a future. Our motto is Growing Today for a Better Tomorrow.
My vision is seeing the company do more value addition, especially on the pine sawn timber and remain at the top of the market in terms of quality and service.
We want to increase our presence beyond the region.
I would like to see us diversify into other trees species so that, together with our current and value-added products, we become an export giant.
FM: What does being elected VP for CZI mean for you?
VJ: This position is a national position. I am excited to be at a place where I am actively participating in the implementation of as well as directly influencing Zimbabwe’s development programme.
We are blessed in that the government wants the economy to be private sector driven towards Vision 2030.
I have a passion for getting things done and this is the opportunity to get things done in crafting and implementing the industrial agenda for Vision 2030.
FM: What could you say to other women out there who desire to climb the corporate ladder like you?
VJ: I would like to see more women willingly taking up challenging tasks within and outside their organisations, being more aggressive in decision-making and achieving results. Work hard, be out there and network more with the right people.
FM: Do you think women are getting sufficient leadership space in the corporate world?
VJ: Certainly not. Look at the organograms and the succession plans in the corporate arena. There are either very few or no women at all.
The space is all male-dominated.
There are still very serious biases towards women despite the fact that women achieve better results than men.
FM: What is your take about industry’s performance in Zimbabwe?
VJ: Industry performance has been low due to economic hardships up until 2018 when we started to see a harder drive to support industrial growth and development through the stabilisation of the economic environment. We have seen capacity utilisation move up from 36% in 2019 to 47% in 2020.
We are looking forward to an average of above 60% in 2021. So, we are in the realm of industrial growth, and this is happening despite the constraints brought in by Covid-19.
Despite the constraints due to Covid-19, the economy has achieved a milestone in stabilisation and growth.
This is work-in-progress and more needs to happen from both government and the private sector for us to get to the Vision 2030.