When Mr Gary Magadzire finished briefing me he had slipped a document into my hand; it was a draft document of a new law that would be announced in exactly 5 days. It would ban anyone from setting up and operating a cell phone network even though the monopoly had been removed by the court. Violation of this proposed law would mean a jail sentence.
It was about 8pm as we parted company. Having thanked God for sending him, I moved swiftly that night:
I first went totally unannounced to the home of our lead lawyer. I gave him the draft document. After reviewing it, whilst I sat there he said to me the only way, I could save my project is if I could prove within 5 days, that I already had a cell phone network before the new law came into force. It would allow us to go back to the Constitutional Court.
Since the ruling 6 weeks earlier, I had managed to get some equipment for a small network, but it was not yet working. I would need to get it all working, within 5 days! It was a daunting task, and to make matters worse, some of the critical equipment I needed was still at the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, 500km away.
After leaving the lawyer’s home about 10pm, I called an emergency meeting of my small team. I also called one of our contractors a gentleman called Pat Cox. He volunteered to leave for the border that very night. What he managed to do at the border remains one of the most remarkable events of the whole saga. Arriving at the border, he found that there were 23 trucks, in front of our own convoy of trucks. Now this is a border with truckers from more than 6 regional countries. Pat went to each and every trucker, and spoke to them, and they agreed to let our convoy go to the front. When Pat arrived with the trucks, we had all been up for 24 hours, since Mr Gary Magadzire had come to see me. By this time, he found a hive of activity; I had spoken to my friends in the construction industry, and every single moveable crane in the country had been released to me. My friend ChristorHohenthal, the Swedish MD of Ericsson in South Africa, had flown in a team of technicians by special charter.
We worked continuously for 4 days; I never left the site. Finally, we began transmitting cell phone signals over the city of Harare.
Once we had the system operating, and transmitting with just one base station, I called a press conference, and announced that I had a fully operational cell phone system, and invited journalists to try it out. It made headlines the following morning. And on the same day, a special Government Gazette was published on the new law. Exhausted, we all went home, knowing that our “grandfather rights”, had been secured.
That afternoon the police arrived with engineers from the PTC, to inspect my operations. They had an order to take me into custody, if the system was operating, but I had switched everything off, to comply with the new law.
It was February 1996, we would return to court, for another Constitutional battle, at the end of the year. Meanwhile, I would have to face extraordinary persecution, and the loss of my business, and income.
To be continued….
Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.View all posts by Strive Masiyiwa