TATENDA Mungofa had a dream to build a respectable brand of African vehicles since childhood. The Harare born and bred entrepreneur is making massive strides in realising his dream through his company Mureza Auto Co. Being Africa’s first black-owned car manufacturing company, 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. The 32year old’s company has footprints in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
Mungofa shares his entrepreneurial journey into the automotive industry and doing business in the diaspora.
Tell us about Mureza Auto Company and what inspired the idea
The inspiration came from the lack of a commercially successful brand that designs and produces vehicles for the continent. For an entire continent to rely on imported cars, we believe that is not sustainable. More so, it deprives the people true ownership and opportunity to develop their own values. It is more like waiting for your neighbor to eat a meal and you buy the leftovers for a premium price – yet you know how to cook.
It is a painful reality and one that we endorse with every imported purchase. Until now, there has been no real option for Africans to buy a locally produced vehicle. With Mureza, we believe we are that local option people should consider. The greatest inspiration has been the need to solve transportation problems in Africa by providing a solution from within and building a sustainable industry
What encouraged you to take the first step?
ANS: Between 2007 and 2010 I desperately tried to secure a job, any job, with all the car manufacturers in the world. I applied to design colleges and car manufacturing companies with no luck. At one point, I went for an interview at Toyota Zimbabwe for apprenticeship and I failed.
In 2012 I participated in an international car design competition where I came third. The ceremony was in Croatia and unfortunately, I could not travel because our country was sanctioned. I realised that if ever I wanted to be involved in the design and manufacturing of cars, I would need to do it on my own.
What challenges did you face in your entrepreneurial Journey?
ANS: This would require an entire book to answer which I am in the process of writing. The short summary would focus on the research efforts which I used to conduct internet cafes. Trying to understand the process was very difficult as most of the information is classified as a result of the secret intellectual property of each car brand.
The major challenge in searching for information was that you needed to know exactly what you need for you to get a quote. How could I do this if I don’t even know who to ask? I started watching videos like megafactories and taking down notes and names of the production managers of most car manufacturers. I started googling these items and people and sent friend requests on social media. A few accepted and I would follow their posts relating to the industry. I became a cyber-forensic analyst of automotive industry information. Any small article, I would read and follow up with research.
In Zimbabwe I started looking up factories that were suitable for starting my car manufacturing business. At that time, I was buying and selling cars. This allowed me to do active market research, product analysis and fundraising. It helped me to navigate for 8 years until I moved to South Africa.
I faced countless challenges as few people understood my goal – let alone believed that this could be done in Africa. For some, it was a far-fetched dream and to ask people to join you on such was a hard sell. But there were the few who supported me. One such person was Christopher Muchechemera. He believed in me to a point where I had no option but to continue believing in myself. For a period, he supported financially and always sent opportunities where I could benefit financially. It was with him we first registered the company in Zimbabwe in 2011. Through him I have since made several connections that were instrumental for me to be at this stage today.
In South Africa, I had business partners and we did not really understand the dynamics of the industry. It is dominated and controlled by the major global players and they have influence in almost every office you would need to go to for approval. Reading what the websites of certain departments would post was not the reality on the ground. People had a misconception that we were already as big as the other brands because our presentation was well structured and this brought with it high expectations and in some cases requests for envelopes under the table.
Failure to comply simply meant a delay in the process. We had to be smart and innovative in our approach to do the groundwork and be compliant without putting our business at the mercy of a compromised system. This is a reality in African countries because most policies are influenced and biased towards attracting Foreign Direct Investment and rarely accommodates internal innovation and investment. The perception is that the whole continent requires external intervention to unlock value. I do not subscribe to this mentality.
Another major challenge is market acceptance. Local people still look at imported products in higher regard to the local products. I always wonder if people really understand the impact of such thinking. Just consider that food and houses are not amongst the imports and that is where Africa’s local population excels more.
What words you would want to share with some aspiring Entrepreneurs and other business people out there?
ANS: To those who have ideas they hope to bring to life, I encourage them to just start. Do not wait until you have enough money.
Develop relationships that motivate and support your goals in life. Be clear in your communications and don’t spend time and energy wondering what can go wrong. A positive attitude can overcome many failures and keeps you motivated.
Give back as much as you can. Do not take people for granted and value time with family and friends.
This article was first published in the August Issue of The Entrepreneurial Magazine under the topic, “Zimbabwean Entrepreneurs breaking the ceiling glass in the diaspora.”