GROWING up in Harare’s middle density suburb of Warren Park, and being a son to a respected mechanic, Tafadzwa Mungofa had a dream to build a respectable brand of African vehicles. Thirty-two (32) years later, the carmaker is making massive strides in realising his dream with the announcement of his Mureza Prim8 cars, proudly manufactured by Mureza Auto Company.
Through his company, Mungofa is looking forward to create a minimum of 2000 direct jobs in Africa in the next few years. The Entrepreneurial Magazine caught up with carmaker who is currently in South Africa where he is in the process of setting up a production line of Mureza vehicles. The Company is currently registered in Zimbabwe, Namibia and in South Africa where the main factory has been set up.
BELOW IS THE INTERVIEW:
QN: Tell us about yourself, who is Tatenda Mungofa?
ANS: Tatenda is a 32-year-old young man born in Harare to Mr Jealous Mungofa and Rosa Tayo. I grew up in Warren Park and took my primary education at Alfred Beit Primary school, secondary education at Mavhudzi High School and finally my A-level at Fletcher High School.
I have always had a passion for cars from an early age and started sketching cars since I was 7 years old. My father would drive us to and from school daily and I was always curious about the different functions in a car. At home, I would watch how cars were repaired as my father is a mechanic. By the time I was 18, I had witnessed or been part of the rebuilding or repair of over 1,000 different cars.
To define myself, Car Designer would be the initial title but most recently I am more of an Industrialist! My love for cars has opened up opportunities and different realms of thought on how transportation in Africa is one of the missing links to continental progress. Entrepreneurship has been my adult life and I have enjoyed building businesses and systems that offer practical solutions.
QN: What was your childhood dream and are you fulfilling it now?
ANS: The dream has always been to build a respectable brand of African vehicles. One of my father’s clients had an American left-hand-drive station wagon – it was a fascinating vehicle and I always got excited every time it came in for a service. This was a car we saw in movies on TV. I used to ask myself how the car came from America? Then I asked my father “why do you not fix AFRICAN cars?”
This was in 1999. That is when the dream was born. Now we are making significant strides in the African car manufacturing space and I would count that as a milestone in realizing my childhood dream through Mureza. There is still a long way to go though.
QN: Did your upbringing inspired or nurture the entrepreneur in you?
ANS: I believe that entrepreneurship is a result of experiences, associations and environment one grows up in. The different stages of my early life had a lot to do with cars and it was inevitable that I would find myself here today. At home we literally had a car assembly line and I had the chance to learn first-hand the parts that go into a vehicle. I remember the many young guys in our suburb would come for “apprenticeship” on how to fix cars. I realized how it was not just cars that were being fixed, it was an entire economy based on solving transportation challenges. I was always hands-on at the workshop and most of the times I would volunteer, especially to drive cars.
The first time I was sent to Kaguvi Street in Harare to buy spare parts it was a scary experience. I learnt that having a relationship with suppliers was very important to sustain a viable business and, in most cases, where you would need to return a part, this would determine if you would lose your profit or have happy customers.
So, in short, my upbringing did influence my entrepreneurship journey significantly.
QN: Tell us about Mureza Auto Company and what inspired the idea
ANS: 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
QN: Why the name ‘Mureza’? Is there any special flare to the name or inspiration?
ANS: Mureza is a Shona name for FLAG. To define our company correctly, we are aiming to be the flagship of the African automotive industry. This is not only directed towards the vehicles but the impact we aim to have in social transformation and improving quality of life of Africans. It’s a banner of hope and inspiration that if we could make a car (or cars) in Africa, then there should be no limit to what we can do as Africans.
QN: 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.
QN: 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.
QN: What is the future of Mureza, what kind of cars should we expect from the company?
ANS: The future is loaded with exciting products from Mureza. Initially we will be offering affordable petrol engine cars to cater for current demand. Our first product, the Prim8 (pronounced PRI-MATE), will have 1.5L and 1.3L petrol engines. This will be on our X200 platform which will also carry our first EV. The Prim8 will have hatchback and sedan body shapes available.
We plan on launching our half-ton pick-up which will be called T-One. This will share many components with the Prim8 and will be sitting on our X200-C platform. A panel van version will also be offered on this model range.
There will be more premium models to choose from in the near future including our flagship TUSKER pick up range, PrimX SUV, Athlete and DIAMOND. Each is aimed at different categories of the market and will be revealed in different phases. The Athlete will be the most affordable EV on our lineup with a range of 800km per charge and aiming for a price range between US$5,000 up to US$8,000.
We plan on building Africa’s first GIGAFACTORY and we have already secured a 100 hectares to start this development. An industrial park will be built alongside our proposed factory to accommodate our suppliers and service providers. Already Mureza is registered in 3 countries and has partnerships spanning across 4 continents. A network of free charging infrastructure that will feed into the main grid is not only going to benefit Mureza EV customers, it will help in electrification and energy demand across the region. There are rural regions which have been marginalised and our charging network will focus on bringing development to such areas along major highways.
There are several partnerships in Artificial Intelligence for vehicles that we are embarking on to bring practical safety technologies to the African market. More information will be available on our website and social media platforms.
We also plan on listing our IPO on a stock exchange in South Africa initially. This is exciting for us as we want to give an opportunity to the ordinary African citizen to grow with us and become financially independent.
QN: Kindly explain in detail along with the manufacturing process?
ANS: Our process is very simple and straightforward. The main factory in South Africa will be focusing on final assembly of our ICE (internal combustion engine) and EV (electric vehicle) products. This will be a hybrid system which is interchangeable without interrupting the production flow. We will be receiving SKD kits initially for final processing.
The first 3 phases of production will be outsourced to our technical partners, SAIPA. Phase one is stamping where sheet metal is pressed to create several components. Phase two involves the welding of these components to form the basic structure of a vehicle. Once a vehicle is completely built, we will then move it into the paint shop which is the third stage for it to get its distinct colour coat.
Outsourcing phase 1 to 3 of our production gives us the opportunity to have our staff trained and to help local suppliers to develop and match our expected production standards. As a new company, we decided it was prudent to allow a decent trial period of production as we gradually sell our vehicles to avoid over-investing prior to market demand.
There is a major requirement for well-planned logistics to synchronize the different stages of our production.
QN: How many employees are there or how many people will benefit from this development in terms of employment?
ANS: Our staff compliment in the head office is 12 people permanently employed. Regional offices have 6 staff members. We have different consulting committees working with us to add another 10 people. Our technical partner has over 200 employees committed to the Mureza production line and this can be increased based on demand for our products.
We will be adding another 150 production staff in our South Africa plant. Based on projected demand in neighbouring countries, a further 500 employees will be required for a new plant outside South Africa. In total, we are looking at creating a minimum of 2000 direct jobs in Africa in the next few years.
QN: How has been the experience so far in the industry considering that most cars in Africa are manufactured and imported from overseas?
ANS: Our experience has been quite positive. People have received our intent to manufacture local vehicles with a warm enthusiasm. Obviously, it will take time for the market to fully understand what we are offering but indications suggest that we are well positioned as an African brand. Time will tell how our products will fare in the market.
QN: Do you draw any inspirations form Elon Musk?
ANS: Elon is an inspiration and a game changer, not just for the automotive industry but also for anyone who believes that innovation is possible even in a well-entrenched industry like the automotive industry. Since I learnt of Tesla, one of Elon’s companies, I have followed his entrepreneurship journey. He is one individual who managed to convince the whole world that electric vehicles were a sustainable solution for transportation. Now all auto makers are following suit despite initial resistance and late adoption.
For us, the disruption that Musk brought in the industry is a key opportunity for us to participate and be recognized. Taking advantage of his strategy we have a chance to be the leading producer of EVs in Africa and we would like to challenge Tesla in terms of product quality and innovation. There are many lessons we believe can be of benefit to us and personally I like how Musk takes on the big players and he is winning.
QN: 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.