Genius Kadungure: An open book that was not so open
by Philip Maranyika, Nyaradzo group chief executive officer.
On Sunday the 8th, I woke up to several missed calls from my good friend Zodwa Mkandhla. I got really worried, given (a) the number of the missed calls, (b) the time of them.
With a little hesitation, I hit the redial button so I could find out what it was she was frantically calling me about.
As soon as the line became alive, a broken hearted voice came from the other side, “Phil, Genius has been involved in an accident and he couldn’t make it. Will you ask the Nyaradzo guys to come pick his body up, we are on Borrowdale road”.
A few minutes later the Nyaradzo removal crew would be on its way.
I felt sorry and helpless at the same time, for I knew I couldn’t do much to help a friend in need, as I was miles away from the scene.
My heart bled for the rest of the Kadungure family on their monumental loss and all those whose life he touched.
I didn’t know Genius that well as I never had a one-on-one with him, only meeting him in the crowd. However, on the few occasions I met him, I found him to be engaging and respectful.
It was through Zodwa that I got to meet him, besides reading about him in the press and watching him do his antics on the many social media platforms.
Zodwa and I have been friends for years. About the same time we started Nyaradzo, Zodwa was trying her hand at a travel agency which she named Traverze. Starting off as a small start up, Traverze has over the years grown to become one of the leading Travel Agency in the country. When the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, (ZNCC) selected me as their Businessman of the year for 2010, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Zodwa was their choice for Businesswoman for the same year. We would dance the night away celebrating what we called a double achievement and rekindling our long lost friendship.
Back in the day, in an effort to grow our respective startups, Zodwa and I had taken to golf, playing a round in the same four-ball every week for a number of years. We stayed for prize giving after every round mingling and mixing with friends who we wished would become valued customers for our nascent entities. With time, Zodwa would find new hobbies, a love for fast and expensive cars and a taste for the exquisite. Genius must have had a lot to do with her transformation, I think, and my heart goes out to her and the rest of the Kadungure family.
The death of Ginimbi at a tender age of 36, together with three of his friends and colleagues is a huge loss, not only to Zodwa, the Kadungure family and his friends, also to the multitude of his followers and his country Zimbabwe, for Genius had become more than just the self made village boy from Domboshawa. His was a movement, a near monolithic mass of people whose mission is to live life according to their terms. When I think of him, I am reminded of the famous Apple creed, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do”.
While I am not drawing parallels between Genius and the Apple crowd, I find it appropriate that Ginimbi, as he was affectionately called by his multitude of followers, could have been considered as a crazy one, a misfit, a rebel and a square plug in a round hole who as much as the Apple crowd did, saw things differently and was crazy enough to think he could change the world. According to his followers, he actually did.
After Cecil John Rhodes, another of the crazy ones who thought he could change the world and his British South Africa Company (BSAC) led the subjugation and occupation of Zimbabwe, a Southern African country for their kith and kin in 1890, it was just a matter of time before the indigenous populations would turn the table and begin to write their own stories in which their descendants would be at the centre of the storyline, fighting the colonial system tooth and nail. It was not until 1980, ninety years later, that their sweat and toil would pave way for Uhuru.
In between, two bloodletting revolts were waged, starting with the First Chimurenga when the Ndebele-Shona rebelled against BSAC’s administration between 1896 and 1897. The Second Chimurenga, which eventually broke the colonizer’s stranglehold, followed from July 1964 to December 1979.
After the attainment of majority rule in 1980, the black business landscape in Zimbabwe continued to be dominated by those with “old money”, who formed the country’s high society. With the exception of Roger Boka, Charles “Madzeka” Bvunzawabaya, and a few others, those with “old money” rarely flaunted their wealth, although their deep pockets had a way of speaking louder than words!
“Ginimbi”, as Genius was affectionately known, by his legion of fans, belonged to a group of “born frees” acclaimed for having made “new money”. Unlike many of those who made it in business before independence, Genius was an extrovert who was not ashamed of showing off his “new money” and would spend it as if there was no tomorrow.
Born on October 10, 1984, in a family of four, Genius was not ushered into this world with a silver spoon in his hand, let alone his mouth.
Hailing from Domboshava where the colonialists established their first school for blacks to provide elementary literary skills and religious training in 1920, no one could imagine that this rural born, dark-skinned boy would assume legendary status given his poor upbringing.
Despite being a compulsive shopper known for hosting lavish, all-night parties where flashy socialites would consume large quantities of expensive whiskey brands – among them Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch, Glenfiddich and The Macallan, Genius never abandoned his rural base for the exquisite accommodation amongst Harare’s nouveau riche in leafy suburbs such as Glen Lorne, Borrowdale or Umwinsidale.
It is in the dusty soils of Nyamande Village under Chief Chinhamora that his “Little Kingdom”, as he would call it, in the form of a two-storey mansion (seated on four acres of land) comprising six bedrooms, a fully-equipped gym and a 14-seater cinema, among other jaw-dropping features, nestles.
His love for top-of-the-range cars meant that Ginimbi had to construct a 3,6 kilometre tarred road from the Harare-Domboshava Road, leading straight to his stately home in order to avoid unnecessary visits to the garage or carwash.
While his critics (and they were many) questioned the logic behind such a significant investment – about 40 kilometres north of the capital city of Harare – Genius believed that every area deserves priceless assets and that the poor peripheral enclave of Domboshava was no exception.
Being home to the famous Domboshava caves and rock art, itself, evidence of the existence of the bushmen who lived there between 2000 to 5000 years ago, it is my fervent hope that this property finds resonance with the tourism recovery strategy which seeks to leverage on rural tourism so that it does not turn into a white elephant.
Whatever shall become of his legacy, Genius was no fool, who started his hustle at the age of 17, until he struck the proverbial gold through the buying and selling of gas for domestic and industrial purposes.
Pioneer Gas – owned by Genius’ Piko Holdings – eventually expanded into South Africa, Botswana and Angola.
Two years ago, Genius – who was the chairman of Piko Holdings and founder of Genius Foundation – made an investment, perhaps a testament to his fun loving nature, into Club Sankayi (aka Dreams Nightlife Club) in central Harare. This was reportedly his last stop before the horrific death in a car crash that sadly resulted in his passing.
Being never one to judge, I refuse to put a label on Genius as one who dabbled in anything for his success other than that he worked hard for every penny and dime he had and spent. To a lot of youths, including my son – Nigel and a host of his friends, – Ginimbi was an embodiment of an idea whose time had come. The rise of the successful African child who tosses the yoke of poverty and mediocrity without necessarily leaning on inheritance made him a sensation. He was the poster boy of their zeitgeist. A free spender who lived life according to his rules. When we judge him, we run the risk of missing the opportunity to understand the youth of today whose lives he may well have shaped beyond our understanding and imagination.
There is a huge gap, between them and us, a fault line if you like, a rift that can only be narrowed when we realise that Ginimbi may have died but what he stood for lives on in the hearts and minds of our youths, many of whom may well have been his followers. Their want for recognition, to be free spirits, to be crazy and be misfits is mostly misunderstood as they seek to change their world. When we understand them, we may be able to advise them to take it easy so they may not be consumed by their own success or lack thereof in near infancy.
Just recently, Ginimbi turned heads in Harare and Bulawayo after parading his latest acquisition, a $600,000 Lamborghini.
His rise from being a mere village boy in a poor community from Domboshawa, to becoming a leader of ardent followers who hung on to his every word and deed on social media, his purchase of new a car or apparel, speaks volumes about his tenacity. Just like Cecil John Rhodes, before him, was a young man who did not fear to break new ground, Genius charted new territory, seeing opportunity and grabbing it instantly.
Starting off as a middle trader of bare significance, his perseverance saw him winning tenders (including one floated by the Angolan embassy for liquefied gas), thus paving his way to success. It must have been mere coincidence that he named his company Pioneer Gases, which is what Cecil John Rhodes before him had done more than a hundred years ago, calling his rag-a-tag band of colonisers the Pioneer Column. Genius unlike Cecil John Rhodes may well have been a true pioneer, conquering new worlds and creating a breathtakingly new narrative that would change the way young people dare to imagine life. He proved to those of his generation that their struggle is partly to do with detoxifying their hearts and minds of the narratives that their forbearers had been fed by those who sought to dominate them. That Africans were too poor and undeserving to be wealthy: that Africans were too dark-skinned to be a bright spark on this planet.
Genius, a small deeply black tiny seed, fell onto the face of the earth somewhere in Domboshava and sprouted to become a giant and colossal tree in his community under which many would find shade.
High society likes to party, to entertain, to amuse, to inspire and to delight. And so too did Genius. Certainly who would fault him after earning what he could and having the right to spend it on opulence and comfort? And yet while many saw in the open what he did for himself and his friends in his time of celebration, only a few were acquainted with the most beautiful story Genius wrote in peace, quiet, and solitude. A story he probably never wanted known!
In his Domboshava community, the number of widows, orphans, disadvantaged and underprivileged that he directly assisted was astounding but unheralded. His commitment towards helping children who were born and bred in circumstances similar to his to attend school more comfortably than he did was a legendary tale told by nobody because he never wanted that written about him.
Why would a man so proud of his achievements hide a side to him when he was considered an exhibitionist – one may wonder? This brings me to a word one would probably never dare use along with the name Genius in the same line and yet it paradoxically fits so well. In spite of his loud exhibition, Genius was also, incredibly, a humble man.
He wanted people to say he was vain because he bought himself the fastest cars, built beauty and opulence and lived on the lap of luxury. He was not prepared to have them say he was vain because he paraded the poor while giving them handouts. To Genius, the poor needed to be assisted away from the glare of the public because benevolence is humble and discreet.
As his Piko Holdings supplied gas to commercial, industrial, public and retail clients, a substantial amount of his earnings went to assisting the less privileged. All pioneers, whether good or bad, have a mark about them that makes them larger than life. They also possess a unique trait in which they live short lives, leaving behind a legacy others cannot equal even were they to live tenfold a life stretch.
For example, Cecil John Rhodes, the coloniser breathed his last aged 49, Josiah Tongogara died at 41; Steve Biko at 30 and King Shaka of the Zulu Nation aged 41, all testament that one doesn’t need a lot of years to their name to change the world and blaze a unique trail that is forever engraved in the indelible pages of history.
And so it was with Genius.
Perhaps, his parents named him thus with prophetic foresight, perceiving that his fairy-tale story would be the thing that only social architects with genius in their blood could ever carve in the annals of history.
No one can ever forget the name Genius – good or bad. When history remembers him, it is my wish that historians include a chapter about a young man who dared to dream and achieve but one whose life was only open to a few despite his public profile. His night club was an epitome of that person. Aptly named ‘Dreams’ and the last place he left before embarking on his journey to another world, Genius’ dreams were perhaps achieved.
Like always, death is a tragic affair. Death herself has known no shame to take away promising lives at their zenith, yet with Genius, death can rob us of his life and shamefully so, but she can never rob us of his spirit and of his story which with his untimely death, will now be immortalised.
Go well Mhofu, “My guy”. May your dear soul rest in eternal peace!