From a vendor in Bikita to Queen’s neighbour

BY MATTHEW TAKAONA GWERU – Fletcher High, one of the country's academic powerhouses of yester-year has produced some of Zimbabwe...

BY MATTHEW TAKAONA

GWERU – Fletcher High, one of the country's academic powerhouses of yester-year has produced some of Zimbabwe's best achievers in life but few have a tale like that of Lonmin Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ben Magara.
Parents, pupils and teachers alike were on Saturday October 7, 2017 captivated by the story of Bikita-born Magara, a boy whose ambition was to become a bus driver but ended up with offices in London overlooking Queen Elizabeth's Buckingham Palace.
Magara grew up heading cattle at Magara Village under Chief Mkanganwi in Bikita and on Sundays, when he was not at school, he would together with his brothers push wheelbarrows 4km to Bikita Council Beerhall and bus terminus where they would sell vegetables from morning until evening to supplement the family's meagre income.
Magara, a mining engineer by profession who was the guest of honour at Fletcher High's 60th Diamond Jubilee told students that success is possible irrespectivece of one's background.
He asked the students to have a dream, to plan and work hard, to have the right attitude and to have fun. Above all, said Magara, results were important.
"In the end remember whatever you do results matter. Whether you are a teacher, results matter, you are a business person results matter, you are a footballer results matter and you are a student toiling all these years in school, results matter.
"Get the results, focus on the results. You have to deliver and your leaders will notice and reward you.
"No matter how big or small, have a dream, have a goal and aim for something and then have a plan and work on it. Act now and don't procrastinate. 
"A good attitude wins you support. A good attitude includes a willingness to listen and learn. Passion and enthusiasm will make you love what you are doing.
"And you must have fun. Keep excited, do something that makes you tick, that gives you the kick and don't take yourself too seriously always. Celebrate small wins, it builds confidence. If you make your work fun, you will never work a single day," said Magara.
Magara is now the CEO of Lonmin; the World's third largest platinum mining company with US$1 billion revenue a year. Life has changed for him, he has two offices, one in Johannesburg's Prestine Melrose Arch and another one in London. His old London offices on the 7th Floor of No 4 Grasvenor Place overlooked Buckingham Palace, the place that houses the World's most famous monarch.
Lonmin has 33 0000 workers and Magara says as a CEO he has an obligation to create wealth for shareholders, jobs for the unemployed and  improve the life of communities where the business operates.
With regards to his many successes, Magara says his principle is that he remains Ben Magara in all his dealings and interactions. He says he connects with people whoever they are; be they workers, shareholders, managers, traditional leaders and the community.
"It's important to always be genuine, honest, factual and respectful no matter who I am talking to," said Magara.
Magara was born at Bikita District Hospital in 1967 in a family of nine kids. His late father Alphonse Mukoki Magara who had a total of 17 children was a teacher and storekeeper while his mother is a housewife and subsistence farmer. He went to Vushe Primary School in the same area and his tough childhood helped shape him.
"Because of my tough childhood I can handle anything including the rough world of mining. As children we woke up at 4am every morning and watered the garden before we went to school. We started chores at home from a very tender age. I herded cattle and one year I recall spending the whole winter using my mother's itchy and torn overcoat as a blanket.
"This taught me hard work and up to this day I wake up at 4am every day. Mining is tough but because of the rough work I had early on in life, I am resilient. I never feel it. I find it important to go underground and engage with the rest of the miners and this in a way helps me connect with them and boost morale," said Magara who joined Lonmin one year after the shooting by Police of 34 workers during a strike. Ten other miners were hacked to death by their colleagues.
Commenting on why he was not scared to join the company after such an ugly event, Magara said, "I saw the tragedy of Marikana in 2012 as a sad but real catalyst for change; to make sure it never happens again and I am encouraged by the small progress."
Magara who has produced some of the world's finest mining records including turn-arounds says the success of companies is not only anchored in its technical expertise but the soft issues have become the hard issues.
He says managers must connect with the people.
Magara seems  to be very soft and friendly until he says, "I can't stand lazy and negative people. If one makes three mistakes that affect our performance, I am happy to let a worker go but this should be after sufficient warnings of course.
He is a tough taskmaster.
He said connecting to people relates to issues of motivation and the relationship among workers themselves. This, he said is what determines real success. He added that a manager must connect to workers, communities, Governments, customers, etc.
After Grade 7, Magara went to Masvingo where he did his secondary education at Mucheke High from 1981 to 1984. He went to Fletcher in 1985, a school that at that time took only the best  He won the Best A Level Science student award in 1986.
He joined the University of Zimbabwe in 1987 and embarked on Mining Engineering on the advice of his elder brother Leonard.
"Leonard who was already at UZ doing Civil Engineering advised me of a new degree programme just introduced at the University. He said it was the best for me and recommended that I take it. I guess he knew me only too well and I am glad I trusted him.
"I got a scholarship from Anglo American Corporation on joining the University. and I worked at Hwange Colliery during my vacations. I was in charge of a team of 17 miners in my first job as a mining supervisor," said Magara.
Magara worked briefly at Hwange after graduation and in order to expand his horizon, he felt he needed to go to Germany, Australia or South Africa and he ended up in South Africa. In 1994, he joined New Denmark Colliery as a junior technical assistant and then moved to New Vaal Colliery, Arnot Colliery and Bank Colliery. He worked at seven Anglo Mines in 12 years and rose through the ranks to become CEO of Anglo American Coal South Africa at the age of 38.
 "I went to South Africa in 1994 a month before the first democratic elections and saw a lot of promise and concluded that the risk was worth taking," said Magara.
Talking to Magara one can attest that hard work pays.
He left Anglo in 2013 to join Lonmin.
He is married to Gumisayi Mugugu and they are blessed with two boys, Makomborero and Mazvita.
Magara still enjoys gardening and plays golf during his spare time and he regards his mother as his rock and ensures that he visits her at least three times every year. A visit home to see his mother when chips are down is what it takes to get him fired up again.
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The Mirror: From a vendor in Bikita to Queen’s neighbour
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