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This past Friday I attended the memorial service of a friend and brother, Mphikanelanga Manyatsi.

He played a big role in the establishment of Ngwane Mills and had grown from that experience to venture into big business in South Africa. Many years ago I got into our office at Dlanubeka Building, Mbabane, and was confronted by a rather somber mood from Thembi, our secretary, who had clearly been crying. I asked what the problem was and she could not answer. When I inquired more, she pointed me to Dr Sishayi Nxumalo’s office, my father, indicating that it would best to get the details from him. When I entered the office, his head was downcast, and had both his hands over his face, clearly suggesting bad news.

He indicated that I should sit down, and I did with a thousand questions racing through my head. I would soon learn that Babe Manyatsi (as we simply called him), and my cousin, had passed away in a car accident a few hours ago along the highway just below Lugogo Sun Hotel opposite the Cuddle Paddle Hot Springs. The driver, also my cousin, Madibhane Gumedze, was the sole survivor but had lost his sister in the accident. I had left the office for lunch and had taken longer than usual. The news about the accident had come in while I was nowhere to be found. There were no cellphones then.

The accident had occurred as they were returning from the Swaziland International Trade Fair, where we had a stall to showcase Ngwane Mills, the first flour mill in Eswatini.Dr Nxumalo was devastated by the loss of Babe Manyatsi, a very humble but highly intelligent man. After the funeral, he asked the Manyatsi family to give him one of their sons whom he could work with to fulfill the dream of establishing the Ngwane Mills they had started together as a show of respect and honour to Babe Manyatsi.

Mphika joined the team

I can’t remember the details, but we were joined by a young Mphika who had been through university to pursue the dream of establishing Ngwane Mills. He served with distinction and dedication as we were now mentored by one of the greatest industrialists in the person of Dr Nxumalo. Putting together the feasibility study proved to be particularly difficult because Dr Nxumalo had just been released from more than one year and three months of detention without trial and had lost the influence, businesses and financial resources needed for this exercise. People were actually shunning him, and friends were few.The flour mill project had been Dr Nxumalo’s dream for many years, starting with the National Development Industrial Corporation, a parastatal he had established for government. That failed as there was sabotage from small-minded emaSwati, he would say. We tried to get that feasibility study but were refused. He then tried to get another study from Tibiyo TakaNgwane, which he had done, but was again refused. It became clear that we had to start a new study with a very small team of three; Dr Nxumalo, Mphika and I. As we attempted to do this big project it became clear that we needed serious funding, manpower and expertise. Dr Nxumalo somehow managed to get a consultant from Johannesburg, by the name of Mr Quintin, and who invested E300 000 for the feasibility study and his expertise. The feasibility study was soon completed and ready for submission to banks.

SIDC funding  

Dr Nxumalo believed that the kingdom should feed itself and not import basic food such as flour for bread, our staple food. He had hoped to have wheat farms. It is a fact that he tried to establish many other industries which he hoped would blossom and assist towards self-sustenance and food security. One of these were the Tinkhabi tractors. This was a hybrid of a mini-truck and tractor combined. The Ngwane Mills feasibility study was submitted to the Swaziland Industrial Development Corporation (SIDC) now EIDC.The results came back from the SIDC Board, and were negative. We needed to get a technical partner with milling experience. With hard work and determination, Dr Nxumalo managed to get that partner in the name of Namib Mills from Namibia, but based in Johannesburg, and we got the E21 million loan required to start the project. Mphika and I sat through many meetings and hard negotiations with Dr Nxumalo as he performed his magic in many boardrooms. Often without much money to take business partners to lunches and dinners, we would be under instruction to order ‘wisely’ as the budget was slim.

Roof wetting ceremony

The roof-wetting ceremony of Ngwane Mills was attended by His Majesty King Mswati III. Dr Nxumalo was beside himself with excitement as his dream had finally come through. He had to fight tooth and nail with powerful forces who did not want to give him the trading licence to protect local interests that had been importing flour for many years. Mphika and I watched in dismay as government officials put hurdles in the way of development. Ngwane Mills had to pay government over E1 million for the land in Matsapha, which was unheard of then. However, Dr Nxumalo pulled strings and got both the licence and the land, which was his main contribution to the project. This would cost him some of his shares in the company. Mphike would go on to venture into many big businesses locally and in South Africa. Worth noting was his 15-year partnership with the Canam family, trying to establish a mega 5000MW thermal power station that would have propelled Eswatini close to First World status given the South African power crisis.

The country has lost a great mind in Mphika. EmaSwati who can think big are very rare and most of them have moved to South Africa where the environment is conducive for big ideas. What was even more exciting about this man was that he made it big and came back to support his home country. His church, community, and Bhunya Black Aces could not stop talking about his generosity. This man gave real money not token appreciation. He must rest in peace waManyatsi, Scandza, Mnguni. Send comments to septembereswatini@gmail.com