Are blacks capable of passing on family business?

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By Farayi Mungoshi

I WOULD like to think when my former wife joined the family she was excited by more than just the idea of marriage alone.
She was quite imaginative and we sat discussing church and family projects together, expounding on what could be done with father’s books in order to bring profits to the family.
We all understood that we had a legacy that would one day be taken over and run by our children. Shakespeare was our greatest motivation as he was and still is an example of how books tend to outlive the writer as people are still reading and studying his books more than 200 years after his death.
My father’s first book Makunun’unu Maodzamoyo reaches 46 years this year and is still being studied in schools today. It will still be around long after my father and I are dead, it has been on the ‘O’ level schools curriculum many times and wherever I go people talk about it.
Such is the power of books. However, things turned sour or rather began to weigh on us when our son came into the world. All our endeavours at creating an income from the family business and legacy were not enough.
“You need to do your own thing for our family,” she would say, “I am not saying stop writing but this is your parents’ business and you need to create your own or even go and work at Chicken Inn or something so you can support your children, I don’t see money coming from the family business,” which in itself is true as the industry is plagued by piracy.
If you recall in another article in The Patriot I explained to you how my father had been paid only US$4 000 in royalties after a year’s sales for his book which is being studied for ‘O’ level Shona. It did not make sense to me since approximately 300 000 students are writing Shona at the end of each year – even if we bring the figure down to 100 000 – the maths would still not add up to US$4 000.
Is it street piracy alone or are publishing houses involved in the racket? Are students not buying books but still writing at the end of the year?
Could this be a contributing factor to the fallen pass rates on this subject in recent years? Whichever way you look at it, it all boils down to the time when you are alone with your wife and she is telling you it’s better for you to go and work as a hwindi or a cleaner than trying to fight for a lost cause which you consider a legacy, at least you will then be able to put something on the table for your children.
Going around talking to friends and relatives of mine in the same predicament I find that they are facing the same challenges of taking over the family business. Despite (for some) being groomed all their lives to take over either the supermarkets, bars, film companies or farms there simply isn’t enough money to sustain them and their families.
Their wives are not happy and are pushing for them to let go of the family businesses and legacies because they feel the parents (in-laws) are too controlling and manipulative when it comes to the sharing of monies at the end of a hard day’s work, with parents hogging onto more than they should and giving their children close to peanuts, thereby creating fights in their children’s homes.
“Family business kana risiri remurungu kanganwa. No blackman is capable of running a business and then hand it over to the heir while he is still alive. They will run the business into the ground before they die and you as the son are forced to come in and pick up the pieces, pay up debts and at the same time fight off some relatives who feel they have more right to the business and properties than you. Why? Because your father never fully defined who you are as far as the business is concerned. You were not even on payroll while he was alive, then you discover that he had two other secret families with children wanting a piece too,” said a man I met over the just ended holidays.
I could tell he was bitter, so I dug in and went deeper, asking him why he felt this way, to which he replied, “My father has a farm with over 500 beasts. At one time that figure diminished to 150 and as it kept diminishing I went in to assist since I had studied Agriculture at school because I knew one day my father would need my help. I managed to rear the 150 and raised the figure of cattle up to 650, but I was not getting paid and my lifestyle was going down the drain. I lost my wife believing that my father would see reason at the end.”
“But after raising the figure back up to 650 beasts surely you deserved some sort of reward,” I said.
“My father prefers to have a big herd that he can show off and boast about. He won’t listen when I tell him to sell and slaughter cattle for the workers’ income while rearing more cattle at the same time, so I left. I will never work with him, it is better where I am managing other people’s farms.”
I was saddened very much by this but not many days later I met another man I have known for years in the film industry.
“I don’t know what it is with our parents Farayi, after sending us to film school we return home and they tell us not to touch their film equipment, despite the fact it is collecting dust because nobody is using it and when they need help with a project we are there to help. I have decided not to be involved anymore – I am going to do my own things”.
“And who will run these things after your parents are gone?” I asked.
“We will cross that river when we get to it, because I don’t see them retiring or listening to what I say, let alone agreeing to what I think is the best way to run the business given the times we are living in today which are way faster than yesteryears.”
The third person I spoke to was an old schoolmate of mine whose husband is running a bar in a suburb at the edge of the city of Harare.
“I really think my husband needs to find another job elsewhere, maybe managing someone else’s bar instead of his parents’. They are not giving him anything Farayi. He can sometimes receive US$20 for securing a deal worth US$400. Is that fair?
“He is in that bar everyday but it’s not benefiting us, as far as they (in-laws) are concerned mwana, but they are forgetting that he too has a family now. I am tired,” she moaned.
I could see the strain on her face and knew it all too well.
While it is a sad story to witness would-be empires crumble before they’ve taken off, it is paramount to take note that some of the wealthiest organisations and companies in the world are founded on family, like the Rockefellers and Rothschilds for example. Their strength lies in the ability to withstand the test and limitations of a single lifetime as it normally takes more than a lifetime to create real wealth, maybe with a few exceptions.
The true definition of success is seen in what you leave behind not just for your children but for your children’s children and their offspring for generations to come.

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