A GROUP of bare-footed men and women clad in black regalia make their way to the centre of a soccer field. Among their paraphernalia are African drums and other traditional musical instruments, a clay pot and a gourd.
They converge in the middle of the field and draw liquid from the clay pot using the gourd, which they then pour on the ground.
Accompanied by rhythmic clapping, chanting and ululating, they make an offering to the ancestors.
A woman rolls on the ground on her belly like a snake. She has become possessed by the spirit of her ancestors due to the singing.
It is quite an enthralling scene and makes for a curious spectacle. But it is no ordinary traditional ceremony.
The event marks the commissioning by mobile network operator, NetOne of a new base station in the mountains of Nyanga. The rituals by the spirit mediums are therefore meant to formally commit the new equipment to the ancestors, the owners of the land.
It is not just NetOne’s way of identifying with the community, but as the acting chief executive officer, Brian Mutandiro, explained to the Financial Gazette, it is something that they also genuinely believe is part of the African culture.
“In the last 10 years, my own observation, I could be wrong, is that there has been a lot of demonisation of our culture and I am crying inside. That is why we are picking up this theme ‘Mbiri Yedu’ so that we go back (to our culture).” Mbiri yedu is vernacular for our fame.
NetOne is not the only company to embrace spirituality in its business; its biggest competitor and the country’s largest network, Econet Wireless, has its own brand of spirituality which is rooted in the Christian beliefs of its founder and major shareholder, Strive Masiyiwa.
Masiyiwa, who has about 1,7 million followers on Facebook, places his spiritual life at the core of his business principles and his Christian values have been passed down to his subordinates and prayer is reportedly an integral part of all Econet activities and functions.
An article on Forbes magazine’s website quotes Masiyiwa as saying God would “do nothing except you pray; and you have to be clear what you want”.
When the company launched its 7X bonus promotion which was later withdrawn from the market after regulatory concerns from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, no alcohol was served at the glittering function hosted at one of Harare’s top hotels in line with the company’s beliefs.
NetOne, which is playing catch up to Econet, also uses Christian pastors at some of its functions, but still actively engages local spirit mediums in certain areas, particularly those under traditional chiefs whom it considers to be the guardians of traditions and culture in these areas.
These help it to dedicate its base stations to the ancestors.
“We have such a rich heritage that I wonder why we seek other things,” Mutandiro said. “We go there. We respect our culture. We connect with the people.”
Mutandiro is the chief operating officer for NetOne and was thrust into the acting chief executive officer’s role after the suspension of Reward Kangai, the long-serving NetOne chief executive officer.
It makes good business sense in a deeply spiritual nation to be seen to be publicly practicing one’s spiritual belief or another.
There is often a simultaneous observance of indigenous religious practices and Christianity in many communities in the country.
So both these firms’ open spirituality is striking a chord with many people in the communities they serve and to them their deities have everything to do with how well their businesses perform. -Financial Gazette