He comes from a family of 26 children and his father could only afford to send him to school up to Sub B, equivalent to Grade Two, a fate which was met by most of his siblings.
But, Mr John Linda Sibanda (70) from Linda area in Mangwe District, Matabeleland South has risen to become a global renowned risk management consultant and an insurance broker.
He recalls being told by his father that since he was able to read and write, he had to drop out of school and start herding his father’s multitude of cattle just like his siblings.
But a principal at Embakwe Primary School had seen something special in him during the two-year stint in infant level.
Mr Sibanda said the principal at the Catholic-run school followed up on him and requested that he returns to school with the church paying his school fees.
He grabbed the chance to study, which saw him advancing his education to tertiary level and working for some of the globally reputable companies.
Mr Sibanda is a South African based businessman who remains in touch with his roots.
He remained rooted to his village and has established an industry ko-Linda, where he traces his ancestral blood. He wants to develop and industrialise the area.
Mr Sibanda recalled how he spent six months using a bush to relieve himself when he transitioned from Embakwe Primary School to St Ignatius College in Harare, as he had no prior experience with a toilet flushing system.
Our Bulawayo Bureau on Thursday caught up with Mr Sibanda, who had arrived from South Africa two days earlier, and he narrated his story.
He is involved in dairy, piggery, goats, poultry, citrus and horticulture farming and has a milling company at the backyard of his homestead.
Mr Sibanda, as he talks about his business, constantly says “we” apparently in reference to the fact that he started the projects with his late wife who died six years ago.
He also made an acknowledgement to relatives that assist him in implementing his vision.
“My father could not afford to send all of us to school because we were many. All in all, we were 26 in the homestead. He had a lot of cattle so what was expected from all of us was that we should herd the cattle. So, we were only supposed to learn to read and write so that we would be able to write letters to intombazana (lovers),” said Mr Sibanda.
“When you had mastered the art of writing a letter you were then stopped from school to become a full time cattle herder. So it happened that I enrolled and went to Sub A and Sub B and I was supposed to be Standard One, I dropped out of school and the principal followed up on me and enquired about my whereabouts and he was told that I was staying at home as my parents could not afford to send to school.”
He said education separated him from his ancestral land in the 1960s as he was enrolled at the then only multiracial school — St Ignatius College in Harare — an elite school where children of diplomats went to.
Mr Sibanda continued his education to become one of the first blacks to be employed in insurance companies. During the period he travelled the world and also came face to face with the remnants of the racist apartheid system.
“We were the first blacks to run those insurance companies in the upper 80s. I ended up working in Germany, London where I also upgraded myself. I also worked in Australia, becoming part of the A teams and I would be deployed across the globe especially to companies that had challenges,” said Mr Sibanda.
“And when South Africa attained its independence in 1994, I was deployed to South Africa. By then it was tough, the whites did not know how to work with blacks. They never thought a black man could think. Remember during apartheid it was illegal for a white man to report to a black man. A company could be charged for having a black person being superior to a white man. I can spend the whole day telling those stories.”
He said in 2000 he decided to start his consultancy company and at the same time he started investing back home. Sale Insurance, Sellnet was born and it had offices in Bulawayo and Harare.
“Towards the end of 2008, I was approached by Lloyds of London, the biggest specialist market insurance in the world. There is no major project that happens without the involvement of Lloyds in the world. So it hired me to be their representative mainly in South Africa, whether there is a big office but I was also responsible for the region. I retired from Lloyds in 2018,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said his work has been fascinating to an extent that one moment he would be in the village dealing with cattle issues and the next he will be in London holding a corporate meeting.
Mr Sibanda has made it part of his mission to develop Mangwe District and was a key player towards the electrification of the village.
He said he developed his rural home so that there is no much difference especially when he is in the diaspora and back home.
“We were born and bred here before we left the country due to employment opportunities. We saw it fit that we come here to develop our community as well as our homestead. What we did is that we resolved to electrify this area. So we managed to bring electricity cables from the main shops. So, I said, I can’t be the only one who has electricity so all the villagers should also have electricity,” said Mr Sibanda.
“We also realised that it was not good to freely give people this electricity. So we resolved that the people should pay for services because free things destroy people and communities. So we resolved that each homestead must pay using a cow and power would be connected to them, as a result most of the villagers have electricity in their home.”
Mr Sibanda said after the electrification process was completed he drilled three boreholes in the homestead to support the agriculture works he is implementing.
At some point he ran a successful cattle fattening project, but the changes in currency in 2018 affected his business and stopped the programme. However, the piggery project remains viable and they supply markets and go as far as Victoria Falls.
“The project that we wanted to do was for piggery and cattle, so these two projects need a lot of water. We started with about 50 breeders and we sent our employees to the pig industry in Bulawayo so that they are taught on rearing pigs. When they returned they did very well,” he said.
“We sell our pigs in Bulawayo and some in Victoria Falls. But these days we are just selling in Bulawayo and butchery shops in Mangwe District. We also assisted local schools, Embakwe, Empandeni and Tshitsho, these schools were struggling with mealie-meal, it was expensive and difficult to access so we were able to access large quantities of maize and we milled and started selling to them at an affordable price.”
Mr Sibanda said it was extremely difficult for him to buy maize from the Grain Marketing Board.
He said the cattle project also benefited the community as he would pan feed their animals before selling them while he recouped his investment.
“We were replicating the model that is used by Mbokodo,” said Mr Sibanda. “We constructed the kraals and started buying cattle. We were buying feeder steers where we would pan feed for three months before the animals were sold. Without fail, our cattle became super meat, we bought feed in Bulawayo and we made our mix here.
“We are able to turn a bull whose meat will be grade x and transform it to bush super. The maximum that we had at any given time was 800 cattle but our kraals carry a thousand. That means we had 800 cattle at any given time although we were selling our cattle every week.”
Mr Sibanda said it was satisfying to see villagers, who were pen feeding in his kraal, getting up to US$1 500 for a single beast.
He expects to resume the cattle pen feeding scheme next month. His target is to see Mangwe District being food self-sufficient as this can be achieved for the whole country.
Mr Sibanda is convinced that Zimbabwe is set for an economic rebound and encourages citizens to invest in the country.
“Our belief is that the Zimbabwean economy is going to change,” he said. “Zimbabwe is going to rebound, starting from October we will see changes in Zimbabwe. Next year we will be talking about something else. We believe in Zimbabwe, the industries are going to change.
“So from a rural perspective what we want to do, we are going to import cattle from Namibia, we don’t have enough cattle here. We will buy cattle from Namibia, we have identified an opportunity, we will buy steers and bring them home.
The steer that I will bring from Namibia will be cheaper than a steer that I buy locally.”
Mr Sibanda is also working towards building a technology driven primary school in his home area and has engaged international partners for the project.
The school will prioritise the teaching of science and mathematics. Herald