- Following the death of the late Dr Nkomo on 1 July 1999, a year after Econet had begun to operate, Mr Masiyiwa said he, together with his wife, Tsitsi, felt they needed to honour the veteran national hero with something that would last forever.
ZIMBABWEAN billionaire and Econet Wireless founder, Mr Strive Masiyiwa, says he still remembers how the late veteran nationalist and Vice-President Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo loved him and how he contributed to the establishment of what has become the country’s largest telecommunications business.
Reflecting on why he created the Joshua Nkomo Scholarship Trust (JNST), the Pan-African businessman and philanthropist said the late Father Zimbabwe’s influence inspired his family to set up an education Trust, which has been supporting gifted and talented students for the past 21 years.
Writing on his popular Facebook blog, Mr Masiyiwa (60), who is also African Union Special Envoy for Covid-19, said despite starting small in the 1990s, his business and philanthropic works have impacted many lives to date.
He said the late Vice-President had a strong passion for supporting young entrepreneurs and came to his rescue at the time he needed help most.
“It was there all that time, but I was struggling, trying to get it licensed to operate. As some of you know, Zimbabwe’s first nationalist leader was a man called Joshua Nkomo,” Mr Masiyiwa wrote.
“He was always very keen to support entrepreneurship and young people. He loved me dearly and came out in vocal support of me when I was being denied a licence. “I was very close to him and I spent a lot of time at his home.”
Following the death of the late Dr Nkomo on 1 July 1999, a year after Econet had begun to operate, Mr Masiyiwa said he, together with his wife, Tsitsi, felt they needed to honour the veteran national hero with something that would last forever.
“So, came the idea of a unique scholarship programme, similar to the Rhodes Scholarship. It would give scholarships to the country’s 100 smartest high school graduates,” he wrote.
“We set up a panel to review the results of the O-level examinations and to select the top 10 students from each of the country’s province.
“There was only one exception: 50 percent of each year’s intake had to be GIRLS! This was to honour Joshua Nkomo’s wife, who went by the nickname “Mafuyana.”
The programme would support the selected students to go to Advanced Level, and on to university.
Popularly known as the Joshua Nkomo Scholarship Trust, the scholarship programme is now 21 years old and has sent thousands of students to university, who have trained in different professions.
“Many of them made it to some of the best universities in the world, including Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Morehouse, and even China’s Tsinghua,” wrote Mr Masiyiwa who was recently named first black billionaire in the United Kingdom.
“The programme has produced students who, every year, compete for the Rhodes Scholarship programme itself to go to Oxford University. We have won it five times!
“We sent hundreds of young people to South Africa and to the United States. Many of them work for global companies, such as Facebook, IBM and the like, while several others are back home, working as doctors, engineers and civil servants.”
Before the JNST initiative, Mr Masiyiwa had begun a philanthropy when he started to help children orphaned by HIV/Aids with school fees support until he registered what came to be known as the Capernaum Trust.
“The JNST is not the same as our programme for orphaned and underprivileged children, that I started at the beginning. That one is a mass-education programme, and it has helped over 300 000 students since it started,” he explained.
“Once graduated, the students join an alumni called ‘Joshualites’ and are encouraged to find ways to help others.”
A few years ago, the UK-based businessman said he also extended the programme to students in other countries, where Econet has operations such as Burundi and Lesotho.
“Now and again, I get a personal ‘thank you’ note from a student who has completed their programme. It’s strange how it is always the girls who do it the most,” he said.
“But I really expect nothing in return, except that they remember the ‘old man’ — Joshua Nkomo — and his wife Mafuyana.” ■