Douglas Munatsi, the respected banker who has died after a fire at his home in Harare, had an option to stay in the private sector, stitching up multimillion dollar deals in private equity.
But he surprised even himself by taking up a job as the man in charge of promoting investment into Zimbabwe.
The CEO of the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (ZIDA) died in a fire in the early hours of Monday at Northfields, a complex in Harare’s Avenues area, according to the residents’ association.
“The association wishes to advise stakeholders that at approximately 02.50AM, on Monday 29th November, a fire was detected by the occupant of flat C9 in Northfields. There was no electricity at the time due to a cable fault,” the statement said.
“The occupant in C10 heard commotion and noise, and went to his balcony to investigate further. There, he heard from the occupant of C9 that there was a fire and he asked to call the fire brigade. At 02.59, the fire brigade was called, and they arrived at 03.11. They fought the blaze for 2hrs, and despite their efforts, they were unable to save the occupant of C9, who is believed to be Mr Douglas Munatsi.”
Munatsi was born in Highfield and grew up in Mufakose in Harare, before his family lived in Gweru and Masvingo. His father died when he was a teenager, but he endured and made it to the University of Zimbabwe.
His first job after leaving university was with Barclays. He later joined the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation. But the call of home then, was as loud as it was to be years later in his career.
He returned to Zimbabwe, and began work to set up his own bank.
In 1995, he founded Heritage Investment Bank, one of the first black-owned banks. Two years later, he engineered a daring corporate transaction. When Anglo American, one of the most influential companies in the country, wanted to sell out of First Merchant Bank, the country’s oldest merchant bank, Munatsi led a consortium that outcompeted bigger rivals for the FMB stake.
He did this by traveling to the UK to meet with Philip Baum, then head of Anglo, gambling by signing a deal even without his board back home in the picture.
In 2000, Munatsi merged FMB with udc, a leasing firm, and Bard discount house, to set up the African Banking Corporation, now BancABC, which he listed in Botswana. He later won the backing of Atlas Mara, run by Bob Diamond, a former Barclays executive. Atlas Mara became the significant shareholder, with a promise to shore up the bank’s capital. But that relationship turned sour, when John Vitalo, appointed as an executive without Munatsi’s okay, reneged on a deal to recapitalise the business.
At one meeting, Munatsi told Vitalo: “I am not a house negro”.
In 2014, after the relationship broke down, Munatsi and his partners, Francis Dzanya and Beki Moyo, sold their interest to Atlas Mara for US$210 million and left a business that they had founded.
“At our last function, leaving in December of 2014, people were crying. It was hugely emotional,” Munatsi once recalled. “That’s actually one of the criticisms we received from the new shareholder, to say ‘this is not a business, you’re just friends’. We were a family.”
The three then formed a new private equity outfit, DBF Capital, which is invested in energy, metals and insurance. The company was growing, but, just like in the IFC days, the urge to return home was strong.
In March 2020, he accepted an unexpected offer from President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
ZIDA had just been formed, after new legislation that merged investment promotion agencies, such as the Zimbabwe Investment Authority, the Joint Venture Unit, and the Zimbabwe Special Economic Zones Authority. Mnangagwa needed someone with some private sector experience and, more importantly, someone with market credibility.
Mnangagwa turned to Munatsi, with whom he had had several tough conversations on the economy.
“I said to him, all those things you always lecture me about, come and do them,” Mnangagwa said a the launch of ZIDA.
Why did he leave the cushy life in private equity to take up an inevitably frustrating job working for the government?
“It was not an easy life to abandon, to serve. But we all have to serve,” Munatsi told publisher Trevor Ncube in May.
“We think that there are solutions that we can provide for certain challenges that are in our country and, therefore, when you are called upon to put into practice some of the things that you often lecture other people to do, that’s the real test.”
Living outside the country, he said, “you realise that it does not give you satisfaction to see other countries progressing, to see other people doing the kinds of things that you think we should be doing in our country and you remain not contributing, not putting your hand to the plough or in the skin in the game”.
It was time, Munatsi, said, to put into practice the advice he had been giving the Zimbabwe government.
“So it is really a time to put to practice, to whisper quietly to the leaders to say we think we can do this slightly differently.”
At ZIDA, he set about the tough task of ending the decades-old culture of bureaucracy that frustrated investors. Where an investor previously needed to make stops at multiple offices, now they could have it all processed at ZIDA. It was a good plan, but he admitted in May how frustrating the job had been to cut through the red tape and force a new culture.
Munatsi had in 2019 been appointed to the RBZ’s monetary policy committee, but stepped down to focus on ZIDA after his appointment at the agency.
Munatsi’s farm, Kunatsa, is one of the country’s most successful farms. The farm, which Munatsi bought in 2001, achieves yields above 20 tonnes per hectare, often topping seed company Seed Co’s producer rankings.
Munatsi is survived by his wife, Bindzile, and three children.