How Chiyangwa fathered flex culture

Fitzgerald Munyoro

The year is 2018 and the geographical location is Domboshava.

The scene takes place in an expensive mansion that frankly sticks out like a sore thumb in this peri-urban township.

Inside the mansion is a wealthy man in his thirties, despite draping himself in affluence in the form of a silk Versace shirt and denim jeans, Genius Kadungure is nervous and is doing a terrible job of hiding that fact.

He has a guest at his house and by the looks of things describing this guest as “important” is an understatement.

Kadungure has left no stone unturned for his visitor, there is no room for error; this must be a homerun.

He gingerly follows the burly light skinned man who is examining the walls and paintings of his mansion as he slow marches the corridors of one of Zimbabwe’s most famous mansions.

Ginimbi, as Kadungure is famously known has his head titled like a monk, eavesdropping to hear if the man has any words for him.

Like a child eager to please, one can tell Ginimbi is hoping for kind words.

Sadly, the man is giving him nothing but stoicism, the tension mounts.

Oblivious to Ginimbi’s jittery nature, the other gentleman keeps walking and his fingers lightly touch the upholstered walls and behind his spectacles scours the surroundings.

Ginimbi closely observes him and the slightest show of expression at a piece of furniture, artefact or design from the man triggers Ginimbi to formulate some words.

He blurts out “Ndakazvitenga kuDubai (I bought this from Dubai).”It’s almost comical how he grimaces at the minimal response he gets from the man.

Finally, the burly man, Ginimbi and his entourage converge in his living room.

A loud silence encapsulates the air as expectant ears wait for the man to speak.

Using his government name, the man says “Genius, I’m very impressed.”

A relieved look envelopes Ginimbi’s face and a small smile curves the edges of his lips.

To the uninitiated eye, it makes no sense why a simple house call from an elderly man called Phil Chiyangwa carries so much weight for Ginimbi and was treated with such debonair importance.

Yet it is clear for all who were present that a stamp of approval and endorsement from Phillip Chiyangwa was something Ginimbi greatly treasured and above all, needed.

Many might want to ask why?

Perhaps it is because, despite his affluence and popularity in the world of Zimbabwean socialites, Ginimbi knew and acknowledged the alpha dog on the hierarchy.

He was aware of the originator of the game in which he was dabbling in, a practice that culture theorists have termed “flex culture”, that is the fetishization of material wealth and brash public display and celebration of that said wealth.

Simply put, before the era of mbingas, influencers, ngoda boys, slay kings and queens, there was Phillip Chiyangwa, a self-made entrepreneur whose appetite to court attention at all costs using social media might have deliberately or accidentally open the doors for the likes of Ginimbi, Passion Java, Hell Commander, Boss Scott a.k.a Scott Sakupwanya to mention but a few.

A closer study will reveal that a series of events, some of them spontaneous and some of them planned set Chiyangwa on this path.

Chiyangwa’s rise to wealth is shrouded in fog of conflicting tales. Even though he has always maintained that he is a self-made mogul.

Despite the self-sustenance claims, he has never been able to shake off rumours that he was extended an influential rope to climb the success ladder by his uncle, the late former President Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

In his own words, Chiyangwa says he got his entrepreneurial genes from his mother who was a vegetable vendor.

Speaking about his upbringing, the middle child in a family of 14 says “My mother was a vendor, a vegetable vendor and she was the first to teach me to buy and sell. Which is what I do to make money up to today.”

What is also known is Chiyangwa has also been around the showbiz industry for a long time.

His late older brother David popularly known as Mr. Bulk was a popular gospel musician in the early to late 90s.

As an extension, Chiyangwa’s first venture in the entrepreneurial world was a company he called Phids Electric Sounds which was a sound system that made waves in Chitungwiza, Musami and St Ignatius to mention but a few places.

He also branched out into artist management and was aligned with the likes of Hosea Chipanga, the Erosion Band amongst others.

He then went into boxing and professional wrestling promotion.

He claims to have managed the boxing legends, Proud Kilimanjaro Chinembiri, Gilbert Josamu, Ambrose Mlilo, and Langton Tinago.

There is no doubt that this experience in the world of public spectacles and associating with athletes and artists who often portray themselves as larger than life characters rubbed off remarkably on him and sowed the seeds for the character Zimbabwe would later know as “Bla Fidza the king of selfies.”

1994 would be an important year for Chiyangwa, he collaborated with fellow young black businessman Peter Pamire to found the Affirmative Action Group (AAG).

AAG was an organization which was formed as a reaction to the IBDC’s failure to influence swift policy changes for the economic environment to favour indigenous black business people.

This was the company that would propel Phil Chiyangwa into the upper echelons of those with financial means.

However, other important events pivotal to Chiyangwa also took place in 1994, enterprising banker Nigel Chanakira founded the first black owned banking service company which was Kingdom Bank.

In that same year, another enterprising telecommunications engineer Strive Masiyiwa was embroiled in the first year of what would be a five year legal battle with the government to register his own privately owned telecommunications company Econet Holdings.

Besides being Chiyangwa’s business contemporaries, the two entrepreneurs are indirectly influential to Chiyangwa’s direction to pivot himself with social media later on when their fates collided.

Chiyangwa, Masiyiwa and Chanakira’s paths would align again at the end of the first decade of the millennium where global business trends underwent a drastic shift from being brand based to become personality based.

The emergence of young technology start up pioneers such as Mark Zuckerberg(Facebook),Steve Jobs(Apple) and Elon Musk(Tesla) as new age personality cults cascaded onto the African landscape.

Around this period, Strive Masiyiwa opened his motivational Facebook platform where we would share experiences and offer insights from his journey in the entrepreneurial world.

Most Zimbabweans on the digital platform found the page endearing and further cemented Econet’s position as the leading digital communication brand in Zimbabwe.

Above all, the Facebook platform humanized Strive Masiyiwa and changed certain public perceptions of him.

Furthermore Masiyiwa added a philanthropic element to his image and opened a family foundation that offers scholarship programs to more than 250,000 young Africans.

To date, he supports more than 40,000 orphans with educational initiatives and sponsors students at universities in America, the United Kingdom, and China.

More so he has been invited to give guest lectures at reputable tertiary institutions in Africa and abroad.

Chanakira also did likewise, from 2011 to present day, the economist has been traveling throughout Zimbabwean universities giving public lectures and motivational talks in a bid to inspire the next generation of local entrepreneurs.

He also sits on boards of various entrepreneurial startups and assists in securing investments for business with huge potential.

In doing so, these moguls were positioning themselves to be the godfathers of the brave new world which was and is undoubtedly heading in an entrepreneurial trajectory.

This was in full view of Chiyangwa and the urge to keep up with his contemporaries must have been too irresistible to ignore.

He no doubt wanted his name to be included in the conversation of the pioneers of tomorrow.

Needless to say, Chiyangwa joined the campaign trail and also delivered guest lectures at universities around Zimbabwe.

However, therein lies the problem: compared to his peers Chiyangwa was not as technically articulate.

His book keeping education at Universal College in Highfields pales in comparison to Chanakira’s Master’s degree in Economics and Masiyiwa’s Scottish engineering education.

Reports from universities were circulating that despite his charisma, Chiyangwa’s public lectures were inept and lacking in academic and technical content.

Chiyangwa then re invented the wheel.

One fateful day in 2013 all the way from Chinhoyi University of Technology, Chiyangwa broke the internet, not for what he said but what he did.

He was scheduled for a public lecture appearance at the institute and he showed up in an expansive Rolls Royce Phantom which was at that time valued at somewhere between $200 000 to $500 000 United States dollars.

According to gambakwe.com, the Phantom is ranked no 10. On the list of the most expensive cars ever bought and owned by Zimbabweans.

Reports say that each and every student who had a smartphone made use of it. It was the day the “Bla Fidza” moniker was birthed.

To add more gloss to shine, Chiyangwa is reported to have “made it rain” the term used to describe affluent people carelessly throwing money in the air.

From that point on, Phil Chiyangwa’s public lectures became a must see and must attend spectacle; namely for a sighting of the Rolls Royce mobile which was believed to be the only one in the country at the time and of course and to take a gamble of being a recipient of the greenback courtesy of Chiyangwa’s “rain of money.”

In 2014, Chiyangwa’s name penetrated the musical charts through a song by Mbare rapper Jnr Brown. The song was titled “Phil Chiyangwa”.

The refrain of the song was;

“Phil Chiyangwa, Phil Chiyangwa ndomalevels”(Phil Chiyangwa is the level) underpinning him as the poster boy of wealth and urban culture.

The song which was the lead single from the Pungwe Sessions Vol 1 album was a major hit and held the number one spot on Zifm urban chart radio for 10 weeks.

Phil Chiyangwa had transcended traditional boundaries and become a text in urban culture.

The ripple effect would manifest six years later courtesy of Enzo Ishall’s 2020 hit track “Siya something” , a praise song for the rich and affluent to make it rain at any given time they come across the less privileged.

Chiyangwa would soon wear another crown and become the self-styled “king of selfies”.

His title coincided with another shift in digital global culture and that is the rise of WhatsApp, an instant multimedia messaging application that would change the tide of the communication.

Besides instant messaging, WhatsApp also allowed users to share images and short videos that can be easily shared to other users of the platform.

Phil was one of the earliest socialites to have his finger on the pulse of using social media for clout and influencer.

He was inadvertently an influencer before influencers were called influencers.

Only one man can go through the social media accounts of modern day socialites and confidently say “been there and done that.”

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