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Philip Mataranyika: The Man who Redefined Death Beliefs

When Philip Mataranyika’s mother overheard that his son intended to start a funeral service company. Her response was predictable: she prote...

When Philip Mataranyika’s mother overheard that his son intended to start a funeral service company.

Her response was predictable: she protested vehemently against the idea to his in-laws, accusing her son of seeking to “invite misfortune to the family.”

Her protests to unleash a stillbirth to the funeral business were futile, and Nyaradzo began. Back then, the funeral business was a big no for the indigenous people. 

Culturally, venturing into such trade was believed could attract rebuke and reproach from departed spirits.

At the onset, the main objective of forming Nyaradzo was to provide funeral services in sync with the perceived African culture. But they had to overcome the cultural barrier first, and today more subsidiaries have been added to the group.

Death has a different meaning in the African context. Owning and operating a funeral business was once taboo. One man who can attest to this is Nyaradzo Group CEO Philip Mataranyika. 

Nineteen years ago, he wanted to launch a funeral company, but he knew the resistance that will come his way. Commemorating its 19 years of existence, Mataranyika travelled the memory lane, revealing the resistance he faced.

“When we got Nyaradzo registered with all the paperwork needed to operate as a funeral assurance company by March 2001, there was one big elephant in the room: how I would break the news to my mother,” the entrepreneur reminisced.
Philip Mataranyika Drove Oliver Mtukudzi's Hearse

Two decades later, the company has managed to demystify death. “Along the way, Nyaradzo has altered negative stereotypes. Death no longer scares the daylights out of people,” he wrote, declaring that, “there is now acceptance” that we are all mortal beings.” 

These words coming from a man who has seen death countless times, it has to be believed. The company now enjoys a large chunk of the funeral market share.

At most funerals, the bereaved sing a song: “Uri soja usatye” (you a soldier, remain brave). This is directed to the grieving, as well as the departed to transform soldierly to the world yonder. The chorus aptly applies to Nyaradzo when they faced numerous storms, but elected to be steadfast. 

“We ventured into new frontiers and built muscle. We made bold decisions that kept us afloat and took risks,” the statement noted.

Operating in a hyperinflationary economy was a test for most businesses. The multicurrency basket was unpredictable, and some tough decisions had to be implemented. 

“In taking bold decisions to build the business, we had brushes with the law,” the CEO revealed. “We bought the elusive foreign currency (forex) on the then parallel market in a desperate bid to keep the business going.”

During that era, the company had three choices: close the business, blame the economy, and disappoint clients. Or source forex on the parallel market to operate. 

The company chose the latter avenue, leading to Mataranyika being arrested for violating foreign exchange regulations. He spent two nights in prison but was later acquitted.

 And with time, some of the cynical individuals, including his mother become some of their biggest cheerleaders to propel their efforts further. The CEO has scooped numerous accolades, the latest being in 2013 courtesy of Empretec Zimbabwe, which warded him the Businessman Luminary Award.

When cyclone Idai ravaged the country, the Nyaradzo Group aided affected families, in a bid to resurrect their affected lives. 

“We are happy that rebuilding from the rubbles has started. It will take longer but will be done,” he declared. They are also targeting to resuscitate the environment by planting 5 million trees by 2026.

Going against the norm, the parlor served at the funeral of two national heroes. Traditionally, it was a chosen funeral company that carried all burials. Mataranyika drove the hearse carrying Oliver Mtukudzi’s remains. 

The company repeated their feat serving as Robert Mugabe’s undertakers.

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