By Tinashe Nyaruwanga
IN 1995 six enterprising individuals came together and formed a company that broke white dominance in the funeral business and today it is among the leading funeral assurance companies in the country.
The company, Moonlight, now boasts 31 branches dotted around the major cities, towns and growth points. The phenomenal growth of the company over the past 16 years has been overseen by one of the founding members, Mr Chomi Makina, who has been the chief executive from its inception. Talking to the man, it is not difficult to see why he was a natural choice for the post because he discusses funeral assurance with the conviction of a converted soul.
“The funeral assurance business is a calling, it is not for everyone. You need to have the right frame of mind and the zeal and passion to serve,” he said.
His calling came to him way back in 1983 when he dumped the teaching profession for the insurance industry, after just working for a year following his graduation from the University of Zimbabwe. “Teaching was not just fulfilling and at that time the insurance industry offered better prospects for me,” he said. He then joined Zimnat Life where he started selling life assurance before he packed his bags and headed for Progressive Insurance, which at that time was selling life and funeral policies for Doves Funeral Services.
After spending a number of years at Progressive, Mr Makina felt an urge to move on.
“I am a dreamer and when I dream I do so in colour and not black and white. Basically, what I am saying is I aim for the very best in life because when God gave his son to die for us on the cross he was the very best and as God’s creations we should also aim for the best,” he said.
“As we were writing life and funeral policies, most of my fellow brokers were happy with the commissions that they were getting from the policies that they were writing, but I wanted to handle the premiums,” he said. It was this ambition that he shared with his other co-founders that gave rise to the birth of Moonlight.
“We wanted to provide a different kind of service for the indigenous people. We also wanted to demystify the myth that surrounded the funeral business especially within the black community, where death was considered to be sacred at the time. Our aim was to show that there is nothing sacred about the business and that it could be operated by black people. Contrary to what most people believe, as undertakers our role is not to cut up dead bodies, our role is to wash/bathe and embalm in some instances. Pathologists are the ones who carry out that role for post-mortem purposes,” he said.
The business was to later acquire Mashfords in 2000 from Mr and Mrs Gruenthal, which added seven branches to the company. In addition, Moonlight acquired Mashfords’ subsidiaries, including Joseph and Samson that was specifically created to cater for the black community and J. Davis, one of the country’s largest coffin manufacturing business, that is situated in Mutare.
Turning to the current funeral assurance business upon which their business is premised, Mr Makina said there is a misconception on which side takes precedence over the other, the writing of policies or the undertaking business. “There is a wrong misconception that our undertaking business is primary to us and in most instances when I meet people and they ask me how business is, they expect me to say things like there are so many deaths these days so business is good. This is quite the opposite. First and foremost, we are insurers, undertaking is actually a by-product of this. To us death is a by-product of life, so our focus is primarily on life. “We are least happy when our members die because it’s a loss of business and in such instance we have to pay out a claim,” he said.
Mr Makina added that it is for this reason that they do not queue at public hospitals preying on relatives who have lost their loved ones to get business.
“That is because our main role is to sell funeral insurance and not undertaking services,” he said. His 16 years at the helm of the company has its rewards. In 2005 the company received an award for excellence from C. Faberge, a France-based organisation that focuses on philanthropists. “It was an honour for us because we were not aware that we were being considered for such an award,” he said.
Looking into the future his vision is for Moonlight’s presence to be felt all over the country.
“Essentially our vision and goal is to ensure that when one stretches out their hand they should be able to touch a Moonlight service or branch nearby,” he said. Mr Makina is a member of several organisations.
On the local front he is the president of the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers, first vice president of the Insurance Institute of Zimbabwe and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors of Zimbabwe. On the international front, he was recently appointed a board member of the International Federation of Thanatologist Associations, a non-profit world organisation of funeral operatives and also sits on the International Council of Direction for Africa, an affiliate of the former. Mr. Makina was born in Harare 49 years ago and grew up in Marondera where he did his primary and secondary education.
He is a casual golfer, ardent Christian and a father of three – two boys and a girl. His eldest son is studying law and business in Britain while the younger son is in Lower Six and the daughter is in Form Four.
At the Harare Chamber of Commerce Awards gala dinner in May 2014, Chomi Makina walked away with the Businessman of the Year Trophy, testimony to how his peers view his vision and hard work.