When Cupid flew Modi to Zim

Deputy Min­is­ter Modi be­lieves Gov­ern­ment has to har­ness the youth div­i­dend to cre­ate sus­tain­able growth. For his part, he is willing to con­tinue en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to be en­trepreneurial.

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FEATURE - De­bra Matabvu

GROW­ING up in the pop­u­lous streets of In­dia, lit­tle did he know that he would one day be a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter in a coun­try that is 7 000km from his birth place. Un­til a few weeks ago, many Zim­bab­weans were not fa­mil­iar with the name Raj Modi. He may have grabbed a few head­lines in his pre­vi­ous life as a busi­ness­man in Bu­l­awayo, now in his new life as Deputy Min­istry of In­dus­try and Com­merce, he has been thrust into the lime­light.

In Bu­l­awayo, his name has been known for quite a while now. Some even call him “Mdaw­ini”, de­rived from the Shumba totem. In an in­ter­view at his Gov­ern­ment of­fices in Harare last week, Mr Modi said his 36-year stay in Zim­babwe prob­a­bly mer­ited the hon­o­rar­ium of the totem.

“In Zim­babwe, totems are very im­por­tant and they are part of peo­ple’s lives,” he says with a smile.

“It is how the peo­ple con­nect and re­late to each other. Al­though I have been in the coun­try for decades, I wanted some­thing that would help con­nect with the peo­ple at an­other level. I adopted the totem years ago due to my ev­ery­day en­coun­ters with peo­ple. They ended up call­ing me many lo­cal names un­til they set­tled for Mdaw­ini.

“Each time peo­ple saw me they would say ‘you are my brother’, oth­ers would say ‘you are my un­cle’. That is how I made friends and cus­tomers and dur­ing the (Naitonal As­sem­bly) cam­paigns, I made a lot of sup­port­ers us­ing that line.”

But who re­ally is Deputy Min­is­ter Modi?

Born Ra­jesh In­dukant Modi in In­dia on Fe­bru­ary 4, 1959, he at­tained a de­gree in Eco­nom­ics from South Gu­jarat Uni­ver­sity in 1981. Upon com­plet­ing his stud­ies, he got a job as a cashier at an elec­tri­cal shop in In­dia.

As fate would have it, a few months later the 22-year-old Modi met Parul Kothari, who was born in Zim­babwe, and Cupid took over.

The two love­birds got mar­ried and the young cou­ple flew to Zim­babwe.

Ma­rooned

But tragedy struck. Mr Modi’s fa­ther-in-law passed away, leav­ing his young wife to care for her wid­owed mother.

“I had no in­ten­tion of stay­ing in the coun­try. I re­mem­ber I had a few clothes with me and a re­turn ticket. How­ever, when my fa­ther-in-law passed away, I had to stay for my wife and mother-in-law.

“At 22, I had a lot of plans. I had many friends back in In­dia, had dreams I wanted to achieve in In­dia, so it was not easy at first, I must ad­mit.

“I got a job as a gen­eral hand, sweep­ing and mop­ping floors. I used to walk to and from work to save money. Af­ter eight years, I joined Mr Naran’s su­per­mar­ket and while I was there, I learnt how to man­age a su­per­mar­ket. Af­ter some time, I opened my own busi­ness, which is Belle­vue Su­perette.

“When I started the su­perette, it was more of a tuck shop, a small over-the­counter shop manned by two staff mem­bers.

“The shop was be­ing run by my wife while I con­tin­ued to be for­mally em­ployed by the whole­sale cen­tre run by Mr Naran.”

Af­ter five years of work­ing for Mr Naran, Mr Modi quit to run the su­perette; and in 1999, he es­tab­lished Belle­vue Spar - which gave birth to 12 other su­per­mar­kets.

He has three other su­per­mar­kets in Aus­tralia, which are run by his fa­ther.

In 2005, he sold his su­per­mar­kets to Chop­pies and started a liquor whole­sale - the pop­u­lar Liquor Hub - which he runs to this day.

Away from busi­nesses, he spends time with his wife, three chil­dren and three grand­chil­dren. He also pe­ri­od­i­cally vis­its his brother and sis­ter who are still in In­dia.

Join­ing Zanu-PF

Modi has been a Zanu-PF card-car­ry­ing mem­ber since 2003.

In 2014 he was elected sec­re­tary for in­di­geni­sa­tion for the Bu­l­awayo City district ex­ec­u­tive. In 2018, he was elected ward sec­re­tary for pro­duc­tion and labour.

“Most peo­ple do not know that I have been in pol­i­tics for some time now,” he says. “How­ever, it was dur­ing the events that led to Novem­ber’s Op­er­a­tion Re­store Legacy that made my name pop­u­lar as I was ac­cused of fan­ning fac­tion­al­ism in Bu­l­awayo.

“I was one of the peo­ple who were said to be in Pres­i­dent Mnan­gagwa’s cor­ner when he was still the Vice-Pres­i­dent. How­ever, that is in the past now and we are fo­cus­ing on the fu­ture.”

Deputy Min­is­ter Modi be­lieves Gov­ern­ment has to har­ness the youth div­i­dend to cre­ate sus­tain­able growth.

For his part, he is willing to con­tinue en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to be en­trepreneurial. Last week, he un­veiled a $100 000 re­volv­ing fund for youths in Bu­l­awayo.

“I do not be­lieve in giv­ing peo­ple hand­outs; that is why we have de­cided to have a re­volv­ing fund which will used by the youths.

“It is a way of giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity that ac­com­mo­dated and sup­ported me for so many years. It is also a way of em­pow­er­ing the youths.

“I will also be giv­ing away my salary. At the mo­ment, I have not de­cided on the char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tions,” he said.

His de­sire, he says, is to see Zim­babwe re­stored to the coun­try he fell in love with when he first landed in Harare 36 years ago.

Deputy Min­is­ter Modi and his wife pos­ing for a photo with mem­bers of his fam­ily

Till death do us part. . .Deputy Min­is­ter Modi and his wife Parul

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