From Road Surfacing to Global Impact: Francis Mangwendeza on Asphalt Products’ Journey in Zimbabwe

Francis Mangwendeza shares insights into Asphalt Products’ inception and evolution since its establishment in 1996. From specializing in road surfacing to expanding into various civil engineering projects and manufacturing, Asphalt Products has become a significant player in Zimbabwe’s construction industry. Mangwendeza discusses the company’s latest news, notable projects, and vision for the future.

Interview with Francis Mangwendeza, Owner and CEO of Asphalt Products

Francis Mangwendeza, Owner and CEO of Asphalt Products

Could you share some insights into the inception of Asphalt Products and its evolution over the years?

Asphalt Products was established in 1996 by myself and a colleague. Since then, we have undergone significant growth and evolution. Initially focused on providing road surfacing products as a specialized contractor within Zimbabwe, our primary emphasis was on road surfacing. Over time, however, we expanded our scope to encompass a wide range of civil engineering activities. While road surfacing remained a core aspect of our business, we expanded our portfolio to encompass a wide range of civil engineering projects, including roadworks, earthworks, and irrigation schemes. Additionally, we ventured into the manufacturing domain, producing various emulsions and cutback bitumen locally. Our journey since 1996 has transformed us into a company that not only contributes to the road surfacing sector but also adds value across earthworks and the manufacturing of diverse materials.

What sets Asphalt Products apart considering the competitive landscape with numerous civil engineering firms in Zimbabwe?

Our distinguishing factor lies in the exceptional quality of our work. Since our establishment, we have successfully delivered all projects on time without any need for revisions. The feedback from our collaborators has consistently been positive, underscoring our commitment to excellence. We take pride in our stringent quality standards, and our ability to oversee the materials utilized in our processes allows us to maintain superior quality control. Consequently, our roadworks and manufactured products, both locally and internationally, are unparalleled within Zimbabwe. Our commitment to quality truly makes us stand out.

Discussing projects, could you provide an overview of some notable endeavors Asphalt Products has been involved in?

We have actively been involved in various infrastructure development projects across Zimbabwe, particularly in Bulawayo, Beitbridge, Gwanda, and Gweru. These projects have ranged from the ground-up development of entire townships, encompassing roadworks, sewer systems, water reticulation, and associated works like stand demarcation. We have undertaken several such projects across southern Zimbabwe. Additionally, we take pride in our collaboration with the government, contributing to emergency roadworks programs. We have consistently delivered on allocated projects within the stipulated timelines. As mentioned earlier, our commitment to quality remains evident, with the roads we have worked on maintaining a high standard.

Could you provide insights into the various sectors Asphalt Products operates within and predominantly focuses on?

Our primary engagement is in the construction field, specifically in road construction and civil construction. We also serve as suppliers of essential materials for these trades. This involves the operation of a bitumen emulsions plant where we run various plants of different sizes to produce a range of asphalt products, including Anionic bitumen emulsion, Stable 60, cat mixes, and cutback bitumens. Beyond construction, we extend our involvement to irrigation schemes, a facet of our work that has notably impacted rural communities in Zimbabwe. These sectors represent some of the key areas where our company actively participates.

Let’s now explore the overall engineering sector in Zimbabwe. Could you highlight the prevailing trends and challenges within the sector, providing your own insights?

Every country grapples with its unique set of challenges, and Zimbabwe is no exception. We face our own distinct set of issues, which we navigate through. Similar to any business or executive, our primary concern lies in finding solutions when faced with challenges, rather than dwelling on their origins. When encountering stormy waters, our focus is on figuring out how to navigate through them. In Zimbabwe, we have encountered a range of issues that are specific to our context. Like many other countries, we grapple with challenges related to the economy, including concerns about the exchange rate, exchange rate stability, monetary policies, and interest rates. Particularly within the economic sector, we have experienced our fair share of problems, with certain economic fundamentals not aligning as expected.

How is Asphalt Products navigating through the external factors such as inflation rates and monetary policies that impact businesses, particularly in Zimbabwe?

It is all about our approach. When faced with stormy waters, we do not dwell on where they are coming from; instead, we focus on finding the best strategy to navigate through them. It is a matter of adapting our approach – at times, we sail as long as our ship can endure, sometimes we choose to circumvent, and on occasion, we decide not to sail at all. The key is having a specific strategy tailored to our sector, ensuring the company stays afloat. We have been successfully managing this since 1996, including navigating through the hyperinflation in 2008 and 2009. The fact that we are still here speaks volumes about our resilience.

Considering the constraints on accessing funds in Zimbabwe, are you actively seeking investors? If so, how are you approaching this?

As part of our strategy, we are leveraging technological advancements in road construction. Traditionally, road construction involved deploying graders and dozers for extensive manual work. However, current technology allows for road recycling, and that is where we intend to invest. Acquiring this technology would enable us to refurbish roads in a significantly shorter timeframe. Our vision is to become a company that aligns with environmental concerns. Recognizing the environmental impact of civil works, we aim to recycle materials from old roads for reuse in new projects, not only for economic reasons but also for environmental sustainability. This is the specific area where we will be seeking investment – to acquire technology capable of efficiently refurbishing, widening, or rehabilitating roads within a short period. That is the direction we want to take.

Environmental concerns have become increasingly important for both individuals and governments. How does your company approach these environmental considerations, especially given the significant environmental implications of asphalt and concrete?

Our approach centers on minimizing the environmental impact, recognizing the substantial carbon footprint associated with the asphalt industry. For instance, all our asphalt plants are equipped with dust entrapment and catchment devices to prevent the emission of dust particles into the environment. Additionally, these plants have the capability to recycle old asphalt by blending it with new asphalt, resulting in savings for the new asphalt used in fresh projects. We also focus on recycling the gravel on existing roads, transforming it into a usable form that can support the construction of new roads, rather than importing new gravel.

Looking ahead over the next three years, what are your aspirations for Asphalt Products?

One of the primary goals I aim to achieve is finalizing the succession plan we have been diligently working on within the company. Over the past decade, we have been in the stages of succession planning and its implementation. I anticipate retiring within the next five years, allowing younger individuals to step into leadership roles with fresh energy. My desire is to ensure that they inherit a company equipped with advanced technology and positioned for stability as we move into the future.

What serves as your inspiration and drives you in your pursuits?

My main inspiration stems from my parents, who instilled in me the belief that, as Africans, our true freedom lies in the ability to compete globally. They emphasized that until professionals in sectors like mine can execute and complete projects in places like China, Russia, or Europe at the same level as Europeans, Japanese, or Americans operating in Africa, true freedom for Africa remains unrealized. This inspires me to create something with a global impact that elevates the standing of African people. Currently, it often feels like we are viewed as migrant labor. While there are some successful African individuals and companies operating overseas, I aspire to witness, within my lifetime, an African construction company capable of undertaking projects in Europe, China, or anywhere else in the world. This vision of Africans excelling on a global platform is what drives me the most.


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