KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
THERE are only a handful of companies that still exist and are older than Zambia; Shonga Steel is one of the few.
After a difficult period, a period in which most manufacturing companies in Zambia struggled with others closing as a result of the neo-liberal policies that opened the countryâ€™s economy to outside competition, Shonga Steel is still very much alive and is repositioning itself in order to play a leading role in the countryâ€™s manufacturing industry.
Its mission is simple: â€œâ€¦ to lead in the formulation of a uniquely Zambian manufacturing style, one that is indigenous and influenced by the countryâ€™s history, socio-economic, political and cultural heritage.â€
At inception in 1963, it was known as Mils Sank & Sheldon before changing name to Mils Scaffolding, then, GKN Mils, and thereafter GKN, the British global engineering business.
It became, and still is, a wholly Zambian business in 1975 when Dominic Mulaisho and Patrick Chisanga, who, shortly after the countryâ€™s independence, had served together as permanent secretary and under-secretary, respectively, in the Office of the President, acquired it.
Now under its second generation ownership, the companyâ€™s board of directors is made up of Kizito Mulaisho as chairman and Brian Chisanga as director.
As of today, Shonga has a staffing component of approximately 100 staff who operate from a 10,000 square metre factory located on Mukwa road within the heavy industrial area of Lusaka.
Director of sales and marketing Patrick Mulaisho says as a company they are continuously evolving, pioneering new technologies and reinventing existing ones while stretching themselves to be better in everything they do.
â€œWhen tasked, there is really little that we cannot or have not done before. So much so that our products are actually referenced as â€˜The Standard Measureâ€™ by the Zambia Bureau of Standards,â€ Mr Mulaisho says.
Their company profile reads: â€œIn our 40 years of our existence as Shonga Steel, we have acquired a colossal amount of experience and first-hand trade industry knowledge. Our staff is highly skilled, highly motivated and conversant in the use of computer-aided systems along with many of the latest releases of software within our sector.â€
Shonga, a name derived from each of the last three letters of the names Mulaisho and Chisanga, supplies a wide range of furniture.
These include kitchen units, school desks, chairs, hospital beds/cabinets, custom-made executive office furniture, boardroom tables, stainless steel tops, baby cots, specialised shelving for factories/banks, bookshelves, bunk beds and nursery furniture, among others.
Mr Mulaisho says as a company, they believe in their Zambian workforce, a workforce that they are immensely proud of.
â€œOur human resource is our biggest asset and is one which we are passionately dedicated to. They have a win-win warrior attitude and with this kind of driving force behind us, it spurs us even more to create more quality jobs,â€ he says.
Mr Mulaisho says they are actively looking to bolster their sales divisions nationwide, which means new job possibilities.
He says Shonga Steel is proof that it is living up to the ideals of not only championing and supporting but also building and helping to keep the Zambian manufacturing industry alive.
For him, he does not see the need for organisations to go through the hustle and expense of importing products from far flung lands when Shonga Steel can supply superior products on time and to budget.
â€œWe constantly review our product ranges, pricing and of course, the quality of our products. I am proud to say that on most occasions, we find our products to be innovative, competitively priced and without doubt, of superior â€˜warrantedâ€™ quality,â€ he says.
â€œVery few, if any, indigenous companies have the ability to handle every aspect of a 15,000 unit desk order in-house. Shonga Steel can and we have done several times.â€
Shonga Steel has a long and illustrious list of clients who include the government of Zambia, its biggest client, the Office of the President, The University of Zambia, Zambia State Insurance Corporation, Cabinet Office, and the Ministry of General Education.
Others are the Ministry of Home Affairs, Agricultural and Commercial Show Society of Zambia, Ministry of Finance, Intercontinental Hotel, The Clinton Health Initiative, Zambia Revenue Authority, Ministry of Works and Supply, British American Tobacco and many others both public and private.
On the international stage, when Joseph Mizizi, a volunteer for World Bicycle Relief and president of the New York-based Sciame Construction, found himself in Zambia as part of a mission to provide school children with wheels to alleviate their sometimes hours-long commute on foot, it was Shonga Steel that he entrusted to provide the classroom and kitchen furniture.
This was by no means a small or low profile project for it was supported by an A-list of supporters including Solange Knowles, the sister of the global blockbuster sensation that is Beyonce Knowles.
That is just one of the many projects that Shonga Steel has undertaken in recent years.
There are others involving the likes of Makeni School of Nursing, Sacred Heart, The Italian School, Crested Crane, Childrenâ€™s International, JTI and Apex University, to name but a few.
The company itself is divided into four divisions. These are the Building Services Division which undertakes a wide range of specialist sub-contracts to the construction industry as well as direct supply of units to other smaller customers and the Steel Division which provides an essential service to all aspects of construction work within the building and civil engineering industry.
The other two are the Trading Division whose main expertise is to provide steel, furniture and building services, and the Refurb Division which undertakes refurbishment of all old furniture including kitchen units, school/office desks and chairs.
Mr Mulaisho also says the company believes in its social corporate responsibility, which greatly leans towards the younger generation.
â€œApart from taking on students for internship programmes, we also donate to various charities but, we always can and want to do more in these sectors. So if you are an organisation, and you have a need, engage with us. But word to the wise, we do not give out jiggies,â€ he says.
Shonga Steel, by the sheer large scale nature of its work, believes in competition and fair practices as the bedrocks of quality and efficiency.
â€œWhere there is no competition, complacency always encroaches, laxity sets in and bad service and support becomes de rigueur. As a large scale manufacturer, we are at our most efficient and productive when this factory is operating at full capacity,â€ Mr Mulaisho says.
â€œTo be at that point, we really need to harness amongst us as Zambians, a true and genuine love and support for our own, something which at the moment we are lacking in. So long as itâ€™s from afar, we believe that itâ€™s best.
â€œThis is far from being the reality. Support Zambian industry. For if you donâ€™t, who shall? And if not now, when? Support begins with us as citizens of this beautiful, bountiful, blessed country we call Zambia.â€
The company profile states: â€œIn the awarding of tenders and works, we feel strongly that these should be done in a way that is more transparent and based on competitive pricing, ability to perform, adherence to delivery dates and times, experience, merit, previous performance and complete customer satisfaction.â€
The vision for Shongaâ€™s future seems to be a competitive and bright one; here is a Zambian company that is not only committed to being on the frontier of change but also in shaping and guiding manufacturing as â€œthe name to rememberâ€.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka