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    Creating an African Business Superpower


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2007,
    Interview with Mashudu Ramano, Chairman, Johnnic Communications

    © Johnnic Communications
    Mashudu Ramano, a business leader with a new vision for Africa.

    Johnnic Communications, also known as Johncom, is one of Africa's largest media and entertainment groups with interests ranging from bookshops to movie theatres clustering around its newspaper, music and film distribution business. It shares major links with a British multimedia giant but the South African company has always been a champion of South-South trade. Now it is expanding vigorously in Nigeria to help develop the potential of what has been called the Nollywood film business.

    Q: Johncom's story since 1995 is interesting in its own right. Would you summarize it for us?

    A: Johnnic Communications was formerly known as Times Media Limited - TML. The National Empowerment Consortium, which bought Johncom, is a coalition spanning the gamut of the black business community and trade unions. This combination enabled us to borrow money from banks to buy Johncom in 1996. We also established a joint venture with the British group Pearson's. Johncom is now South Africa's leading media and entertainment company. It publishes South Africa's biggest Sunday newspaper (the Sunday Times) and owns the Exclusive Books chain of bookshops, book publishers, the music publishing company Gallo Music and the movie distributor Nu Metro.

    Q: Johncom is proud of being a truly South African and African enterprise. While your revenues almost doubled between 2004 and 2006, your web site also notes that Johncom is "a profitable - and equally important, ethical - South African company owned and operated by South Africans" with 65% of staff representative of previously disadvantaged communities. What is your view of the image of Africa as a continent stuck in poverty?

    A: If you look at the continent as a whole, the poverty is not from lack of resources. It is poor vision - the eyes to see what we have. And when we do see a little bit better what assets we have, we do not mobilize properly to take advantage of them. Nigeria has 140 million people. Now that is just a bit more than Japan, and Japan is the second biggest economy in the world, with virtually no resources. Nigeria has oil and minerals but it is far behind in terms of the size of its economy and the standard of living. If we can get governance issues right, we can start to make real use of our resources. And some countries - like Nigeria - are taking steps to correct those problems.

    Q: Is that why you are investing heavily in Nigeria's movie trade? Nu Metro has strategic partnerships with the world's major studios and distributes their top movies in South Africa as well as supplying the retail and rental trade with videos and DVDs.

    A: Nollywood, as it's known, is enormous. There are, I am told, 500,000 people involved in the Nigerian film industry. We only need to go to Nollywood and work with it to create another centre of quality film production in Africa, one that does not need to import its culture from elsewhere. We are setting up a production plant in Lagos for DVDs and videos. We own Business Day Nigeria. We have partnered with the Government to encourage film production and we are starting what we call the Nigerian Film Festival, and will be screening Nollywood films at our film studios which are known for showing quality movies.

    If you look at the continent as a whole, the poverty is not from lack of resources. It is poor vision - the eyes to see what we have.

    Q: The underdevelopment of economic systems, however, must cause problems…

    A: If you talk about South Africa, in 1994 7% of the population was trying to maintain an economy that would provide employment and a sustainable system of livelihood for 93% of the population. It was impossible. Since 1994 a major effort has been made in government and business sectors to encourage the participation of previously excluded people. It is really in the interest of our survival and sustainable business for the future: the more people participate as workers, as producers and as consumers, the more sustainable the economy will be. When we went into Nigeria in 2002, there were no modern shopping complexes like those we have now begun to build because we had to create the environment we need to support our products.

    © Johnnic Communications
    Johncom staff in their business operations.
    See their site at http://www.johncom.co.za

    Q: You appear to be building your brand around quality products for Africans, with a vision to be globally competitive and dominant in the African continent. Is it possible, even for a major company, to find a place on the global market, or for Africa to become a major market for the world?

    A: We are committed to Africa. But we must also accept that there are certain things that Africans must get right if we are going to get all of Africa moving again. One of those things is a change in the regulatory environment. Businesses need regulatory certainty. In the film trade there is the issue of piracy: the day a movie is launched in the United States, local markets are already distributing the product in some parts of Africa. There are issues of repatriation of funds, the right for foreign investors to repatriate profits or surplus. And corruption. We have to face those realities, and parts of the continent are now tackling those problems. I think it is going to take concerted efforts by us Africans to demonstrate that positive changes are taking place but the world has to be told by us that we Africans are able to make those changes for ourselves and decide the future of our continent.

    Interview by Peter Hulm.