Flora Fadzai Sibanda, Chronicle reporter
MR Cornelious Edwards (41) started out as a photographer, taking photos in Bulawayo’s Centenary Park, but he now runs two companies, one a furniture factory and the other a construction company that sells houses for as little as $30,000.
Born with albinism in Gwanda to parents who also lived with albinism, Mr. Edwards moved to Bulawayo in 1994 to start Form One at Milton High School.
Unfortunately, he didn’t do well in school, so in 1999 he decided to become a photographer, but things didn’t go the way he had imagined. In 2004 he decided to move to Botswana where his uncle was a construction worker but couldn’t find a proper job that would help him support his family in Zimbabwe.
When he was about to be deported because he had no money to extend his days in the neighboring country, his redemption came.
Left with only P75 and facing the possibility of deportation if he did not raise P300 needed to extend his days, Mr Edwards visited a Chinese shop in hopes of finding a part-time job.
He said the store’s owner told him he had no space to hire another worker but was selling socks that he could buy at a bargain price for resale.
Mr Edwards bought 12 pairs of socks for P15 and within an hour they sold out, earning him P150.
The businessman said he returned to the Chinese businessman and bought 30 more socks, all of which sold out on the same day.
“In one day I managed to earn enough money for my pass renewal days and enough profit to buy more socks the next day. I saved my money for about a month and then approached the Chinese businessman-turned-friend just for advice on what to do with my saved money,” he said.
Mr Edwards said the Chinese businessman helped him set up a construction company, RealChampion.
In 2018, fourteen years after moving to Botswana, Mr Edwards decided to return home.
“I wanted to come and build houses for people in my country. I moved to Zimbabwe in March 2018 and by July my company was registered and fully operational,” the businessman added.
After opening a branch in Zimbabwe, he decided to include a furniture factory in his catalogue, so that his customers would have the opportunity to build a house and get all their belongings from him.
In his factory in Belmont, Bulawayo, he makes beds, boxes, wardrobes, tables and chairs.
“I named my company RealChampion to show that I conquer everything I do in my family. The park photography business helped me raise money to go to Botswana and the sock business in Botswana helped me start my own construction company and the construction company gave birth to the furniture business,” he said.
Mr Edwards said since 2004 he had no regrets and was glad he took his sock business seriously and was open-minded when his Chinese friend suggested the business to him.
“My construction company specializes in building houses and selling them on after completion.
We build $13,000 two-bedroom, $20,000 four-bedroom, and $26,000 six-bedroom homes, primarily in Cowdray Park.”
“Our houses are sold with plumbing and electricity already installed. We also added a bathtub to the bathroom so all the buyer has to do is move into their home,” he said.
Mr Edwards said they give their customers the option of buying a housing estate and building the house from scratch.
“As for the furniture, after the construction of our houses, we offer customers an offer in which we assemble boxes and wardrobes that are made in our furniture shop.
“The shop also makes other furniture such as sofas, beds and tables,” adds the businessman.
Mr Edwards said he helps his team build on site early in the morning and whenever the weather is conducive to his skin.
He said that being in construction is sometimes very difficult because of the competition.
Mr Edwards said at the moment he has around 20 permanent employees dependent on his construction and furniture business.
He said luckily for him, Covid-19 hasn’t slowed his business as he was building houses during that time.
“As I specialize in a non-perishable business, Covid-19 has never slowed it down.
Instead, that’s when I got the most customers,” he said.
He said living with albinism has never prevented him from doing anything and he has never felt discriminated against because he has always been proud of himself, so he doesn’t mind if people say something negative about him.
“I never saw myself as disabled. Instead, I make the best of everything I touch. From being a park photographer to today, I have always been a businessman. Living with albinism shouldn’t be a reason for someone to stay at home and do nothing. Instead, you should live like everyone else, because we people who live with albinism are no different,” said Mr Edwards.
Ms Patricia Moyo, a client of Mr Edwards, said she was a bit skeptical when she first visited their offices to buy a stand because she had heard horrible stories about local builders.
“I have worked with them from the day they dug the foundation for my house to the finishing touches. I am really pleased with Mr Edwards’ work. We have never argued during our collaboration. Even when I had trouble raising the prescribed money, they were never hard on me.
Instead, they settled with me gently,” she said. Ms Moyo said she plans to buy another house from the company.