Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|October 27, 2021|27 Minutes|In Billionaire, Billionaire Today

Billionaire Today

‘I was pretty much dead” Cheating death on the way to a billion.

Many entrepreneurs claim that light bulb moment, few can say one of their forebears invented it! This is merely one colourful part of the life of Ken Sharpe a property multi-millionaire-with a fortune estimated between $600 and $800 million  – a school dropout from Zimbabwe who went to Harvard. Along the way, he survived economic meltdown and dodged death on a Canadian ski-slope.

It happened in a blinding white flash of spinning trees and powdery snow that nearly saw the end of  him.

Kenneth Sharpe was on the snowy slopes above Vancouver in Canada trying a spot of adventure skiing on the fourth day of a family holiday in 2007.

“I said that sounds like a brilliant idea… there I was in the powder for the first time… it is a different experience…not recommended if had done four days; you need four years of training,” says Sharpe.

“We were going in between the trees knee-deep; my wife didn’t go she said it was too dangerous in the powder and I took a turn. I guess I hit a rock under the snow because, knee deep in the powder, you can’t see… I spun back and hit a tree and my brain was severed from my ear to my jaw about 12.8 centimetres. The membrane was ripped off the skull and it profusely bled for the next couple of hours.”

A medic slid down the slope to the rescue. He noticed Sharpe’s dilated eyes and also surmised a brain haemorrhage. On the way down the slope the medic decided the now unconscious Sharpe – whose brain had been severed cleanly from his skull – needed an operation in Vancouver more than two hour’s drive away. Sharpe was too fragile to airlift; in the ambulance he was too weak to know.

“Lifting the brain off the stem of the central nervous system, shut down my vitals; I was pretty much dead, on a life support machine, on a ventilator. I had been through hell up to that point, it was quite a scary experience.”

Those two hours in the back of an ambulance rumbling towards Vancouver proved existential for Sharpe.

“In that ambulance, being completely incapacitated, looking at the ceiling and thinking that’s it, I am going to die and if there is a God: please just let me keep my eyesight and then complete darkness,” recalls Sharpe.

“I woke up five days later; just a minute later, then they told me what happened. Life took a different turn for me you have a sudden realization when you are dying that you are very fragile and vulnerable and not in control of your own life. When it goes it is gone and you don’t get given a second chance. So, I feel I was given a second chance by God and I have a purpose in this life and I am very grateful for it. I have realigned my life and values and principles and focus on more things to do with long-lasting effects not only for this life, but for eternity, than perhaps I had before.”

"...So, I feel I was given a second chance by God and I have a purpose in this life and I am very grateful for it. I have realigned my life and values and principles and focus on more things to do with long-lasting effects not only for this life, but for eternity, than perhaps I had before "

These feelings steeled the soul of Sharpe for the wrangles and court battles that have haunted his property developments in Zimbabwe.

The building of smart cities, near the capital Harare, is one of the cornerstones of his fortune estimated to be more than half a billion dollars.

One of them – Pomona near the exclusive Harare suburb of Borrowdale – has led to numerous headaches and a pile of lawyers’ letters. 

The Pomona site is 273 hectares and belonged to the municipality.

According to, critics called the land deal illegal and went to court to try to reverse it. They complained that the land had been valued at $205 million, but had been acquired by Sharpe’s Augur Investments for a mere $ 20 million.

“We have been sued, we spent about 10 years suing the government over a payment of a project of national status, we were building the airport highway and spent about 20 million US dollars. It was an $80 million dollar project and the deal was the government was paying us in land and of course land back then wasn’t valued quite what is today. So they ran out of land to pay us and we got off the airport highway and claimed compensation, which took a long time. It eventually got settled in the Supreme Court about two years ago, thankfully that is also behind us. We also fought the environmentalists, who insisted that we were building on a wetland, off course we proved that it wasn’t a wetland and we went through the Environmental agencies to obtain our EIA,“ says Sharpe.

“I mean, I saw a report that said we had ten thousand hectares of land, as I mentioned to you it is a thousand acres so 400 hectares so ten thousand is an overestimation of 25 times, which is kind of the number you mentioned.  A ten times estimation!  We built $20 million dollars of road and we got  $20 million dollars of land paid to us at the time that was the fair market valuation. Since then, we had more land paid to us, as a penalty in terms of the contract, so that kind of doubled our returns and we ended up with $40 or $50 million dollars in that.”

And how was the airport road going? Eye witnesses say it is tough to spot the improvements.

“The old road we improved a little bit, that itself was one lane in either direction, we made it two lanes in one direction, expanded the shoulders a bit so it is probably more like a four-lane highway with two shoulders and two operating lanes, it is kind of like a four-lane highway now in both directions. The biggest part of the road that wasn’t built is the bridges, there are about $40 to $50 million dollars of bridges that need to be built as flyovers. A lot of intersections have a lot of traffic on them.”

It has been a long road for man who is studying at Harvard 30 years after dropping out of school and heading to the United Kingdom.

“When I went against my father’s wishes because he wanted me to go into medicine and I wanted to be a fighter pilot and leave.  My father gave me a one-way ticket and 100 pounds so I kind of worked nights as a student to pay my way and really was independent,” he said.

In those uncertain days, Sharpe homed in on his first money making enterprise. He had a friend back home, who worked for Air Zimbabwe, who told him a part was needed for a Boeing 737 from the UK. There were difficulties getting it to Harare because of import restrictions.

Sharpe scraped up a £1000, bought the part, tucked it into his hand luggage for a flight  back to Zimbabwe.

“I sold it for £ 5000 pounds; I made a 400% return which was a very handsome profit! That gave me the capital to kind of start the next things and eventually got involved in importing vehicles to Zimbabwe from South Africa,” says Sharpe.

The young entrepreneur moved into plastic bottles and soft drinks before settling on property. He is in partnership with the South African McCormick family who run a Johannesburg Stock Exchange Listed company specializing in building shopping malls.

It is shopping malls and homes in purpose-built cities that is the driver of his wealth.

The disputed Pomona City project has recently opened its first phase and sold about 140 plots of land – about 60% of the total. Roads through city are expected to be finished by the end of 2021. According to Sharpe the project is two-and-half times bigger than the Millennium City a similar project he has built nearby.

“We have the biggest private land bank developing in the city, we have about a thousand acres of land in the city center. We are building about 5000 units, we have a mixed-use portfolio so it allows us to build for what we call the live, work, play, and shop vicinity which incorporates a world-class shopping mall. The Mall of Zimbabwe,” says Sharpe who is reckoned to be one of the top ten richest people in Zimbabwe.

“I think they have given me a good estimation and I have some wealth outside of the country so I have businesses in Ukraine as well, we are into solar and real estate and energy and I have a business in the US. But Zimbabwe is a great opportunity.”

Business, battling and court cases would have no doubt ring a bell with Sharpe’s illustrious great, great grandfather Sir Joseph Wilson Swan who grew up in a fairly well-heeled northern English family and was apprenticed to a pharmacist, at the age of 14, for six years.

In this time, Sir Joseph perfected two innovations that made  him money – bromide paper that revolutionized black-and-white photography and the electric light bulb. The next time you talk of a light bulb moment – remember the man who perfected it had relatives in Africa.

The Swan lightbulb predated that of Thomas Edison

The Sunderland Echo takes up the story: “ In 1882 Edison sued Swan, claiming infringement of Edison’s US patent of 1879. But Swan provided prior research and publication, so the US Patents Office found against Edison. Ha!

Back in Britain, roles were reversed when Swan took Edison to court for infringement. Swan won again. Two-nil. As part of a settlement the court forced Edison to enter a partnership with his rival. Eventually, the wealthy Edison managed to buy out Swan.”

The African connection with  Swan lightbulbs came – like Sharpe’s worst day – on a slippery ski slope. Sharpe’s great grandmother was on a skiing holiday when she met Royal Navy officer by the name of Robert Sharpe. The two eloped to Africa and the rest – as they say – is history Illuminating.

Sharpe on ...



“Up until a year and a half ago, before Covid struck, I was very cautious about Zimbabwe and the reason why is I had not really appreciated the scenario where it would be at all possible for them to sustain themselves with the local currency. Having said that, I admit that I was wrong. I moved from being cautious to cautiously optimistic to now very optimistic. I will give you a personal testimony a shared experience … we didn’t apply in particular the auction system of the foreign currency because without a live functioning supply of foreign currency into any economy there is no hope in hell of surviving.

The problem in the past was the government was abusing foreign currencies through the reserve bank through all kinds of measures so without going into those details…  We personally as a group and an individual didn’t apply for any foreign currency from the auction for the last one and a half years. In that one and a half years, we have had phenomenal growth.”


“They say we learn from the university of life and I think that chaotic situation, one cycle of that was enough to teach any businessman a lifetime of experience. We went through two or three of those cycles of hyperinflation and complete devaluation of the currency wiping out the asset base to zero.

In fact, in  2008, at the height of hyperinflation they dollarized the economy finally In February 2009.

The depositors’ book in the entire banking system was worth about 28 million US dollars that is bearing in mind we had somewhere between 5 and 10 billion US Dollars before, it completely wiped it out. We had to restart the economy from zero.

That learning experience has been great, it forged the strength of  the Zimbabwean people

There is always the attitude of making a plan; don’t give up and don’t let the situation get you down,  there is always a way out of it.


“My partners in Ukraine opened a bottling company, bottling mineral water predominantly and some sparkling flavoured waters.

I decided I would flesh out on my own  Zimbabwe  plan with one of the partners and we started WestBev . We were the first in the country to launch PET bottles plastic bottles – at that time – there were only glass bottles. We blow-moulded our own plastic bottles and bought in the equipment to blow mould the bottles and filled it with soft drinks .We had our own home-grown brand called African Twist, where we did carbonated soft drinks. Coke got a bit worried at for a while, they actually came and offered me a million dollars to sell to them which I didn’t do. We persevered with that business for a couple of years and then I sold it to Star Africa, which was a sugar company”


“An entrepreneur is not something you can be trained in I think skills can be passed on and you can help others to learn skills, but you are born an entrepreneur you got that blood and spirit in you got to have the grit and the determination to carry on and that was with me always. I realized that I was going to stay a businessman from the first day I started and by the time I was importing cars I made  – of course –  enough capital  to buy one car at that time for 20 /25 thousand US dollars at the time . I was selling them for double the price, you could grow quite quickly in a year I had enough capital to buy for example ten cars trading in Zimbabwe.”


“About a month ago we applied for foreign currency and yesterday we were rewarded 200 000 dollars of foreign currency to bring in equipment and some material that we need that would be more cost-effective to import than buy locally. We paid the auction rate we paid 88 to 1, the parallel market is trading at 170 or double the rate and we didn’t have to go there.  I know there are some profiteers and they are buying and selling and trading their goods at a higher rate.

But I do think there is an underlying phenomenon in the market right now that the economy is sustaining itself and it is growing. I would put the growth around 8% and 10% realistically.”


“I think it is about the framework, governments have over complicated things. It is also about changing times. The period we are now in our lives is unique, we have never been in this period before I believe there is a realization of the people around the world that we cannot leave everything in the hands of government anymore, and there is a level of frustration currently with the pandemic. Those factors come together to bring a new order or a new way of doing things. I believe the people themselves are the ones that will determine the future.

If you look at Government’s role, if you look at Switzerland for example it is perfect. They put the framework in place and let the people manage it themselves. it is about setting the right boundaries and rules and letting the people make the decisions.”


“My belief is, the first thing we got to do is put people into jobs, there is no point in talking about attracting capital where there is an unemployment rate  in excess of 50%, it could be argued that there is an unemployment rate of 70%

We got millions of university graduates, just in Zimbabwe alone,  that are coming in to earning an income and no jobs to provide for them. The first thing we have to look at  is how do we  provide jobs to the people and how do we move those jobs from those minimum living wage to becoming a middle-income earner and that is what the game-changer is because that is what builds capital. One of the small ways we have been doing it is keeping people at home. We are in this era of remote working and we have a business in the US and employ about 300 people in Harare as a service center to take care of some of our client’s requirements. That is just one way and I believe that business could scale to 20 000 people in the next few years. We can provide 20 thousand jobs to Zimbabweans that are living in Zimbabwe, but working in the US. That is a game-changer and if you apply that scale to the whole continent, the continent will change.”


“I think the argument of the colonial imbalances has passed. It was the previous generation that lead Africa to liberation and the struggles are many and varied but ultimately it was to free their people.  That era is gone. The people have freedom, the land that was potentially taken by the colonialists and  has been restored or it has been addressed .I would say there is more risk in SA than Zimbabwe on the land reform situation I think SA may go through more challenges that is something they have to address, urgently, both for the sake of the local people and for the people coming in as investors. In Zimbabwe I don’t believe that the land reform programme done by Robert Mugabe will be reversed entirely but I do believe there will be compensation. The current president has already been seeing to signing agreements with the ex-farmers in compensating them. There has been the restoration of property rights, where farmers have been abused and have been placed back on their land. The courts are working and rule of law is there.

We have access to the land; we have possession and ownership. We put a lot of money into servicing it millions of dollars and people are benefitting from it. There are thousands of homes being built on the land why would anyone want to take away their homes and their land For me, it is not a risk.”


“We looked at agriculture, I think there is a huge opportunity, my partners are in agriculture they have about 100 thousand hectares of farmland that is commercial production and the government has recently made moves to privatize  land, it is currently nationalized.

Similarly, to Zimbabwe where all agriculture is owned by the state, that was predominantly the same situation throughout the Soviet Union after its collapse .Recently the Ukrainian government, after many years of negotiation, has agreed to privatize it, Agricultural land is being sold. I think there is a huge opportunity for foreign investment.”

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