Fanuel Kangondo Deputy Lifestyle Editor
For many he passed as a shrewd businessman whose desire to achieve overrode everything else and this culminated in the establishment of “Little England” in the northern suburbs of Harare complete with its “bobby police” in the land that was fast shaking off its British colonial past.Sam Levy still remains an epitome of an eccentric generation difficult to emulate. Hate him or like him, he was an extraordinary and complex man determined to succeed in all his endeavours. The Jewish businessman who succumbed to cancer in June 2012 was reputed to be one of Zimbabwe’s richest men and has found fame by building one of the country’s largest shopping malls, Sam Levy Village.
Legend has it that he built the shopping mall and surrounding buildings in 1990 without the requisite municipal approvals and only made moves to regularise the structures when he was threatened with demolition.
Very little is known about the character of Sam Levy as he was publicity shy but he was well connected in business and political circles and while some described him as a very principled man, others referred to him as a tough but fair person.
“He was a very principled man. He was tough, but he was fair. He had a very strong sense of right and wrong. He was given the name “kanyuchi” which is the Shona word for a bee. If you were good and fair, he gave you honey. If you were not honest or did wrong you risked getting stung. He was a generous man. He gave without asking, and never asked for a thank you, or expected something in return. His reward and pleasure was to see those around him enjoy what he gave. He was a humble man,” a family representative narrated in Sam Levy’s eulogy.
There has never been an explanation behind why he chose the distinct English cottages look that resembles structures in England, the miniature Big Ben clock and even the earlier guards spotting the distinct British police uniforms. Was this designed to attract the white people who initially patronised the village? Even today, there are far more white people at the village than any other mall in the city.
When he built the mall, there was no provision for public toilets for years and he only responded following an outcry from patrons! And shoppers still have to pay to use the toilets.
Born in Kwekwe on October 9 1929, Sam Levy was never short of controversy in his life. In 2000 despite the hype created by the discovery of 50 motorbikes inscribed “police” at his farm on the outskirts of Harare, he only escaped with a Z$200 fine. Nothing more was said about the bikes or where they went.
The Sam Levy empire is not only restricted to the epicurean shopping mall but also other investments in other smaller towns such as Kadoma where an office and shopping complex houses various businesses. It does not, however, measure up to the opulence of the Borrowdale spectacle and remains a pale shadow of the masterpiece.
Although the strong presence of security guards remains, they are now dressed like ordinary security guards, Zimbabwean style.
The businessman was also described as family oriented and his life revolved around his children. His wife, Gloria, four children and seven grand children survive him. Isaac Levy his eldest son is now running the business empire and efforts to speak to him at the village were unsuccessful as he was said to be in meetings.
In 2012 Sam Levy was posthumously honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Victor Night Awards and Empretec recognised him as one of the Most Influential Entrepreneurs in post-independent Zimbabwe.
“He loved passionately and deeply, and was very protective. No one could touch anyone he loved, and he made everybody know it. He reminded everyone he met, respect and honour your parents and don’t fight with your brothers and sisters,” read his eulogy.
“Family is family” and “blood is thicker than water”, he was quoted as saying.
Sam Levy was also involved in various charities. His friend, Kiki Divaris, of the Miss Zimbabwe Trust said of his death: “He was a generous individual who always supported me in my endeavours including the Child Survival Trust. He was a hard working, innovative and successful man who did a lot for Zimbabwe.”
Celebrities who have visited the country are often taken to the upmarket village and have on some occasions met the business mogul. On one such occasion American R&B singer Ciara met Sam Levy in 2011 in a moving incident that was captured all over the wires.
On his frequent travels overseas, close associates said he looked for ideas and products to bring back to Zimbabwe.
“He always said, when I see a good idea, I take it and bring it back to Zimbabwe. His intention was always to let people here get a taste of what was only available overseas. He had so much pride in bringing new things to this country.
“When things looked bleak, he kept building. He never gave up on the country or its people, and he made it known that he was here to stay. He created a legacy in this country for the country. He made it very clear that he was a part of the team to carry this country forward, and he did so proudly and loudly.
“It was called Sam Levy’s Village for a reason. He wanted his legacy to be there for the people and he was proud to be a part of it, and wanted it to continue even after his death. Zimbabwe inspired him, and was his anchor.”