Murambatsvina victim rebuilds life from ashes

Among these was Rumbidzai Kaserera, 35, who had been living in a two-room shack in Sakubva with her daughter for more than 10 years. Not only was her shack demolished, but her back-yard hairdressing business was closed down as part of the ‘clean-up’ campaign.

Rumbidzai Kaserera - I am now proud to own property through hairdressing.
Rumbidzai Kaserera – I am now proud to own property through hairdressing.

Operation Murambatsvina left hundreds of thousands of people homeless after ‘illegal’ structures were demolished by soldiers and police on the orders of the Zanu (PF) government. Mugabe has argued that the operation was a crackdown against illegal housing and commercial activities, in an effort to reduce the risk of the spread of infectious disease in these areas.

However, it was widely seen by analysts as punishment meted out to city-dwellers for giving overwhelming support to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

2,4 million affected

According to the United Nations, Operation Murambatsvina negatively affected at least 700,000 people directly through loss of home and/or livelihood and could have indirectly affected around 2.4 million people. The campaign was also met with harsh condemnation from opposition parties, church groups, NGO’s and the wider international community. The UN described the campaign as an effort to drive out and make homeless large sections of the urban and rural poor, who make up much of the internal opposition to the Mugabe administration.

Hopeless and with nowhere to go, Kaserera relocated to her rural home in Dora Dombo Village, 20 km south of Mutare city. Here she established a makeshift hair salon at her mother’s homestead. She supplemented her hairdressing with poultry rearing in order to send her daughter to school and help towards the upkeep of her mother and herself.


In 2010, Kaserera’s life was transformed when she became a beneficiary of the Rural Enterprise Project (REP) that was implemented and funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

REP’s development project helped Kaserera to restart her hair salon business, which now supports her family as well as her four employees.

In a recent interview, the REP manager, Kelvin Sibanda, said at least 70% of the country’s poorest people live in rural areas.

“People in rural areas, especially women, lack opportunities. This has forced many young people to leave their homes in search of work in overcrowded cities or to go abroad. This project is aimed at supporting rural development. It helps sustain rural communities and transforms them into places where a new generation of small business owners wants to live,” he explained.

Unequal access

“Rural development can also address the unequal access to resources that holds women back – women who make up more than half of the developing world,” said Sibanda.

He said rural development was about building vibrant, inclusive communities that are self-sustaining, with a range of self-starting options for employment for women.

The project saw Kaserera relocating to Matimba Business Centre, in the same village. “I started my full time business five years ago. Fortunately, that was when I also met REP. With their help and training, business picked up, I now own a very big and spacious salon and I have managed to train and employ four hairdressers,” she said.

REP assisted her with a grant to build the salon and fit it with the latest equipment. “I am proud that my salon can match the high standards of those found in town and that all my clients are satisfied with the service they receive,” she said. Most of her clients are female teachers from the surrounding schools, but she also has a growing client base in the community.

“The project has transformed my life. I am happy that my daughter is now back at school and that she is doing very well. I am also taking care of my mother, something I am very proud of,” said Kaserera.

New cottage

She has also managed to build a three room cottage at her mother’s homestead using the profits from hairdressing.

“At least I now have somewhere to lay my head. It is a dream come true to have a property. I used to live in a shack in Sakubva, but now I have a cottage of my own,” she proudly said.

One of her clients, Eve Dozva, is proud of Kaserera and commented that she was a unique hairdresser. “She helps clients to identify what works for them, their hair texture, facial structure and lifestyle thereby creating an achievable, enhancing self-image and self-worth,” said Dozva.

“After styling my hair, she always gives me a coupon that offers almost 50% off my next visit. I am impressed,” she said.

Kaserera has become a role model in the area, inspiring many young women in her village to take up hairdressing. Many of them have become apprentices by shampooing hair and other skills.

One of the apprentices, Faith Jongwe, said: “I have learnt how to cut and colour hair, how to provide the best customer service, and how to style hair in the allotted time.”

“I am proud of Rumbi, she taught me to be professional and she taught me about hair products. I now have confidence and can successfully handle any client who walks through the door,” said a proud Jongwe.

Kaserera insists that her hairdressers keep learning, improving and are motivated. She knows that the industry, just like the fashion industry, is continually evolving and changing.

Post published in: Analysis

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