A decade ago, Veracious Mhanga, 37, was one of the many vendors in the city struggling to feed her family and enduring her lowly status as a woman in the densely populated suburb of Mkoba where she lived. Her situation was similar to that of many other women, trapped in a cycle of poverty, with inadequate resources and few opportunities to pursue their dreams.
But through hard-work and perseverance, today Mhanga’s life has changed. She is now one of the most successful business people in the city and is providing a beacon of hope to over 50 other women. This soft-spoken woman now owns a thriving bridal parlour, V and V Wedding Boutique, and an equally impressive functions centre, VG Lodge, which is situated along Shurugwi Road.
In addition, Mhanga is a proud owner of a catering company, Kwa Maiguru, which is synonymous with African traditional foods. In all of her businesses, she has given preference to women as her employees in her personal effort to correct the gender imbalance in the business world.
“Just 10 years ago, I was an ordinary vendor. I completed O level education at Hanke Mission School in Shurugwi but limited resources prevented me from studying further. My dream had always been to venture into business so I started off as a street vendor selling small wares. I saved as much money from my sales as I could, which enabled me to open my first real business, Kwa Maiguru (food outlet),” she said.
“The name Kwa Maiguru was derived from my ambition to emphasise that it was owned by a woman in order to inspire other women. To date, we have also opened a bridal parlour and a lodge in Shurugwi which hosts various functions for clients. The biggest point I would want to stress is that I have given women preference in terms of employing staff. We have a ratio of about 80-20 in terms of women and men and by doing that, I believe that in my own small way, I am contributing towards correcting existing gender imbalances in employment because almost all companies are male dominated,” added Mhanga.
Her bridal parlour is the biggest of its kind in Gweru. It offers diverse services, which include events decor and catering for corporate functions, parties, weddings, conferences, exhibitions and workshops. “To date we have the capacity to provide services to three different mega-events on the same day – something even international firms may struggle to achieve. We are in the process also of becoming the first bridal service joint to provide modern services like mobile ablution facilities among others. The company is a source of pride to all of us because almost all our employees are women who are traditionally marginalized, and we have even bigger plans for the future,” said Mhanga.
Her mission is to help correct the gender imbalance which currently prevails in employment opportunities. In separate interviews, the women employed by Mhanga narrated their success stories, pointing out that their experiences have shown them that hunger and poverty affect women the most.
Chidza Chichevo, 40, a single mother who is employed as events manager at the bridal parlour, explained that when her two brothers passed on and left her with the burden of taking care of their children, life became very difficult for her. But joining Mhanga’s venture in 2009 proved to be a ‘game-changer’ for her.
“I am proud because two of my brothers’ children are just about to complete Form Four in secondary school, while the others are on the verge of completing their primary education. Since being employed by Mhanga, it has been possible to feed and educate the children and cater for their living expenses. It is not an easy task, especially for a single mother, but Mhanga has literally empowered us as women,” she said.
Chichevo also now has a roof over her family – a feat usually difficult even for average earning people like civil servants. “I built my own house and as a self-supporting woman, this makes me proud,” she said.
Tendai Sibanda, 43, the parlour’s sales lady, encouraged other women to follow in the footsteps of the woman she calls her ‘madam boss’ in order to help fight gender stereotypes. “If more women could do like what my ‘madam boss’ has done, all these gender stereotypes we live with in our societies will be gone. For instance, I am now an owner of a residential stand in Montrose suburb, but if I count the number of other women with title deeds of such properties in their name, the figure will be disappointing. It is good when women help each other to rise,” she said.
Factmore Nyoni, 28, the parlour’s sound engineer, explained that as a young woman, she is delighted to find a place where she can use her professional skills. Tariro Mapeni, 31, the bridal parlour’s administrator said, “We are envied by rival firms because we are doing this together as a family of women with similar goals for success. It is something that appeals to all our clients. In future we look set to do even bigger things,” she said.Post published in: Gender Equality