I remember the day clearly, 4th of February 2008, my student visa finally came out after a long wait of over two months. A few hours after collecting the visa I was on a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. My first time outside of Zimbabwe. I was already late for university orientation week so I had to move quickly. My mother cried at the airport as the whole family said goodbye. Just like that my journey into adulting started.
Before we get further into that story let us start back at the beginning.
I was born at Mater Dei hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on the 28 of March 1989. An introvert by nature, I grew up very shy and quiet. My school teachers always gave feedback to my parents that I needed to speak more in class. To this day I still find myself on the quieter side. I prefer to listen and only speak when I have something of value to add to a conversation.
My parents worked hard for our family to have a good life. They both come from humble backgrounds. Through the foundation they set for me I have had opportunities and experiences they never had when they were younger. They both never went to university as an example.
My mom was born in Mbare, a high density suburb (township) in the main capital Harare and grew up there. She had to drop out of school after her Ordinary Levels at the age of 17 due to economic issues at home. Fortunately she managed to secure a job at a bank immediately after as she was intelligent, diligent and as a result was doing academically well in school. I believe I get most of my logical reasoning from her.
My dad was born in Gutu, a rural district in Masvingo Province, southern Zimbabwe. At the young age of 20 he joined the army so he could help fight in the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence. I believe I get most of my discipline and ambition from him.
A shared lesson I have learnt from both my parents is to work hard and trust that with time it will always pay off. Despite their humble backgrounds, my parents have always been hard working. You don’t just wake up and find yourself further up the social class hierarchy.
They paid for our education from nursery school up to university. They paid for our university fees while Zimbabwe’s economy was crashing, that was tough. They took us on holidays across Zimbabwe when we were young. They ran a lot of different side businesses while they kept their full time jobs.
From the top of my head I can remember my parents running small grocery shops, bottle (liquor) stores, they had a freezit making machine and supplied wholesale stores, they had a mealie meal grinding machine and supplied wholesale stores and they also ran a gift shop when we lived in Marondera, Zimbabwe. I’m sure there are a few more I have not mentioned here. Eventually they went into business full time running a small bed and breakfast lodge off one of Zimbabwe’s national highways.
As a side-effect I was exposed to entrepreneurship from a very young age by watching and being involved in the side businesses my parents were running. As an example, when my parents had the freezit making machine I used to collect a carton of freezits after school and I would sit outside our front gate with a cooler box and sell freezits to people walking past. I would get to keep the earnings and that was my motivation. I was only 9 – 10 years old at that time but I was learning the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.
It is not surprising that in my 20s I went on to do the same and try start my own side businesses while I kept my full time job. In my early 20s I started an educational technology project with friends, there were many useful lessons I learnt there that still apply today. I also started a lifestyle brand, it grew and I sold some merchandise. With another friend at some point we bought cars and put them on the Uber platform and hired drivers, we had 3 cars before we eventually left that business. I also just remembered that while I was a student at the University of Cape Town I ran our Kopano residence’s tuck-shop along with four other friends.
Now its gone full circle and I am a partner at our family owned African Cuisine restaurant along with my parents.
Always keep learning, looking out for opportunities and never limit yourself to doing one thing.
So now back to that flight I made to Johannesburg, South Africa in February 2008. My older sister met me at OR Tambo International airport on arrival and later I proceeded to connect to Cape Town so I could go start my student life at the University of Cape Town.
I did not know any other 1st year students at the university when I arrived. I had one other friend from my high school who was also coming to the University of Cape Town that year but his student visa was delayed so he was still stuck in Zimbabwe. Fortunately for me I had been in boarding school through my studies in high school. That taught me a lot about independence, responsibility and discipline.
From the time I started studying for my Computer Science degree at the University of Cape Town I knew how big an opportunity it was for me to be there. My parents had worked hard to get me there during the tough economic conditions in Zimbabwe. I had to make sure I succeeded. I did not have many other options.
I had fun in university, built many solid friendships, but I also knew the importance of why I was there so I ensured my academics were always in order. I never failed any exam I wrote. I was on the Dean’s Merit List for every year I was at the university.
When I graduated in 2010 it made my parents really proud. What made them much happier was the day I secured my first job at Allan Gray as a foreigner in South Africa after graduating. I remember the day I got the job, the phone call back home telling my parents I had signed the contract. I definitely also remember the party after that celebrating with my university friends, good times!
When I was much younger I realised if I worked harder than most people and put extra effort in everything I do, I would give myself a better chance at succeeding at most things. This has been a mantra I have carried most of my life.
Remember I said that it was my first time out of Zimbabwe when I flew into South Africa for university. Over my 20s, since I started working, I have managed to travel to other countries – England, Wales, Australia, Spain, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, and Tanzania. Some of these have been holidays and some work opportunities. What I am certain of is all this has been possible through embracing opportunities, working hard and trusting the results will pay off over time.
The reason I have got as far as I have is through the opportunities my parents opened up for me. I sometimes think of other people with potential who remain stuck because they never have the same opportunities as us. Maybe one day I will be able to contribute to increasing opportunity for others. This is a good goal for the next decade I am entering and it aligns well with my life mission statement.
I mentioned a lot about lessons I’ve learnt from my parents earlier. Probably the most important lesson I learnt from them is to have fun and be happy in life. Optimising for happiness is important. Do things that make you happy. Have a positive mindset. Spend time with people that you are happy to be around. I believe starting from a happy place is the root of most success. I have been privileged to have some of the best friendships as I have gone through this journey of life.
There have been some great times in my journey so far, there have also been some challenging times. All these experiences have built me up into who I am today. I am thirty years old today. I am looking forward to the next decade and to continue inspiring people to be better versions of themselves. This is just the beginning!
Writing this has in many ways felt like writing a tribute to my parents. I know they are proud of how far I have come and I hope to continue making them proud.
Now let me go and enjoy some 30th birthday wine.
The General (28 March 2019)