“When I look up into the sky, I not only admire the beauty of the Lord’s majesty, but I also yearn to reach for the stars and dwell among them and have the eagle’s view over all the earth. I want this for myself and for every woman out there who dares to dream and live in the reality of their dreams.”
I read those words in the Proweb (Professional Women, Women Executives, and Business Women’s Forum) prospectus before I met the writer and I prepared myself to meet a marvel. She surpassed all my expectations and the couple of hours that I spent with this astonishing woman turned out to be a defining moment in my own life.
Fifty-three years ago, in Nyazura, the Rwodzi family was blessed with a baby girl that they named Florence Erina. Today that girl, who dreamt big as she rinsed her face to run to school after a spell in the fields every morning, is living her dreams as Florence Ziumbe a successful corporate lawyer and Proweb president.
When I meet her, I am automatically drawn by the immense warmth and down-to-earthness that is characteristic of this high-achieving woman. There are no airs and graces to Ziumbe and she immediately reveals herself to me. “I am a rural girl. I grew up in the village, holding the plough behind a span of oxen. I cannot pretend to have some fancy tastes. I still love the rural food like nyimo (roundnuts) and sadza with offal.”
She finds the idea of having a favourite designer quite hilarious. “It took me time to be able to buy clothes with a clear conscience. I thought it was a dreadful waste of money so I made baby clothes and even my husband’s shirts on the sewing machine that my father bought me.” This is one girl who does not believe in retail therapy!
“I love this cheap jewellery and sometimes it just falls apart on me and my children think it’s a scream.” I cannot imagine this immaculately groomed executive whose spray of choice is “Pleasures” by Estee Lauder, frantically trying to clutch some plastic beads as they cascade down her clothes and scatter on the ground.
She may have rustic origins but, Ziumbe has adapted to the modern trends and is as much a slave to technology as the next person. “I just cannot be parted from my computer. I would never leave home without my laptop.” She admits and her music choice is quite eclectic. “When Michael Jackson died I felt very sad. He defined an age for my generation. I listen to classical music, you know Mozart, Beethoven. I also love Tuku.”
She has not allowed her background to limit her horizon. “I watch news, documentaries, the Discovery channels.” She lists her pastimes and also adds that she reads autobiographies and takes time to watch some reality shows like Dancing With the Stars with her kids. “But not stuff like Big Brother,” she hastens to add.
It is when I ask for just one reason why we should all celebrate womanhood that she totally blows me off. “A woman is God’s latest model. After God created Eve, he did not create anything else. With technology, there is always a need to upgrade a gadget or it becomes obsolete, but a woman remains the final product for all time.” She says tongue firmly in cheek and I burst out in laughter.
On a slightly morbid note, I ask her what she would like to have written on her epitaph and she takes a very short while to come back with another unique return. “I would like it to read: A person who had such great ideas and so little time.” Amazingly with all that she has achieved, she feels that there are still so many things that she would like to do if she had the chance.
Ziumbe is married and has two daughters and a son. “When I get home then I am a mother and a wife. That is what my family will be expecting and it would be unreasonable and unfair to make them put up with anything else.” That is how she manages to juggle her personal and her professional roles.
Ziumbe is a woman of passion. There is drive in everything she does. “I will be a lawyer until I die,” she states unequivocally then goes on to explain why she has changed fields in the practice of law. “I started out as a family lawyer. I would handle some high profile divorces but in almost all cases, the woman walked out of a mansion in Borrowdale with just her handbag after so many years in a marriage. I just could not take it anymore and I turned back to corporate law.” Ziumbe started out with Scanlen and Holderness before branching out into personal practice.
Ziumbe has sat on more than 40 boards including those of Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority and Cottco and at one stage chaired the Financial Gazette board. Currently she sits on several boards including Redstar, Pelhams, Afribank and its holding company. She is the deputy chairperson of the state Procurement Board.
But of all her “career babies”, Proweb seems to be her emotional crowning achievement. It is through this networking organisation for women that she is expending much energy to ensure that as many women as possible get to dream and live those dreams. “It is my aim to see membership grow to 200 000,” is an earnest expression of her wish.
And her parting words just make me itch to get up and push myself beyond my perceived limitations immediately. “Failure is experience. I really do not know any reason why anyone cannot achieve what they set out to. Look at me. I came from a poor rural background but that has not dimmed any of my dreams.”
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