The ‘iron lady’ of Zimbabwe

By Frederick Mordi



Dr. (Mrs.) Hope Sadza, the vice chancellor of Women’s University in Africa, which is located in Harare, Zimbabwe, is described as an ‘iron lady.’ Sadza’s antecedents speak volumes for the appellation, which is usually reserved for women of indomitable character.

For instance, there was a personal incident that made her seek audience with the President of Zimbabwe, according to her, to ‘put the record straight.’ And so, she stormed the presidential villa with her letter. She refused to give the letter to the guards. She refused to give it to the receptionist. She refused to give it to the President’s Personal Assistant. She insisted on giving the letter to only one person, and that is the President himself! She threatened to make a scene if her request was not treated with dispatch.

When word about a “woman who wanted to hand over a personal letter,” filtered into the President’s ears, he felt so curious that he personally came out of a meeting and took the letter from her. It was only then that she simmered down. She got an appointment to see the President in two days!

When she was about to open the Women’s University in Africa, she met another brick wall. The minister responsible for Higher Education in that country, who knew her only too well, alerted the Chief of Police to “arrest that tenacious and hot headed women,” for attempting to set up a university without a charter.


Apparently she knew the charter had been signed but not gazetted. Not one to be intimidated by a minister, Sadza charged into the Home Affairs Minister’s office and complained about how “opening a university was now a crime” and loitering and being on the streets for women “had become a noble cause.” The matter was swept under the carpet, where it has remained ever since.

Sadza also recalled being called to the Public Service Commission to be reprimanded for owning a hairdressing salon without declaring her interests to the commission. She retorted “since when has hair dressing as a business been part of government.” She was left to carry on her duties in peace. She has been a thorn in the flesh of those who are comfortable with the status quo.

Born on 26 November, 1944, of a school teacher mother and a businessman father, who ran a fleet of taxis in Harare, Sadza is indeed any enigma to many. Her father was one of the first Africans in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) who owned taxis in Harare, the capital city. This must have made him a rich man by all standards then.

As can be expected, she had a very strict upbringing from her mother who thought girls must be married to “certificates” and not to rich men without degrees! Thus she ensured that Sadza had proper education. One of the first things that she did after she started primary school was to change one of her names which in the Shona language means “sleep.” Every little girl had laughed at that name…

She proceeded to secondary school, finished her ‘O’ level and went on to do teacher training for primary schools. After teaching for two years, she became restless because the job did not give her satisfaction. She took off to Zambia to do book-keeping and accountancy. She created a record in her school when she got a distinction in bookkeeping—the only one in the entire nation for that year.

A woman with a voracious appetite for learning, Sadza left after a stint at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Zambia, to study Political Science at the University of Missouri, in the United States, in 1975.  However, she changed her course mid-stream to do a Public Administration degree which she felt would stand her in good stead at independence in free Zimbabwe, following that up with a Master degree. After picking all the degrees abroad, she returned to her home country, which was by then no longer under colonial rule.

Her first job in the new Zimbabwe in 1980 was assistant secretary in the Ministry of Manpower Planning and Development. She later moved to the Public Service Commission, which had years earlier tried to persecute her, to take up a job as a management trainer for senior civil servants.

When she introduced a separate class for management training for women, she was criticised for separating men and women who would later do the same job. But she had her reasons. She had noticed how women felt inferior and intimidated in the presence of their male counterparts. She had also observed that men and women have totally different styles of management. She felt women are more understanding than men.

Women 2

This apparently inspired her to establish Women’s University in Africa, the first of its kind on the continent. Before then, she had founded the Women in Management and Development Association, winning an award as the founder of a now thriving association.

In the area of corporate social responsibility, she is quite outstanding. She has given trophies which bear her name, to top girls or women in various sections of society. A woman, who cannot suffer poverty, she once addressed a government primary school in her university grounds and noticed 10 girls in threadbare uniforms. She bought them all uniforms and “adopted” one who was HIV positive, and had lost both parents, promising to see the girl through university.

Sadza’s passion is to see mature women who failed to access tertiary education when they were young, obtain the much needed degree certificate and be self-sufficient in life. She remains doggedly committed to this cause because she believes that self-sufficiency and independence in decision-making are the hallmarks of a free woman. She also strongly believes that the world will be a better place if educated women start to take up political posts. Sadza has won many awards for education and is in high demand from colleges and organisations, to deliver speeches.

Sadza’s employment records shows that she has held a number of positions in government. Beyond the government, she has also served as part-time lecturer, Political Science and Public Administration Department, University of Zimbabwe. She has attended major seminars, both local and international, where she presented a number of papers. She is also a consultant to a number of leading organisations on management-related issues. She is member of several professional women development bodies both within and outside the continent. She is also on the board of several companies.

It was in recognition of these sterling qualities that Nigeria’s Financial Standard Newspaper in collaboration with the Pan-African Organisation for Women Recognition (POWR), the organisers of Women Entrepreneurs Achievers Network (WEAN) Award in March 2007, in Lagos, gave Sadza the trophy for being the ‘Most Outstanding Female in the Education Sector of the Year.’ It is perhaps due to her tenacity of purpose that she has been able to come this far, considering that she hails from a country that has the highest inflation rate in the world.

Sadza, who has traveled extensively around the world on government and university duties, is married to a medical doctor and has two children. Her exciting story shows that given every opportunity, women can achieve a lot.


This article was first published in Nigeria’s Financial Standard Newspaper in 2007.





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