Lawyer, businesswoman and philanthropist Mrs Florence Ziumbe passed on last Monday aged 64.
Over the past week many adjectives and superlatives have been used to describe who she was to the many lives that she impacted locally and internationally.
In the process, I have heard new words that I will add to my vocabulary but believe none of these can adequately illustrate the larger-than-life person that she was.
She was the founder and visionary of the Professional Women, Executives and Business Women’s Forum (Proweb)
Not many could fit her bill.
I am yet to come across someone so passionate about women’s empowerment, someone with such a heart for the disadvantaged, someone who felt success was not success until everyone benefited.
As the first Proweb executive director Mrs Stabile Mangwengwende reminisced yesterday, Mrs Ziumbe took literally the Shona salutation that says “Tiripo kana makadiiwo (We are well if you are)”.
She was never happy with the success of a few and believed it was taboo to allow such a scenario under any circumstances. She would become restless until the situation was remedied. She took someone’s burden as hers.
This woman embraced everyone both literally and metaphorically. She had a heart of gold.
She had a permanent smile on her face.
It is against this background that I could not believe my ears when I heard news of her sudden demise.
She had given me and many who interacted with her that she was the strong one who would always stick around to give others a shoulder to cry on.
When a brother of mine and fellow journalist Hama Saburi called to check if I had heard the news, I could not believe it, I found comfort in dismissing it as fake.
What, with a lot of untruths doing the rounds on the social media. But alas, it only took a few minutes after Saburi’s call that I realised that indeed Mai Ziumbe was no more.
It has been six days since this happened, but it’s difficult to believe that truly she is no more. I first met Mrs Ziumbe about two decades ago when she came up with the idea to launch Proweb as an instrument that would empower women, raising their portfolio and participation in the economy.
She shared her dream with a number of us who bought into her idea. We would meet at her house or her offices in Mt Pleasant to thrash out the idea and formulate strategies to operationalise it.
She would host us all effortlessly and accommodate all views no matter how wild or stupid some of them sounded. Arguments and counter arguments were presented but she never flinched. Perhaps this skill came from her being a commercial and corporate lawyer. A great one at that. Her Curriculum Vitae says it all.
She was the first black woman to start her own private law firm. Such success would have gone to her head but not with Florence Ziumbe.
With Proweb she scored immense success, sealing deals on the stock exchange and across economic sectors as she sought to empower the hundreds of women that joined the organisation after its launch.
Her appetite to uplift women new boundaries. A few years after formation, Proweb sealed deals with the Business Women Association of South Africa (BWASA) after hosting the powerful body here. Partnerships were formed that were to benefit hundreds of women.
Under her leadership Proweb teamed with the Richard Brandson firm to mentor university students and other upcoming businesswomen. Footprints, a programme that celebrated women who had contributed much to society and national development was launched, among many others that have empowered hundreds of women and transformed many others from grassroots levels up.
Mrs Ziumbe was a philanthropist of high proportion. Her heart for the underprivileged saw Proweb host a team of doctors from Spain who came to conduct free eye surgery in Chitungwiza on the elderly. Many that had lost sight had it restored through the project.
She always reminded people around her that she was a rural girl who walked long distances to school bared footed, this was only after satisfying her grandfather that she had done her part in the field.
Below are messages that we got from a few of those that knew her.
Current Proweb president and CEO of Securico Dr Divine Ndhlukhula had this to say:
Florence envisioned a Zimbabwe where women would own their own means of production, not in a small way, but a mega way as she put it, women coming together as a collective to be in the mainstream economy as giants.
This is how she asked the initial group of trustees to join her in making this vision a reality. Yes, to an extent, that vision was to become a reality as there are projects in the pipeline that will come to fruition in good time. Her vision will not die as she inspired generations to come”
Stabile Mangwengwende said:
So the idea of PROWEB was formulated around a once off celebration breakfast for one woman who had become the Vice President of the country. So Florence said this is a monumental achievement for the country, so let’s celebrate her, take breakfast, invite everyone and acknowledge and celebrate with her. As the breakfast was being planned, Florence said you know what, there are many other women that have reached magnificent heights whose stories have not been told, why not get an organisation, that continues to celebrate these women, continue to tell their stories so that other women who are struggling can appreciate and look up to the women who have made it. And even the women at the top can be very lonely there because “This organisation is not about Mai Ziumbe, it is about women, professional women working together and making sure that other ordinary women can also look up to those women and lift each other”, as this article said when I visited One Women’s movement, ‘When you get up in the escalator, remember to press the button to come down and pick up the others’, that was Florence for you. She made sure that this organisation was not about Florence. After her tenure as the founding President, she handed over to Busi Bango and people started saying ‘you have got the vision, you must continue’, but she kept on saying no it’s not about me, it’s about the organisation. After Busi Bango we had Professor Kurasha, unfortunately she passed away. Then we had Grace Muradzikwa then now there is Divine Ndlukhula.
I remember because what Footprints was saying is this is my story so if you read a story about this woman who was ordinary and she influenced people to appreciate that women should not be stereotyped, it could be a teacher who became a headmaster, the story behind that, how she left her home to go to school to leave with her aunty, sacrificing this and that. So these stories brought a lot of women to the surface with whom the society will say we just thought she was a woman next door but she is not that, she was bartered left, right and centre but kept standing and rising to be where she is. One of the women we celebrated was the late Sarah Kachingwere, the first woman to attend university, with a story that even the University of Rhodesia could not handle a black woman and we celebrated her before she died, soon after the celebrations she passed away.
One thing that Florence kept talking about women empowerment was that we want to come out of subsistence livelihoods, we do not want to continue to live from hand to mouth. We are women who God had empowered with a lot of wisdom. A percentage of the homes in Africa and all over the world are run by single mothers, so this means that women have it in them to be able to create wealth, why are we shy, why are we not bold enough to go for the real holds, why do we hold ourselves back, that was what she always said, lets create wealth, let’s just not be satisfied by the crumps, we can do it and we can do it together.
Florence had such a big heart.
The one beautiful thing about Florence was the ability to share. When Proweb started she kept saying I need to hand over to the vice president who was Busi Sibango at that time people kept saying the vision is in you why don’t you continue for another term. But she said we said look we do not want to be like organisations that do not have professionalism. She said ‘I saved my term and the organisation should survive and appreciate that it’s not about me.
Adeline Sibanda, Managing consultant of Adesim Developments said:
I am saddened by the loss of my dear friend. She was humble, spirited, loving and yet focused. She loved people and she did not want to leave anyone behind. She united people and her generosity will always be remembered
She was a visionary, she had many business ideas, that she shared freely with people. She was always ready to support and wanted everyone to excel in their profession and businesses. She had high standards whether at home, work and any event she was a part of.
My husband and I will miss her, my children will miss her. Our love and prayers to Noah, the children and grandchildren.
Prominent businesswoman and Proweb Vice President Tendai Mamura weighed in:
She was indeed a wonderful mentor who was always willingly give power to those around her…. had an amazing ability to draw out and amplify your strengths to help you believe in yourself….
She listened to find something of value no matter who you were….
With all her accomplishments, Her humility was a great teacher… she’d pick up the phone and say, “I can come to you…” or “I can ride with you” even in a shabby little car…. without showing any sense of entitlement for anything better than what you have…. (except when the Chihera in her kicked in and promptly put you in your place as Chinun’una)
Her generosity was out of this world…. opening her home all the time and there would always be a feast waiting at the table…
What a loss for us but a gain for Heaven….
TelOne chief executive officer and Proweber Mrs Chipo Mtasa said:
So much has been and continues to be said about Mai Florence Ziumbe, and why not? Florence was a person one would never forget, even after a single encounter. She was vibrant , loving , ambitious , inclusive , hardworking, committed , grounded and much more. She was one to always have a word of encouragement for a sister, a great cheerleader and a champion for women’s empowerment.
Her vision for PROWEB was powerful and ambitious. She wanted every professional woman in Zimbabwe to have a seat at the table. As a result, PROWEB was to become an economic powerhouse for women in Zimbabwe, acquiring a significant stake in each of the economic sectors in the country. Sitting on the boardroom table with Florence was always inspiring, the dream was big and the mission was bigger, but to Florence it was all within reach .
Thank you Sis Flo for being the trailblazer that you were. Thank you for giving a voice to women in Zimbabwe and for leading by example. Thank you for fiercely loving and embracing each and every one us and always choosing to see the best in us. You inspired us to be confident and courageous and above all, to always reach for the stars .
Nyaradzo Life Assurance chief executive Mr Phillip Mataranyika:
I am in mourning following the loss of not only a giant in the legal field, but wonderful human being who cared more about the welfare of others than her own. Florence Ziumbe is a candle whose light was swept away when we least expected it and at a time when her contributions in national matters were beginning to stand out like a beacon that she was.
I first met Florence through her husband, Noah who is a close cousin. After our initial introduction, Florence and I would interact at different levels. Working as a team with Grace Muradzikwa as members of Proweb, they would invite and influence my wife Mavi to be a member of this professional grouping of women.
I recall in September 2019 when she, together with Grace Muradzikwa, spearheaded an initiative that offered free cataract surgeries and glasses to scores of patients who thronged Chitungwiza Central Hospital for the procedure.
As Nyaradzo Group, we were only too happy to collaborate with PROWEB, the Elena Barraquer Foundation of Spain and other local institutions to restore eyesight to patients who had probably lost all hope.
I remember the late Mrs Florence Ziumbe as a phenomenal character whose infectious smile, humility, big heart and spirit of giving left a lasting impression on all those with whom she came across.
Such characteristics are rare to come across in the legal profession and in business where people can easily miss the big picture in the pursuit of smokes and mirrors. I consider it to be an honour and privilege to have known and learnt from such an amazing woman who used her influence to make the world a better place.
Mrs Ziumbe was passionate about women empowerment and believed in the power of education in enabling the girl child to achieve her dreams, which is why she was actively involved with institutions such as the Zimbabwe Open University and the Women’s University in Africa. Hers was not just talk without action. Her track record speaks for itself as could be seen from the array of boards she served on with distinction. I am saddened that we have lost Mrs Ziumbe at a time when the country is desperately in need of those of her skillset.
Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe Chief Operating Officer Hama Saburi:
I came to know Mai Ziumbe when I joined the journalism profession many years ago and became close to her when I joined the Financial Gazette in 2003, where she was the chairperson of the iconic publication’s board of directors.
I came to appreciate her as a consummate professional, with unflinching commitment towards uplifting all those she came across, especially the girl child and the youths in general.
Despite her high standing in society, Mai Ziumbe remained accessible, humble, motherly and loving.
She was part of my journey for over a decade and she would dedicate time to my team, which I think we didn’t deserve, to show us the ropes and motivate us to realise our dreams.
It is so sad that she is no longer with us. My heartfelt condolences go out to her children and her husband, Mukoma Noah, who needs our support at this most difficult time.”
Fare thee well Mrs Florence Ziumbe. You fought a good fight.