In conversation: WITH TREVOR
The owner of Victoria Falls’ luxury boutique hotel Mbano Manor, Matifadza Nyazema, says her decision to enter the tourism and leisure industry was influenced by her upbringing.
Nyazema, a former ZBC journalist, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that growing up she witnessed her father’s hospitality as he welcomed every relative to their Harare home.
The hotelier spoke about growing up in Harare, her career in journalism and why she decided to build Mbano Manor.
TN: Dr. Martha Matifadza Nyazema. From now on I am going to call you Mati because that is what you want to be called, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.
MN: Thank you so much Trevor.
TN: So congratulations, your four year dream, Mbano Manor Hotel, is now a tourism destination in Zimbabwe in Victoria Falls. How does it feel?
MN: It feels fantastic I must tell you. As you know, it was a brutal journey as I have explained to you over the past few years.
To actually see the reality come through and to actually walk and see guests come through and making bookings.
The first few months I would be stressing to see if somebody would call me at midnight to say something was not working, to see that everything is working and it is actually growing as a business.
So, it is really a fantastic feeling.
TN: You say it was brutal, as I was reading your website I almost fell over in my chair because at some point you say “Construction, construction I will tell the story some other time”.
I hope we get to talk about the ups and downs of trying to put up a hotel, a beautiful hotel by the way, that you have put up there.
Reading through your bio I just got the sense that life has been conspiring to get you here?
You know why I say that?
You start off at ZBC as a news editor, you do some PR (public relations) with the Zimbabwe Tourism Development Corporation, you do hotel management, you then do a PhD.
Is that the sense that you get? Has this been deliberate, or life has happened to get you ready for this moment?
MN: I think life has happened, but what I find is that most of the aspects of my life were leading to this point.
So even when people say to me how did you dream this up, I did not realise 20 years ago I was dreaming on that, or 14 years ago or five years ago.
So, I have found literally all of my career has led to what Mbano is today.
So, it is not just something I dreamt of five years ago or four years ago and it came to be. It has been an interesting journey.
I was actually thinking last night as I was preparing for this interview, my journey did not even start with ZBC, my journey started literally from childhood if you wish.
I was born on my grandfather’s farm in Sengezi Makwiro, but my parents at the time lived in Kadoma in Rimuka township.
Typical family as my father was a teacher and my mum was a nurse and very soon we moved to Harare.
So, my early childhood was primary school at Chipembere School in Highfield and then we moved to Mbare where my father was actually headmaster of Gwinyai Primary School.
From that early childhood one of the things that comes to me is that I realise looking back that I had a competitive advantage in terms of, I had access to a library all by myself through my father’s school, and I used to like reading.
Looking back even at what I do today, some of it is that aspect as one of the underlying themes of my life has been English reading.
I think that is why I became a journalist, doing research, and that all comes back from the fact that I had a whole library at Gwinyai Primary School for years of my life.
Secondary school I went to St Dominic’s Chishawasha and then St Ignatius College.
Obviously very good schools as well.
It was a good growing up in terms of doing the right thing, being a good Catholic girl.
I come from a very strong Catholic family.
Then eventually going to university. I had dreams of becoming a lawyer, I did not quite make it, it was a time everyone wanted to be a lawyer.
I did a Bachelor of Administration and Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe, good fun times at UZ.
I always say we were the generation who were very lucky because we straddled independence, we literally had jobs falling at our feet.
The way I went into journalism was because I was walking one day in the corridor and I saw a list at the department of political science that said that those who wanted to go into the Ministry of Information were just to put their names down, and I just said to my friend we should put our names down because we knew there were other ministries, but on that day it happened to be the Ministry of Information.
That is how my career was chosen! I put my name down and a few weeks later I got a call to go for an interview and just by chance there were scholarships available and I ended up with a Danida scholarship to go to Nairobi, Kenya to study journalism.
Literally that is how it happened. There was little bit of luck involved in that.
TN: Our generation was blessed in many respects.
MN: Yes, we were blessed in that respect. So, I did my journalism degree. I used to fly back home because my scholarship was quite generous. I could afford to fly back.
So, first holiday I worked with The Herald newspaper.
My second holiday I worked with ZBC, and between the two I was offered a job and decided that ZBC sounded nice and that is how my first job was ZBC.
TN: I just wanted to zero in on what a blessing your father was, clearly through that library. What else did your father impart to you, and your mum obviously?
MN: I think my parents were your typical African family, where they were the nucleus of a very big extended family.
To some extent two of the most successful people in their respective families.
An interesting statistic is that I have 56 first cousins.
I know I counted and actually wrote a story about it, growing up with 56 first cousins.
All of those cousins, all of their parents at one time or another came to live in our house because we were the Harare city people.
What I remember of that was everyone was welcome, and I am just talking of immediate family.
Imagine beyond that we had an extended family.
I could have 500 people around me and they are all immediate family, as I am not talking yet about second cousins and third cousins.
I think the one thing my parents gave to us was that everyone was welcome.
I do not remember anyone ever being sent away.
We lived in Mbare which was very close to Mbare Musika, so all you needed to do was coming from wherever you were coming from, was to then ask where Gwinyai Primary School was or where was headmaster Rukanza’s house.
So, my sisters and I, as we were growing older towards teenage years, we became naughty.
So, we used to say ours was the “waiting room” because people would come by bus to Mbare and just spend the night at our house.
By the standards then we had a fairly nice house, 3 bedrooms with a big yard, with vegetables.
We were never hungry. So, I think when people came through, they felt it was a nice place, so instead of spending one night they would end up staying a few nights.
TN: As kids I am sure you would wonder when are they going away!
MN: Yeah, I think one thing to say just as an anecdotal comment; my older sister at one time actually revolted and said to my parents we were not coming out of our beds anymore!
Because we were always being told to sleep on the floor to give room for the visitors.
TN: I can identify with that.
MN: It was a rich upbringing in terms of family. That was the point I wanted to make.
My father was very strict, because he was the patriarch of a very big extended family.
So in my family, my dear, we did not have lipstick, we did not have trousers, we were the typical black girls to look after ourselves well and would not do certain things.
TN: How has that impacted you in terms of your worldview right now?
MN: I think I am fairly strict with my children.
MN: I would like to say that I am, but more in terms of how I brought up my children because I remember saying to them that I would raise them up the way I was raised up.
My parents as I have said, were fairly strict and I remember when there was an era of sleep-overs as I was raising up my kids. I never saw that in my home growing up and I did not allow my kids either.
There was also a very strong ethos of education in my parents’ home when I grew up. In my family it was all about education.
TN: And faith?
MN: Like I said we come from a Catholic family, so it was very strong as well.
We went to church every Sunday, and we used to walk to church.
My father was very active in church as well.
We had to go to boarding school at a Catholic school.
I think there is an element of the Catholic Convent school sort of rubs off on you and you do not realise it.
It was German nuns, very strong and very strict.
Also I find from there, not just for me but for my peers as well in class, that almost all of us made something with our lives because we had strong values instilled.
TN: Tell me something.
As you are discussing the Rukanza family home, I get the sense that this sounded like a free hotel?
Where people used to come in and stay?
Anyway, I will park that idea there, hahaha.
So, when did the idea of owning and building a hotel from scratch, when did that idea begin to come through?
MN: Maybe it is not so much the idea of a hotel, but the idea of Victoria Falls.
MN: When I was seven or eight years old my father took us to Victoria Falls. He took his school. So, we went by train.
I was very young, but I remember it very well.
It was me and my older sister.
We went by train to Bulawayo, slept at Mzilikazi Primary School and then took another train to Victoria Falls and slept at Chinotimba Primary School.
I actually have pictures of that, in fact if you go on my website, you will see that.
I think that was a lasting memory for us, of going out there and seeing the world.
So, growing up it was always I know Victoria Falls, I have been there type of thing.
So, I think there was almost a connection with Victoria Falls.
Perhaps if I can share another anecdote, I remember when I was now working in South Africa, I came once on business to Vic Falls, I was doing a presentation, and for some reason I ended up at one of the corners of the valley all by myself in Vic Falls and instead of being scared, funny enough I was very calm.
I remember thinking, and it sounds a bit morbid, but I actually said to myself the day I die I want my ashes poured over the Victorian Falls.
This was before the hotel thing.
To go back to your question, I think I always saw myself as a corporate person, and I was lucky I worked for big corporations like British Airways, Zimbabwe Sun, Cresta Hospitality and Southern Sun in South Africa.
The last 15 years of Southern Sun, because of my seniority, I sat on the executive committee.
So, I was then eventually running the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.
So, we would always start with the Convention Centre, get it out of the way, and then do the hotels as that would take longer and I would then tell what was going on with the hotels.
I realised later that I actually got 15 years experience in how to build a hotel, free education.
I would have finished my brief, then I would sit there for the next three hours just watching the guys talking, saying how they were trying to go into Nigeria, into Rwanda or how they had been in Mozambique, the business model they would have used in starting the hotels and the laws of that country and what they would permit in terms of land ownership in terms of being just tenants, or more likely being co-owners with somebody.
Or that they would have gone into Kenya, and the laws there.
So subconsciously I knew how to build a hotel.
Probably about 2008 around then, I remember saying I would like to own something in Vic Falls, and I actually came and looked, and at that time had the usual idea which most people associate with, of just having a pre-existing property on perhaps 2,000 square metres, a nice little BnB type of thing.
I actually looked and for some reason did not decode to buy at the time, but I think the seed had been planted.
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