By Takudzwa Chekai
WHEN a first born girl child is orphaned at the tender age of 15, the whole future can be thrown off the rails and collapse right there and then.
That was exactly the situation Duduzile Nyirongo found herself in when her mother passed away while she was in Form 3, but through the skin of her teeth and some encouragement and support from relatives, she’s now a proud Chartered Accountant and an award-winning agribusiness entrepreneur with her eye on the lucrative export market. But how did all this fall into place for Dudu?
The truth is, it didn’t quite fall into place for her. Looking back into her rearview mirror, Duduzile sees many instances she fell and equally many instances she picked herself up to continue pushing for success. She also appears to have a knack for venturing into uncharted territory, beating new paths as seen by her entry into farming in early 2020.
While she is in full-time employment as a director for a security company, Duduzile has entered into farming Bird’s Eye Chilli, a product she says has huge potential in both local market and export, in December 2019.
“It went bad the first time,” Dudu said in an interview. But the loss did not deter her from trying once again in the 2020-21 season, which by her own admission, worked wonderfully well.
Bird’s Eye Chilli, one of the hottest and pungent chillies in the world, has a ready market in and outside Zimbabwe, with some farmers having dumped cotton for it.
While Malawi is leading the African production of the Bird’s Eye Chilli, other African countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa are beginning to claim their share of the European market.
The pungency or “hotness” of the chilli depends on the climate where it is grown, making every country’s chilli quite unique.
Duduzile had started learning farming in 2019, while holding her full-time job. Just like everybody else, she seeks avenues to supplement her regular income. It’s called a hustle, in street parlance.
But Duduzile knows that agriculture is as much a science as it is a business, so while her training as a Chartered Accountant equipped her on the business side, she needed new training to manage the science aspect.
“It’s still a small farming project, but I have already added value to the chilli by making chilli flakes. I’m still learning the market, but the potential in this area is huge.”
Although she has added sugar beans to her crops list and will farm more food products with time, Dudu admits the most important thing for now is to focus on the chilli project and see it grow.
Time is a finite resource, with any day capped at 24 hours. Dudu is aware of that time limitation every human being faces. She is a director on a full-time basis and sits on boards, while at the same time venturing into farming. All these, and family, need a share of the time available.
“I’m employed full-time as well as doing this farming project, so it’s not easy. I allocate my time wisely and also delegate. I also use lunchtime and times after work to keep the farming project going, but it all boils down to time management,” said Dudu.
She admits that at times she gets overwhelmed but that’s expected when one sets off on the course she has taken.
“I haven’t even reached the ceiling and continue pushing for more success as an individual and for the companies I’m involved in.”
Dudu admits that Covid-19 and the associated lockdown restrictions have affected her business in a lot of ways, but she continues navigating her way around.
“It has affected businesses and families as well, and the number of dependants for many people have increased, but that’s expected in a pandemic.”
Duduzile sees huge potential in the economy if certain policies are adopted.
“There is a bright future for Zimbabwe if the youths get more access to opportunities and to capital.
“Capital for start-ups like this farming project remains a challenge for many, but the idea is to start from somewhere and work towards growth,” she reckons.
People in Duduzile’s circles would be forgiven for thinking she was born with a silver spoon and had it all easy in her life, but her story is full of incidents where she got knocked down.
Duduzile realized soon after her mother passed away that she had to man up – for lack of a better term – and take care of herself and younger brother. For a teenage girl in a typical Zimbabwean family, the options are very limited and the only hope she had was to focus on school.
“Growing up I was an average student, (and) would be happy as long as I passed,” said Dudu in some commentary she shared with Mentorship Zimbabwe, a platform where dreams of young people can turn into reality.
“Then things changed when my Mom passed away when I was in Form 3. This was after my Dad had passed away when I was in Grade 7. I realized I was gonna have to work hard so that I will be able to take care of myself as Mom and Dad were no longer around. I’m grateful for my grandmother and my aunts and uncles who stood by me.”
She did pretty well at Ordinary Level, to her own surprise considering the societal pressure she was under after losing both parents. She probably could have done even better has she not shifted from one school to another for one reason or another. Among schools she attended for secondary education are John Tallach Secondary School, Bonda Mission and Mtshabezi High. It’s really a tale of a young girl trekking the length and breadth of the country as circumstances changed.
Duduzile, at that time, had no desire to end up in audit, finance and accounting.
“I wanted to be a lawyer (but) the only subject I had failed (at Ordinary Level) was History, can you believe it. But all things work together for my good,” she confessed.
With one door shut, she knocked on others. She enrolled for Advanced Level commercial subjects, including Mathematics. She had never done Accounts before, and she had to get that sorted if she wanted good results at the end.
“I thought being an accountant would be a good way to make money especially after becoming an orphan at 15 years of age. Accounts was very hard but I studied the basics so that I’ll be able to understand the subject at Advanced Level.”
She worked hard at it and the Advanced Level results came out good, she was admitted for an undergraduate degree program at NUST in Bulawayo. Her attachment was at EY, a world renowned audit firm. Duduzile was already smelling a rich life soon after her graduation, but it turned out she was dead wrong!
“I already saw myself being rich very soon. But little did I know that being rich wasn’t that easy,” she admits now, with the benefit of hindsight and real life experience.
After graduation, she was accepted back at EY and started her articles of clerkship training. This became the clearest indication that she was on a journey to become a Chartered Accountant. But this was easier said than done, especially now that she had a child to take care of, on top of the additional years of grueling study that stared her in the face.
“Imagine going to work and school at the same time and I was also a mother. I wasn’t going to be rich any time soon,” said Dudu.
She recalls her articles journey as not an easy one, what with volumes of books to study , accounting and auditing standards to learn and client deadlines to meet.
“I remember the times we could even finish work at 2:00 am and be expected back in the office at 7:45 am. It was exhausting!”
For some reason, Duduzile didn’t pass her qualifying exams and that was around 2006. She recalls that the exams were pretty hard and the pass rate very low. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (ICAZ) wants to maintain a high professional standards, she adds.
Just as she was battling to crack into the world of Chartered Accountants, Zimbabwe’s economy took a dramatic nosedive in 2007 and all salaried people went bankrupt. Initially, her pay was good, but the economic downturn didn’t spare her highly regarded profession and she soon became a laughing stock to street dealers who literally controlled the economy and made big buck by the hour.
“You could buy clothes and pay rent initially. I could even look after my daughter. But things got worse in 2008. Job industry was not looking good. Many of my colleagues left the country.
“Inflation adjusted accounts, etc… not good time to be an auditor! I remember being paid in coupons. Guys at Ximex Mall (then a popular dealers’ hub in Harare CBD) would laugh at our profession,” Duduzile recalls.
The tailspin didn’t last until after 2009, by which time Dudu had gotten to some stage on her journey to the top of her profession.
She eventually went past all her hurdles in 2010, when she passed her final exams. Duduzile was admitted as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Zimbabwe (ICAZ) the next year after so many drawbacks that would have made some lose track altogether.
“What an achievement it was to me. I was finally entitled to the designation Chartered Accountant (Zimbabwe), so after my name I can put CA(Z),” Dudu marvels at her achievement.
And so began her journey as a fully qualified professional in the field. Dudu is grateful to EY for the training and exposure it afforded her.
“I won’t forget the bun runs. Not sure if they still have them. You would go and buy buns for your seniors and even do errands for them. This was part of the training in addition to the auditing.
“I got exposure to a wide range of industries for six years including but not limited to, manufacturing, agriculture, NGOs, Retail, Asset Management, schools and so I have an understanding of various businesses,” she beams.
Duduzile contemplated leaving the country several times, but it just wouldn’t happen for her.
“Everytime I tried to get a job out the country something happened. I guess I was just meant to be based in Zimbabwe.”
Her training as a Chartered Accountant has equipped her with many skills which she says she applies at work, church and even at home.
“I’m very particular about finances, budgets and accounting. I account for each and every cent. I need to know what happened to each dollar,” she remarks.
Hard work rarely goes unrewarded. For Dudu, she has won awards but probably the biggest reward she has is the willingness to mentor others seeking to rise to where she is, and beyond. She engages with aspiring accountants and youths of various life pursuits, who ask her for career advice and mentorship.
Dudu has also fundraised for vulnerable groups in society, among the many initiatives she has undertaken to help better her community.
“To the young girl or boy out there with a background similar to mine or worse, stay focused on your vision. Whatever challenges you face now are stepping stones to your promotion.
“I also urge all women out there to chase after their dreams without ceasing. When you’re to get into courtship, be sure to get a partner who supports your dreams. You can tell whether the partner supports your dreams or not… just that sometimes people ignore the early signs,” Dudu says.
She also credits her husband for his contribution in her success in career and business, saying he is such a pillar of support. Dudu adds that women out there must shatter the glass ceiling and venture into whatever profession as long they keep the desire to rise above tribulations. Dudu also urges busines people to continue aim higher and innovating with the changing times and economic landscape.
As for her personal success, Dudu is not done yet. Her story is widely shared in church groups, youths fora and business chatrooms, but that does not flatter her into thinking she has reached the top of her potential.
“I’m very positive about my future. I see a very bright future for myself, my family, and generations to come. I see myself as being an inspiration to many people in Zimbabwe and beyond. I keep positive about it until I get there.”
There will be challenges ahead. But considering where she’s coming from and the hurdles she has surpassed, there’s little doubt that Duduzile is destined for greatness. □