Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
When Maureen Nyemba lost her husband she knew that the fortification that had long protected her from economic woes had broken down. With six children to feed, house and educate — the last born barely six months old — terror, fear, panic and all too familiar emotions that swirl and crash the
fragile ego of a widow gripped her.
But instead of languishing in self-pity and pointless lament, Mrs Nyemba decided to stare fate in the face with a determination that her children would get the best of everything, despite losing their father and the financial and emotional implications of that.
With little education and no prior entrepreneurial experience Mrs Nyemba joined scores of other women trekking across the borders to procure stuff for resale back home.
Unlike most of her peers who were content to remain cross boarder traders, Mrs Nyemba soon moved out of the survival mode to grow an empire.
More than two decades after that fateful first step into the world of business Mrs Nyemba is a successful businesswoman running a reputable sports shop — Betta Ball Sports — a factory, several salons and a gym.
“What I have today did not come on a silver platter. It was through hard work, resilience and determination to fend for my children,” she revealed in an interview in Harare recently.
“My journey in business has been tough, but I am grateful to several mentors who held my hand, believed in me and saw my strength in attaining the best in entrepreneurship.
“Without adequate financial resources to run any viable business ventures, the mentoring and advice I received from friends and colleagues helped me to build a solid foundation.”
She singled out former CAPS United coach Steve Kwashi and Peter Wood among people who strengthened her resolve in venturing into business.
“They both realised that I had a passion in what I was doing and they encouraged me to expand my territory in sportswear.
“Swimwear was a niche market I discovered whilst running flea markets at Sammy Levy Village and Waterworld,” she enthused.
“When I ventured into cross border trading around 1993, I focused my attention on swimwear after realising that it had a ready market at Waterworld along Samora Machel Avenue,” said Mrs Nyemba.
As her popularity in supplying swimming apparel grew, one of her clients approached her and advised her to consider adding fishing equipment among her swimming merchandise.
She eagerly took up the idea, which meant more frequent visits to South Africa to restock her merchandise, which she was now selling at Sammy Levy and Waterworld throughout the week and weekends.
Realising that she needed to endear herself with her growing clientele, Mrs Nyemba also took up fishing as a hobby, spending endless hours in boats and fishing tournaments fine-tuning her leisure pursuit.
“One day Wood (Mr), who had become a regular customer approached me and persuaded me to abandon the three flea markets I was running and formalise the business.
“He offered me a shop at the then Ximex Mall, which was one of his properties.
‘‘At first I was reluctant, I could not take the risk, even though he even offered two months of free rentals,” she recalls.
With persuasion from friends and her sister, she took up the offer signalling the birth of Betta Ball Sports.
“Kwashi, who was friends with my late husband, encouraged me to broaden the business by including other different sporting apparels and equipment.”
In less than two years, she had made phenomenal strides, changing her waning fortunes, while making history by becoming the first black woman to own a comprehensive sports shop.
She has since expanded her business into sportswear and equipment manufacturing at her busy factory in Harare. The factory runs seven days a week to meet demand for tracksuits, ball game nets and balls for different sport disciplines among other products.
She has also diversified her business and now runs a state of the art gym as well as several hair salons in the central business district.
Looking back, Mrs Nyemba concedes that it took a lot of hard work, hours of sacrifice, proper management and financial discipline to attain her current status.
With neither strong financial background nor proper business management training to support her dreams, Mrs Nyemba still managed to break the glass ceiling in the business world.
“I believe women have to take up opportunities against life adversities they may face including losing a husband.
“I could have continued mourning while moving around with a begging bowl to relatives and friends, but I decided to work hard for my children,” said Mrs Nyemba who bankrolled all her six children’s education at various international universities across the globe.
Among her brood is an entrepreneur operating in Canada, a medical doctor based in Australia, chartered accountant, an information communication technology specialist and a finance guru running her own businesses in Harare.
Mrs Nyemba, who is a member of the Salvation Army Church, urged women to take up various opportunities within their midst’s to change their economic situation.
The 58-year-old businesswoman, who is currently studying for her O Levels and hopes to enrol for a degree in business studies, believes that women can change their circumstances by working hard.
“You have got to start somewhere, before you become successful,” said Mrs Nyemba who is a fitness enthusiast, and a philanthropist who is involved in many projects to assist the disadvantaged.
Her passion for community work resulted in her election as a councillor for Ward 12 in Mbare.