Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
When it comes to the topic of women in science, Marie Curie’s name usually dominates conversations globally.
A two-time Nobel Prize winner, whose work led to the discovery of radioactivity, Curie’s contribution to science is immeasurable.
Zimbabwe has its own Curies who have straddled the geographical space and made their own contributions towards science in its diversity.
One such woman is Mrs Naume Mandizha, a chemist who has made immense contribution in the field of chemistry and microbiology for more than two decades in Zimbabwe.
Her strides might not be as bold and pronounced as Curie’s yet, but she is carving her own piece of history through her contribution in chemistry and microbiology.
Mrs Mandizha co-owns GNK Laboratories, trading as Zim Lab, one of the biggest microbiology and chemistry laboratories in Zimbabwe that offers an array of services to big mining companies, agricultural institutions and other players.
Her achievements as a scientist, trainer and businesswoman bring out a compelling narrative of determination, hard work and perseverance, born of out of the need to push socio- and economic boundaries.
“I have always liked challenging assignments and getting into sciences has been quite fulfilling. I really enjoy what I do,” she said recently.
Zim Lab offers mineral ore testing and geochemical services for the mining sector, soil and plant tissue analysis for fertility purposes, and irrigation water analysis for the agriculture and horticulture sectors, microbiological examination for food safety and hygiene swabs for the hospitality industry, and wastewater and industrial effluent characterisation and monitoring.
The laboratory also provides technical support to customers through the use of networks established with scientists and researchers in various fields.
From the time that the laboratory was started around 2004, it has worked on a number of strategic projects locally and regionally, earning accolades in the process, for demonstrating competency in its field of expertise.
In 2004, Zim Lab won a prize in the regional competition for the analysis on tryphton — testing for protein in maize — in a competition where more than 10 regional laboratories competed.
It was also instrumental in the setting up of the SADC Water Laboratory Association, and is currently working with the Great Dyke Investment on various testing projects.
“All these accolades are an affirmation of the hard work that I put together with my team towards the success of our project. We believe we have harnessed expertise that we should also share with others as a way of giving back to the community,” she said.
A chemist with over 20 years hands-on experience, she has worked for different organizations among them the Tobacco Research Board. Mrs Mandizha’s decision to set up a lab was inspired by a need to share her expertise and knowledge in science.
A holder of a Master in Analytical Chemistry and Master in Business Administration, she knew she had mastered enough skills and experience that could be imparted to others in the industry.
She also wanted to fulfil her long-term ambition to be an entrepreneur, taking after her parents who were revered businesspeople in Murehwa.
“While working for the private sector, I realised that there was need to set up a laboratory that specialised in ore analysis for platinum, gold, palladium, and rhodium among other minerals.”
Armed with information, resources and a passion to contribute towards chemistry and microbiology testing in the country, Mrs Mandizha entered a partnership with a colleague, resulting in the birth of GNK Laboratories, trading as Zim Lab.
For someone who had been “sheltered” under the corporate umbrella, where she would execute her duties without worrying about the financial side of business, it soon dawned on her that running a business was not be easy.
“We started the business at a time the country was facing serious foreign currency shortages, and at one time, we almost closed shop owing to operational challenges,” she revealed.
It took a lot of strategic decisions that included serious cost control measures to pull the laboratory out of the financial quagmire it found itself it.
“Soon the business was growing and both the public and private sector was slowly gaining confidence in us and the services that we provided.”
In no time Zim Lab was getting business from all major mining companies in Zimbabwe, non-governmental organizations and individual players keen on getting their services.
The recognition spurred Mrs Mandizha to continue giving her expertise through training of students and workforce in science across the region.
“I have been conducting training in Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana and other neighbouring countries, and that development has helped me to amass information on trends in chemistry and microbiology.
“I believe in the importance of information sharing to ensure that players in the industry are up to date with developments and trends in the field,” she said.
And her contribution to the science field in Zimbabwe has not gone unnoticed. In 2009, the Zimbabwe Institute of Management honoured her with the Manager of the Year award in the Small to Medium Enterprise category.
In 2013 she came second in the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce awards in the Women in Enterprise (open category), for her consistence and contribution in the science sector.
She is a member of the American Chemical Council and also sits on the Medicine Control Authority of Zimbabwe laboratory committee as a technical expert.
“I am very proud of my achievements and what I have contributed to the science world, thanks to my parents who encouraged me to take up sciences when STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) then wasn’t the buzzword.
“My parents understood back then the importance of educating the girl child, and I am happy to say that eight of the girls in my family received good education and are doing well,” she enthused.
Mrs Mandizha will soon be enrolling for her PHD in Environmental Chemistry focusing on small scale mining.
Like many women in her group, Mrs Mandizha says; “These woman and others like them did not just prevail, they excelled when personal, economic, political, and racial obstacles threatened.
“My other advice to women in business is for them to embrace the aspect of continuous improvement and have business objectives as well as personal goals. I am continually taking advantage of training opportunities. I was in Sweden for three weeks end of April — beginning May 2015 for advanced training in strategic management sponsored by SIDA.”