This is her story. Making HERstory.
It’s hard to imagine the term “dynamite comes in small packages” being coined with anyone but this pint size trailblazer in mind. Born and raised in the streets of Highfield; a curious and questioning chatterbox from the time she could get any words out, it was the bullet riddled house belonging to the late former President Robert Mugabe that ignited her fire, and at just 5 years old, dared her to dream; “If someone born and raised in those very streets was leading the country, then why couldn’t she?” From that daring question she set off, blazing her trail to the highest public office in the country and determined to defy any limitations on what she could and couldn’t do along the way. And now,at just 35, still very much the curious and questioning chatterbox, married to her best friend, and raising a feisty trailblazer of their own,her road to serving in public office looks in pretty solid shape. One of the youngest lawyers ever to make partner at a renowned commercial law firm; Scholar of the International Bar Association; a Mandela Washington Fellow; and now currently Chief Operations Officer at an Investment Firm, all this with a blog turned TV series, a branded apparel business, and some noteworthy community activism to her name, this dynamite is all set to blow, and blow BIG.
Allow us to introduce you to the force that is Sharon Bwanya, non conformist, serial rule-breaker, fearless dare-dreamer, and with ALL the confidence she inspires, our future President!! We celebrate the phenomenal woman she is, the power of her story, and her truly remarkable journey to “Becoming Sharon Bwanya”!
THE EARLY YEARS
You as a young girl. How would the people close to you describe you then?
As a curious and questioning chatterbox
What were the BIG dreams and aspirations?
Since I was about 5 years old, the dream has been to serve in the highest public office in the land. It is still one of the big goals.
And what and who influenced those?
I grew up in Highfields, close to a house drilled with bullet holes that was said to be the late former President RG Mugabe’s house. As kids, we were generally fascinated by the bullet holes and the stories about how they came to be. What struck me then was that someone who came from my neighbourhood was leading the country and that ignited the ambition.
What do you remember vividly from your childhood- what memories stand out?
So many memories stand out but perhaps a more relevant memory for this conversation is of the first black woman I saw driving a car. I remember it all so vividly. The year was 1991 and we were at a relative’s funeral. Most other female relatives had spent the day doing the typical funeral chores that centered around cooking and washing dishes. In the early evening, I was with some cousins playing on the street and there she was, a black woman, donning a puffy afro and driving a sky-blue Mazda 323 hatchback with brown coloured seat covers. The driver turned out to be my mother’s cousin who had come to pay her respects. She was wearing a purple and gold georgette dress. She did not stay long for the funeral but I saw her pass on her chema contribution to my mother just as she was leaving. There was something about her that said she was her own person. She showed up on her terms. In a car. That she was driving. By herself. It was that independence and self-determination and how uncommon it was in my world that made me say to myself, someday I want to be just like that. Someday, I can be like that. My own woman.
How does a day in your life today look like?
I have recently changed jobs from being a partner in a commercial law firm to leading the operations of an investments firm but I find that my days are still more or less the same. A typical work-day starts with a jog, getting ready for work, followed by the morning school run (or nowadays, some morning homeschooling) and I am by my desk by 8am and there I remain glued for most of the day until 6.30pm. The main punctuations to this routine are some out of office meetings, a 20-minute lunch break and a virtual homework review session with my daughter at 4pm. My daughter sends me pictures of her homework and her draft answers and we go over them via email and video calls. I try to be home by 7pm on most days to spend some time being mum before my daughter’s bedtime and to decompress with my best friend. My own bedtime is 10pm.
How did you get here? How did this dream and this life come to be?
It goes back to the 5 year-old me. I grew up going to the Highfields Library after school and I came across an encyclopedia on world leaders in which I discovered that quite a number of world presidents had law degrees before they were presidents and our own then president also had a law degree. I then made up my mind that law school was the path to public office. After O’ Level, my father signed me up for sciences subjects as he wanted me to be a doctor and then to his surprise, at prize giving day in lower sixth form, I was being called up for awards in English Literature and History. My mind had long been made up, I was going to be a lawyer first. And law it was. Initially, I wanted to be a human rights lawyer which is the natural course to take for where I am headed but I could not resist the challenge of going into the commercial law space which has historically been a male dominated space. I also wanted to be there where the deals that ultimately shape our economy are made. After 12 years of commercial law, I felt it was time to move on to expand my skill set and horizons. The ultimate dream remains the same, and in the meantime, I am working on getting ready.
Why do you get up in the morning to do what you do? What drives you?
I get up in the morning to make positive impact both through my work and beyond. I am passionate about influencing what I believe to be progressive change mainly in my social circles, particularly encouraging fellow women to break free of both our own self-imposed mental limitations and societal limitations. I am also driven to be a role model of alternative possibilities for my daughter and any young woman that looks up to me– if they grow to unapologetically pursue their full potential, then my time in this world would have been worthwhile.
And what’s the most fulfilling part of doing it all for you?
The most fulfilling part is when I get feedback from a fellow woman that I encouraged them or emboldened them to break free of limitations or that I may have contributed to the attainment of their ambitions, even in a small way.
What are some of the challenges or the things you want to change, or wish were different?
I would like to see women giving less and less of our power away. We do this in many ways, often without prompting. We seem resigned to accepting responsibility without the corresponding power and authority that ought to accompany the responsibilities we assume or that are thrust on us. Sometimes, we sacrifice our power for the sake of likeability and acceptability and often end up with neither, save for resentment and regret because there is no true happiness or fulfilment in resignation and sufferance. I wish we would be bolder and feel less guilty for saying “No” and for honouring our true personal preferences. I refuse to believe that our validation as women lies in enduring pain, discomfort, abuse and injustice under the misguided notion that such endurance is a sign of strength. I wish we would stop glorifying strife as a crown of womanhood. It is not. We deserve better and I believe we owe it to ourselves and to our daughters to change this narrative.
And what’s the next big thing for you on the road to the highest office?
I have just recently made a big move by leaving partnership in a commercial law firm and joining the world of investments in a non-legal role. So, for the short term, I will be expanding my skill set in my new role and extending my footprint in commerce. On the side, I serve on boards of various organizations in the non-profit, public and private sector.
How would those close to you describe you today?
I hope they would still say a (well-meaning) curious and questioning chatterbox and that I am open-minded and reliable.
Work, Life, Play and Everything in between? How do you juggle & manage it all?
I like to think I manage because of an empowered support system. The core of my home support system is my spouse as well as my helper who is, in all fairness, more of an executive home assistant. When I say an empowered support system in respect of my executive home assistant, I mean, for example that we have supported her through getting a driver’s license so that she can assist with school run, errands, shopping and, ahem, fuel queues. We also assisted her to obtain a passport so that she can travel with us on family holidays and also so that she can be the accompanying adult for when our daughter visits family that stays outside Zimbabwe during school holidays without one of us having to miss work to make the trips. We are also enrolling her in an ECD course after noting that she is great with teaching and nurturing of young children and this is a skill set that benefits us and herself as it will provide her with more options. My spouse, on the other hand, anchors me and keeps me on the straight and narrow. He is a fantastic co-parent who has supported me through episodes where I needed to be away from home for months on end whilst he held fort by himself. I also have a personal assistant to coordinate my numerous personal errands and she serves as an extension of me when I am needed in two places at the same time. Then there is always family to step in and step up as needed. I also have a good support system in the form of all-weather girlfriends who I have empowered to hold me to account and keep me in check whether career wise or personal matters wise. On some trying days, my girls keep me sane. The point is, faced with multiple demands, one cannot possibly do it all by themselves and do it all well – we need help and we need to empower such help to see us through.
What’s the role family and those around you have played in your story?
Family is a big part of my support system but I would like to single out my paternal aunt who has been many things to me. Firstly, she played her aunt role to perfection and advised me in choosing the appropriate spouse that would be best suited to my personality, ambitions and shortcomings. She emphasized that a lifetime commitment like marriage is not decided on feelings but on logic and being pragmatic about what it takes to stay in a fulfilling union whilst being true to oneself as an individual. A lot of her advice has directly impacted where I am today.
How do you get away from all the noise when you need to?
I like to travel, whether within or outside the country. My husband and I are adventure buddies and we are great at being together whilst giving each other introspection space at the same time. One of our favourite spots is Troutbeck, Nyanga. It’s a place we go to when we need to disconnect from all the noise and reconnect with ourselves both as individuals and as a couple.
Our conversation with Sharon continues in Reflections. Click link below…