PROFESSOR Hope Sadza is a multi award-winning academic who has distinguished herself in Zimbabwe’s tertiary education sector. From her humble beginnings in the Public Service Commission, Sadza took bold strides towards achieving her lifetime dream of establishing a women’s university that boasts of notable success in Zimbabwean education. An accomplished academic who sits on several company boards, Sadza is passionate about empowering women through education, hence she won the Southern African Development Community (SADC) North and Zimbabwe’s Lifetime Achiever in Education and Training, establishing herself as one of Zimbabwe’s most decorated academic. With a great vision for the Women’s University in Africa (WUA), Sadza believes that women can accomplish more if given equal opportunities in education. Professor Hope Sadza (HS) spoke to Nyasha Chingono (NC) on a number of issues in her quest to empower women through education and her future plans for the university.
NC: Congratulations on being awarded the SADC North and Zimbabwe’s Lifetime Achiever in Education and Training. Can you give us a brief background of the Women’s University in Africa (WUA)?
HS: I founded (WUA) in 2002 with 10 lecturers. We have been growing in the past 14 years. We now have an enrolment of 2 800 students and a workforce of over 100. Our intake consists of 15 percent men and 85 percent women. The average age of our students is about 35 years because we are not for young girls who have the opportunity to attend other universities. We are looking for those women who have missed out on education and who cannot afford to go abroad. We decided to come up with a university that is flexible on lecture attendance times. We have a bloc for weekend lectures. In terms of time, we are friendlier as compared to other universities.
We have notable figures like Joice Mujuru who used to attend the 17:30 hours lectures and other CEOs who come on weekends. We always look at areas of interest for women and offer what they are passionate about. We have decided to venture into a Masters programme during weekends. We have since applied to offer PhD programmes. As soon as we finalise the process, we will start offering PhDs.
NC: What are the requirements for the WUA degree programmes?
HS: You have to attain five Ordinary Level passes, including Mathematics and English. But you realise that most women do not like Mathematics. But we said, those who do not have Mathematics can spend a semester on a bridging Mathematics programme because the subject is necessary.
NC: You have won several accolades over the years. What does the recent award mean to you?
HS: I have won about 17 awards around the world, but this one is special because we are looking at regions. So in all these regions, I was the best. The fact that I have made it in SADC means that Zimbabwe is being recognised as the best in education and training. The selection process was rigorous. There are about 20 judges who engage you in a series of Skype interviews. To have made it, it’s a great honour for Zimbabwe and myself.
NC: Have you achieved WUA’s mandate of addressing existing gender disparities in education?
HS: It takes time to bridge the education gap between men and women. Our mandate was to reduce gender disparities where the boy child goes to school and the girl child is married off. We are happy with the progress made so far as we always inquire about their educational interests. We are addressing the gender disparity. This takes time.
NC: There are religious sects that do not value education, especially for the girl child. What steps are you taking to engage such groups?
HS: In a week or two we will start engaging the Apostolic Faith Churches, proposing that women in that sect enrol at WUA because they have educational needs. We have opened that debate with them and I am very excited about that project.
NC: What are the university’s major achievements so far?
HS: Since the type of woman we are targeting is unemployed and most of them lack school fees, we came up with payment plans that are never done in other universities. It makes it easier for them to manage their children’s school fees. We have managed to integrate women from various backgrounds. That is an achievement. Also the fact that I have won awards means that we are doing well. It shows that we are now well-known.
NC: What is the role of education in empowering women in Zimbabwe?
HS: The role is to educate the whole of Zimbabwe, not only the girl child. The advantage of an educated woman is that they become a power in the society and there is no way they will raise uneducated children. It also benefits the communities they come from.
NC: How best can the region break the existing education barriers against the girl child?
HS: People have started talking about the girl child, including the United Nations through UNICEF. People have realised that educating women is important because it empowers nations. So we just have to push and get more women educated.
NC: How has the issue of child marriages affected women’s education in the region?
HS: It has affected women’s education because if a child is betrothed at a young age they cannot empower their own children. Development can never be taken to another level if these children are not educated.
NC: Why do you feel so strongly about women’s education?
HS: I am very passionate about education because if I had not gone to school, I could not have opened a university. I started thinking about this idea when I was in the Public Service Commission where I would interview women for promotion and they would fail not because they were not bright, but they lacked education. I realised that at that rate, women would never assume higher posts in the public service. I then spoke to my friend, Fay Chung about the need to start a university, but since government does not allow gender discrimination WUA has a 15 percent men enrolment.
NC: After about 14 years in existence, where do you see WUA in the next decade?
HS: We have done well. We have a hotel in Marondera, where we want to start a hotel school. We have finalised buying property worth US$3,5 million where we will have our university. We are in the process of increasing our student enrolment. We also have a dairy farm with 134 dairy cows since most women are into agriculture. We are expanding. Our wish is to expand to 8 000 students. Now that we have our own place, we can have one campus. We also want to venture into engineering courses as we move forward.
NC: Your last words to women in Africa?
HS: Women! You can do it. You can come to WUA and study. Get up and break out from your comfort zones. We have signed an MoU with Parliament regarding issues of how to engage and develop their constituencies which is a positive step towards empowering our women parliamentarians. We have two countries where our university is represented because we do not want to limit it to Zimbabwean students only. We are in Zambia and Malawi. We also want to be in Namibia and South Africa where we are set to build campuses.
My mother, Sarah Mugugu Bakasa was sickly when she was pregnant with me. I was born so small and prematurely. The nurse asked what my parents would name me but my mother cried, saying there was no hope for me. For days I was so small, not allowed to breastfeed and my mother wept daily. I started to put on weight after three months and then I was named Hope!
Professor Hope Cynthia Sadza
After graduating from the University of Missouri in the United States in 1980 with an MA in Public Administration, I worked in the government. With two other individuals, we founded the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Administration and Management (Zipam). I lectured part-time at the University of Zimbabwe and was the parastatals commissioner for two years. In 1989, I was the Public Service Commissioner. I noticed the inequalities for accessing jobs between men and women. Women had few opportunities due to their lack of degrees, confidence and inability to express themselves. Mature women could not access higher education. There were no universities to cater for them and they had too many responsibilities. This drove me to research on how I could bring change. I decided to retire early and work on setting up a women’s university!
The rise to be a founder and the first vice-chancellor of the first women university in Africa was not an easy job.
I faced discouragement but it got me determined to continue. Women’s University in Africa (WUA) opened its doors on September 2 2002. We began with three faculties, 147 students and 10 lecturers. Today, WUA enrols over 3 000 students, 46 from Malawi and 33 from Zambia and it has over 100 staff members and other properties. WUA caters for students who work and go to school at night, during weekends and school holidays. WUA offers lessons to women without the requisite English and Mathematics to enable them to embark on their intended degree programmes.
I am also a mother, wife, board member, relative and a friend. I have learnt to balance all roles. I believe a good leader is an agent of change and an example to the young. I prefer talks on gender equality and gender mainstreaming. I care about community development. I have donated 10 trophies to various colleges and schools to be awarded to top female students.
I feel what I have achieved could have been done by any hard-working woman. Accomplishment can only be realised through hard work. I read voraciously and feel if I am not reading or writing, I am wasting God’s time!
My greatest inspiration comes from my faith and hope that whatever I put my mind to, I succeed. My inspiration is the power of God in my life and my trust in His power to give anyone whatever they ask for, whenever you give in to His power to lead you.
The next generation has a lot to do in the development of the country. They have to put in more work, fight for better lives, create opportunities, go into agriculture and restore the bread basket of Africa. Don’t give up, pray and believe it will happen through God’s intercession. Learn, seek advice and trust your intuition.
I want to be remembered for being tenacious in anything I put my mind to do, for saying “nothing is impossible, once one sets one’s mind to create anything with the belief in God, success is imminent!
Improving the status of women is one of the most critical levers of international development. Woman Excel is an exciting forum created by women for women with the purpose of empowering women in every sphere of their lives.
Professor Hope Cynthia Sadza is a Platinum member of Woman Excel. Woman Excel embraces women from all walks of life and can help you break out of mediocrity to greatness.