Tariro Makanga: “The glass ceiling can be broken if we put our best in everything we do”

Interviewed and edited by Edinah Masanga

Tariro Makanga is one of Zimbabwe’s finest women; smart, highly educated, beautiful, hard working but most of all generous and humble. Her work has seen her bring into the limelight the plight of People Living with HIV, sex workers and other key populations in the health and development sector. In addition, she has been instrumental in advancing the cause of adolescents, especially their Sexual Reproductive Health Rights through her televised talk show Positive Talk.

She is the Head of Media, Marketing, and Public Relations for SAfAIDS, a regional NGO based in Zimbabwe. She holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Mass Communication with the University of Leicester – UK, an MBA, an Honors Degree in Media Studies, a National Diploma in Mass Communication majoring in Broadcasting and is in her second year of her Doctorate in Business Administration with California Southern University. Tariro has over 15 years’ experience in creative harnessing media and information, communication technology (ICT) methodologies within the regional HIV and AIDS sector.

In 2016, Tariro won the Inspirational Woman of the Year award from the Zimbabwe Women’s Awards (ZIWA) in London. She also received an accolade as the Best Human Rights Female Journalist of the year in Zimbabwe in 2015, in recognition of her work in advancing the cause of disadvantaged communities. Amongst her key highlights was her visit to the Zimbabwean female prison, setting to record female inmates voices as well as the opportunity she had to visit the apostolic community at their sacred shrine and bringing their issues on national television. Despite her passion for development work, Tariro is well known for her love for fashion and is a mother to her 15-year-old girl Tayedza.

Tariro, your achievements are phenomenal. Share with us where you draw inspiration in life and, what makes you get up in the morning and seize the day?

I am inspired by the desire to excel in every facet of my life, leave a mark in my community through my own achievements that can be attributed to me. For me, every second that has passed is lost, you will not re-live it again. I, therefore, am of the belief that I need to make the best of every moment.

I believe in working hard and playing hard. I do not delay gratitude for tomorrow.

I love the finer things in life, and as we know, they do not come if one does not work hard. The glass ceiling that we want to break as women can only be broken if we put our best in everything we do. I always aspire to do that every day. If others have done it, I can do it too. That zeal to excel is where I draw my inspiration from.

Do you have any role models you look up to?

My mom is my role model of course. She instilled all the discipline that is in me. She is my number 1 role model. The second role model is Khanyi Dlomo, Founder of Ndalo Media. I think I must confess that her professional, academic and business journey fits so much into mine. She is ahead but I will definitely follow. Lois Chingandu is another selfless intelligent woman who has put her own interests aside and dedicated her life to working in the development sector, where in all honesty there are not many rewards. That selfless dedication does inspire me and pushes me to work for others and to often set aside my zeal for self- fulfillment and put the other person first. She, Lois, in a way brings out the humble side of me.

I know that you have worked tirelessly to bring voices of people living with HIV to the fore but also really to tackle stigma around the issue, tell me more about doing that.

HIV is my passion. I have been working in HIV from the first time I went on TV as a presenter, which in a way was not by design. I was a presenter for a TV show called Youth Connection, and my first episode we went to Mashambanzou. That is in the late 90s when AIDS was wreaking havoc in our communities, with people dying on a daily basis. I came face to face with AIDS there.

I remember there was a very sickly lady I think her name was Pinky (may she rest in peace). She just liked me and rushed and hugged me and I reciprocated. We were laughing throughout the recording though she was visibly very sick, you could literally see her bones. Because I did not have information, when I left, my body was itchy (because it was in my brain), and I actually thought I was now HIV positive, just by interacting with the people at Mashambanzou. That evening I did not sleep, reading and researching on HIV, just to be sure that I did not get infected. That was my turning point and as they say, the rest is history.

HIV reportage became a part of me up to this day where SAfAIDS is now like my home, working in the HIV response not just in Zimbabwe but in Southern Africa. I have met communities who have had the ignorance I initially had and have worked with them to where we are now – where the voices of women living with HIV have been amplified and they can speak freely in the media without being stigmatised. I can’t say stigma is completely eradicated, more still needs to be done. I am however confident that we will get there.

In this phenomenal work that you do, do you get the chance to mentor or support other women?

Yes. SAfAIDS has a Young People Leadership Academy which grooms young people to be future leaders of tomorrow especially in advancing adolescents’ sexual reproductive health rights.

I have mentored and supported the young women especially in areas of communication, dealing with the media, public speaking, grooming and building themselves as a brand. It is always heartening to see them transforming into powerful individuals.

I do get personal requests for mentorship which I struggle to turn down as if I do not do it, who will be there for the other women. I was mentored and supported by other women and therefore I need to do the same.

What professionally related challenges do you face as a woman in particular and in life in general, and how do you overcome them?

Professionally, work-life balance is a struggle that I constantly grapple with. Work has to be done, studying needs to be done, and my daughter needs me. It’s always a struggle but I always have to juggle and make sure nothing suffers in the process. Personally, I have had health scares such that if it was not the strong me, I would have crumbled a long time ago. I thank God I am still walking and excelling against all odds. And for me, that goes to show that I am only human and not a machine.

How you come out of adversity is what defines you and I think that is my strength.

After overcoming all this and having all these experiences what word of advice would you give to other women?

The world is our oyster. We have no one to stop us. Let’s be on accelerated mode to success and growth.

#AllWomenAreRoleModels