Patricia Mazvidza runs her guest lodge with the same military precision she learned while getting her boots muddy as a guerilla fighter and police officer.
The toughest day in her entrepreneurial journey – inspired by the large number of travelers passing through the numerous police roadblocks she manned in and around Kariba, Zimbabwe – is the day Patricia Mazvidza’s guest lodge opened its doors.
A veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation war, Mazvidza shrugged off the comfort of government employment as a police officer. She had risen to the commissioned rank of inspector and later on to superintendent.
“The idea to start a guest lodge initially came in 2002 while I was working at the roadblocks as a police officer here in Kariba,” says Mazvidza at her business, Dzimbabwe Lodge, in Kariba. “Most of the cars you would stop at the police roadblocks were carrying tourists and other travelers to Kariba.”
She always wondered where these people would sleep and if they were comfortable during their visit.
Roadblocks are a topical issue in Zimbabwe, but the police deny that it sets targets for each team manning the numerous blockades in Harare. On the day of the interview with Mazvidza, there were nine police roadblocks between Harare and Kariba.
At each roadblock, police officers flag you down, ask for your driver’s licence and check for front and back reflectors, vehicle licence and ask you to open your trunk to check the spare wheel, breakdown triangles and serviceable fire extinguisher.
If you don’t have any of the required equipment, they book you and ask you to pay on-the-spot fines, which range between $10 and $20. If you don’t pay the fine, your vehicle is impounded.
In addition to burning a hole in tourists’ pockets, the roadblocks are hurting Mazvidza’s business. She thinks they deter tourists from traveling to Zimbabwe. She tells FORBES AFRICA that the roadblocks are being handled differently to when she was a police officer.
“When we did our training for law and policing, we were always told and we always observed the importance of warning – you don’t just rush to book and fine just for the sake of collecting a fine,” she says.
Apart from the guest lodge, which has 16 rooms and which is in the process of expanding to 35 rooms, Mazvidza also runs a thriving petrol and diesel filling station under a franchise agreement with Zuva Petroleum.
At the filling station, which opened in 2014, and where profit margins are 6 cents per liter, Mazvidza has opened the Zuva Restaurant and is working on adding a vehicle servicing station.
“I saw that if I put all my eggs in one basket, you will be left with nothing if the basket breaks up. We did not have the experience to run a fueling station and at first I hesitated but it is doing fairly well, but you have to supplement it with other businesses such as the restaurant and servicing garage that we are setting up,” she says.
Mazvidza’s husband is a civil engineer working for the Zambezi River Authority which oversees the Lake Kariba. He encouraged her to soldier on with the business and he also did the design for the guest lodge.
“My best day in the office is actually the day we started the guest lodge business. I was hesitant and thinking ‘what if people do not come and it becomes idle’. Yet, when we opened doors in 2002, there was so much demand and now we are not afraid of even the big lodges and hotels here in Kariba because I believe in the services we offer and the smartness and relaxed nature of our services,” she said
She has no worst day in her entrepreneurial journey but she wishes she had started the hospitality business earlier. The guest lodge – which has presidential, executive, family and single rooms – is complemented by two boathouses on Lake Kariba.
Her business is a world away from where the 53-year-old Mazvidza started. She was born in Mutoko, in eastern Zimbabwe, and crossed over into Mozambique for liberation war training while she was still in primary school. She returned to Zimbabwe in 1980 and later enrolled for the police force.
“I joined the police force in 1983 after undergoing police training at Tomlinson Depot in Harare and was stationed at Mbizo in Kwekwe. I was then posted to Kariba in 1989 which saw me promoted from constable to sergeant and then to inspector in 2000,” says Mazvidza.
“I was then further promoted, in 2002, to the rank of superintendent. We had bought a piece of land here in Kariba and we thought of using it as a guest lodge after carefully thinking about the potential opportunities in the hospitality industry here.”
If starting her business was tough; deciding to retire from the police force was more difficult.
“I retired on October 21, 2002 after making one of the toughest decisions of my life. But I had to decide after considering that if you run your own business full time, it is always better. Frankly speaking, I never thought I would be able to run a business as I always thought it was good just to be employed but today I now know that it can be done because I have done it.”
It was one of many tough decisions along a hard road but Mazvidza is not looking back.