Perseverance drives her success in male-dominated transport industry
©️ ALTHOUGH women contribute to the transformation of mobility, they frequently remain invisible and their contribution to safer, more inclusive and more sustainable transport is insufficiently acknowledged.
While violence and lack of respect for women in the transport sector is widely acknowledged as one of the most important “push” factors that lead to involuntary quits and poor retention, Afra Nhanhanga, who is the current director of CAG Travellers Coaches and operating a fleet of 115 buses in the country, persevered and conquered in a male-dominated industry.
“There was once a time when I was pushed into a bus with my infant child on my back and made to lure people for a competitor because of the disrespect they had for women.
“That incident made me stronger and pushed me to become even more aggressive in the transport business,” Afra told the Daily News on Sunday.
The tale of the 45-year-old started when she became involved in transport business at a tender age assisting her father who used to operate a Datsun pick-up truck to transport commuters from Lusaka, Highfield to Mbare Musika in Harare as early as 03.30 hrs daily.
The then young Afra would often sit on a stool in the car and collect money from the passengers.
When her father Golden Nhanhanga founded CAG Travellers Coaches in 1997, Afra started out as a conductor for the buses while her brother sold tickets with their father Nhanhanga as the driver.
“At the time, it was taboo to be a woman conductor but my father allowed it because I was his first born child and my young brothers were still at school and would help here and there,” Afra recalls.
“When the business commenced in 1997, I was asked to even attend meetings but the men would heckle and demand that I leave meetings because they did not believe that she could run a successful transport business.
“Everywhere I went the industry was just dominated by big men while a small woman like me was not treated seriously.”
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) notes that violence against transport workers is one of the most important factors limiting the attraction of transport jobs for women.
While Afra’s father faced opposition he had immense faith in his daughter‘s business and leadership skills she had gathered while working at her aunt’s motel in Shurugwi.
Between 1996 and 1997, Afra worked as a temporary teacher at a mission school in Mberengwa where she had the opportunity of teaching some physically-challenged students in her class and understand disability, and also worked as a secretary at a motel.
When her father’s fleet of buses grew and they needed an administrator, Afra took the opportunity as her father entrusted his first born daughter to take the lead and run the company while he and his sons took the back sit.
“Since its inception, CAG has managed to make a name for itself in the transport sector and has thrived on its efficient and reliable fleet and available technical support,” Afra said.
“Currently, we have 115 buses under CAG Travellers Coaches — which are CAG Tours, Golden Heritage and Edlux operating under one roof. Our bus routes are mostly local and the only cross-border route is to Musina.
“On a daily bases we have two buses leaving Roadport, each from Bulawayo, Chinhoyi and Mutare. We used to ply long distance routes before but realised that the local demand was greater and more viable for use as a company.”
She added that during the 21-day lockdown, CAG has had to heed the government’s call to park buses save for those under the Zupco contracts.
“This has been an opportunity to rest for both management and staff. Nevertheless, it has given management time to reflect on the business and improve going forward,” she said.
Thriving in an industry dominated by man has not been an easy road, but Afra has managed to thrive against all odds because she believed in herself.
Afra acknowledged that her young brother Samson Nhanhanga has also been of great help in growing CAG into a huge, respected brand in Zimbabwe’s public transport sector.
“My husband Edson Chinhamu and my brother have been very helpful in my career and I can assure you that the transport sector is not for the faint-hearted. I started small as a mere conductor and had to deal with the public at grassroots and that helped me gain an understanding of what it is like on the ground,” she said.
“Now as a leader, I can make decisions and implement measures that make everyone happy from the passenger to the driver and conductor.”
Prior to making a footing in the transport sector, Afra attained certification in Secretarial studies and later worked at a Motel in Shurugwi where she got exposed to hands on running of a business as she was often left in charge of the motel by her late aunt.
She now possesses more than 20 years’ experience in transport business and is a recipient of Businesswoman of the year Award in the Transport Sector for 2020.
Apart from the transport sector, Afra is also into farming cash crops like tobacco and other market gardening vegetables like cabbages, onions and potatoes at her farm in Karoi.
She has in the past supplied her fresh produce to some major retailers in the country.
She is also into philanthropic work as she also gets to work with the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services where they provide farming equipment such as tractors and planters at Karoi Prison.
She was awarded an honorary doctorate in philanthropy by International Institute of Philanthropy (IIP) as well as another doctorate by the University of South Africa for entrepreneurship, and is currently writing a book on the Zimbabwean transport industry which is relevant to the current prevailing environment.
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