Women of substance

Integrity has propelled Chiumbu to great heights

Ndamu Sandu

LEADING a media rights organisation in a volatile political environment is a herculean task. But 34-year-old Sarah Chiumbu

has managed to achieve that feat and is at the helm of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe Chapter.


The third-born child in a family of five girls, Chiumbu says her mother taught her to persevere.


“I grew up in a loving home with a strong and independent mother (Sophie Chiumbu currently working for IPMZ) who taught us to stand up for ourselves and to persevere. Although my parents divorced in 1985, they have remained loving parents,” she said. Chiumbu attended Mbizi Primary School in Highfield and Mount Pleasant High School. She did Form 1 up to 6 at the same school. She studied History, English and French at “A” Level.


“My favourite subject in high school was history and I had the privilege of being taught by Iden Wetherell – a historian par excellence! He instilled in me the love for reading and researching and I will always thank him for this,” she said


Chiumbu enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe where she graduated with an honours degree in English and Psychology as majors and French as a minor. She was in the first group of students selected for the Post-Graduate Diploma in Media and Communication studies in 1993. Avenues opened for Chiumbu when she was awarded the Norwegian Committee for Development Research Scholarship for a Master of Philosophy Degree in 1994 at the University of Oslo, Norway.


“The Norwegian educational experience was wonderful and gave me strong theoretical and conceptual skills which have helped me over the years in my work and research-related activities,” she said.


Upon returning to Zimbabwe in August 1996 Chiumbu joined the Southern African Film Festival as administrative assistant and worked with Isaac Mabhikwa, the director of Zimbabwe’s feature film More Time starring Prudence Katomeni.


In November 1996, Chiumbu joined ZimMedia, a film and video production house, as production assistant. At ZimMedia, Chiumbu worked with Simon Bright and Ingrid Sinclair – producers of Flame, the controversial feature film on the role of women in the Zimbabwe liberation struggle. While there, Chiumbu worked on interesting projects and was exposed to many film personalities, both local and international.


In August 1997, she joined Misa Zimbabwe as information and research officer working with the late veteran journalist Vincent Chikwari who was then director. “I was the one who set up the Misa-Zim information/research department which had not been there,” she said. In 2000, Chiumbu rose through the ranks and assumed the post of director at Misa, an achievement considering that very few women occupied the important position of director. Chiumbu is credited for turning Misa from a small organisation into a vibrant entity and for setting up the Misa information and research unit in 1997/98.


“When I took over in 2000, the staff complement of Misa was three people and through hard work, fundraising and a supportive board, the organsiation has grown to a staff complement of 11 people. It has bought its own building and has strong institutional structures.


Chiumbu was at the forefront in the setting up of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) and she is the vice-president.


In February 2002, Chiumbu masterminded the setting up of a media defence fund, a project running under the auspices of Misa Zimbabwe.

She believes being a woman leader is never easy in any field.


“But I have learnt that having integrity and being honest keeps you focused and gives you peace of mind. Over the last few years, there have been many challenges facing the media and being a leader of a media organisation fighting against repressive media laws has not been easy. She dedicates her achievements to a very supportive staff and board at Misa Zimbabwe.


She owes her achievements to her mentor Hope Chigudu who has nurtured her.


Chiumbu has written several research papers and has been invited to many international conferences to present papers. She has plans to write a book with two colleagues on Broadcasting Reform and Policy in Zimbabwe since 1980.


A single mother of a six-year-old boy, Kondwani, Chiumbu is a strong Christian.


“I live by the commandment “love your neighbour as you love yourself” and this has truly simplified my life,” she said.

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