Founder and chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust, Zorodzai Joy Tanaka Maroveke (ZM), says lobbying for the legalisation of industrial hemp has not been an easy journey. Maroveke told Alpha Media Holdings chairman, Trevor Ncube’s In Conversation with Trevor (TN), that while people were fixated on the recreational part of hemp; industrial hemp had a wide array of value chains and could be used to make textiles, bricks, motor vehicle brake pads, edible oils, food and even medicines to cure cancer.
TN: Dr Zorodzai Joy Tanaka Maroveke, welcome to In Conversation with Trevor.
Zorodzai, you are a practicing dental surgeon, you are the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust, and you are the vice-president of the Cannabis Association of Zimbabwe. Where did you do your primary and secondary education?
ZM: I went to school at Blakiston Primary and I did my secondary education at Tynwald High School. We were the pioneer students. This was a new school and we were the first students until I finished my ‘O’ levels. At that time the school wasn’t offering sciences and my mom moved me to Speciss College, of all places.
At Tynwald High School I was actually the head girl, so you can imagine being moved from a formal school. It was like a nightmare, but then I am really grateful because it geared me for the university lifestyle. From Speciss College I had a one gap year and actually decided to work as a maid just for the fun of it. I worked as a maid in Gunhill, but I ended up a tutor. The job description was that they were actually looking for a maid, but when I got there, they said you are overqualified for this job so I became a child minder for like a year. I actually raised a lot of money and I went back to school. I left for China in 2010.
TN: An interesting thing to do, being a maid after your ‘A’ Levels. What did that teach you?
ZM: It was such an amazing experience. I was 18 going to 19 years, and I had teenagers to take care of — a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old and their mum was not around at that time and I had to pick them from school and make sure they did their homework. My boss wanted reports, and so I was actually like a personal assistant (PA), au pair — that type of thing. It was a whole new experience to me and my boss wouldn’t say much, but he taught me so much. The kids got so attached to me and I hadn’t told them I was actually on my way out, it was quite emotional.
I just learnt so much about children; a teenager going to be a young adult, I learnt a lot. My boss was just too organised, he was a businessman, but just the way he used to do things — and you would just be forced to do things on time, to report on time. He would never really tell you what he wanted, but you would be forced to do it. He was more like a father.
TN: What made you do that?
ZM: It started off like a joke, I think in 2009/10, that’s the time in Zimbabwe when everyone was being paid a flat salary of US$100, if you remember. Fife Avenue Spar was the only supermarket that would be opened to like 12 midnight; I used to live in that area. My brother and I decided to go to the shops and I saw this advert saying maid and it also said driver’s licence, I just thought it was funny. They wanted Maths and English. Just out of a joke, I took the number and made a call. I was sitting at home. They said okay, you can come for the interview.
He said you are kind of overqualified but let’s give it a shot. The next thing was that the job description changed when I got there. I couldn’t really be the maid, they had had like two maids at the house and I ended up doing homework tutoring them Maths and English. I just got promoted the sooner I got to the job. It was quite a good experience. I raised a lot of money because everyone was actually earning US$100 and my mom was like you are earning way more than me and you are a maid. My brothers were against the idea, but eventually they actually appreciated it.
TN: Then after the gap year, what then happened to you?
ZM: I then got a Chinese government scholarship and left for Shanghai, a language school. In 2010 I went to Shanghai University School of Medicine until 2015. I then practiced dentistry for five years. In total I spent six years in China.
TN: In 2013, you had an opportunity to stumble upon a dress made from hemp, and you started research on this type of cannabis, tell me about stumbling into that dress made from hemp and the world it opened for you?
ZM: I was on my way from school going home, there is this shop, I never bothered going into it. I bought a dress and went home; I wanted to know what material it was made from. The next day I went back to the shop and asked.
TN: What then excited you?
ZM: In 2015 when I got back people were fixated on the recreational part; but industrial hemp — we are looking at a wide array of value chains. It can make textiles, bricks, automobile brake pads, absorbents, fishing nets, rods, and food. You can also make oils, edible oils and it can make some medicines to cure cancer.
When I came back, I think Honourable Simbaneuta Mudarikwa (Uzumba MP) had tried to bring that up in Parliament. I think seven years before that, people made a mockery of him, unfortunately he had no facts. When I came back I had facts, and coupled with the global momentum, but lobbying wasn’t going to be an easy journey.
TN: You did something on social media which got linked to the office of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, talk to me about that.
ZM: It was 2016 and there was a ZimTrade Expo and my brother had extra tickets and I just went. I learnt so much. The then minister of Industry requested that I must do a write-up of my concept. I received a call from someone in the president’s office who reassured me that I had done nothing wrong and am not to be scared as they had an interest in my idea and that’s how everything took off. I got confidence from that call.
TN: In 2016 you started lobbying the government, stakeholders; what’s your proposition to everyone else? You are bringing in the hemp which is non-narcotic; what proposition are you putting across?
ZM: I had already put a disclaimer that I am not going to talk about what you don’t like. I am here to talk about what you don’t know; whether it was church people or not, I got the same response towards industrial hemp. What I only identified was where the problem was — the legislation, regulations, the law itself. At that time the first minister I wanted to lobby was the Minister of Health. It was Dr (David) Parirenyatwa then and I said: “Have you seen this?” He said I never saw it that way and it was the next minister and the next minister.
In 2017, I met a lawyer who said I need a formal voice, to communicate with government. You need to create an organisation and that’s how we founded the Zimbabwe Hemp Trust with two of my friends (my ex-husband and a friend) and I started writing to government formally. Government started calling me, and I started participating in very serious conversations. In 2017 in March it was the first cabinet sitting that approved both medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp because then there was a new team pushing for medicinal cannabis — and these guys were loaded, these guys were big players in tobacco farming, politically connected and before you knew it, hemp was eclipsed and I lost my mind.
I lost my mind because I was like, “why can’t they see something bigger than medicinal cannabis?” The next thing was like I needed a plan because I was hitting walls. I lost my innocence and in that moment I realised I had lobbied almost every minister in the late former President Robert Mugabe’s government, except one; that was the Justice minister, who was then the vice-president, and is now the President of Zimbabwe (Mnangagwa). My issue was the law, I fought my way to get a meeting, and it was not easy, because his office was sensitive at that time I found my way there and I explained my story and he said everything you are saying makes sense I will look into it. He is a man of a few words. I left his office and that’s when I started travelling. I went to Malawi to see what they were doing there.
TN: Tell me what you saw in Malawi.
ZM: In Malawi I was the first Zimbabwean who was allowed on their pilot site which was a protected government site. They had a partnership with a private player. They had been doing trials for, I think, four years at that time. That’s when I learnt that as Sadc we had so much to do and Zimbabwe had to join. I started building networks.
TN: I have seen the passion, but I would like to ask why you are doing this, and where is the inspiration coming from?
ZM: When I came back in 2015 I had to do my one-year internship. I was paid well, but looking around I saw people with problems. I was limited, I wanted to help, but I had no capacity and I said what is it that I could do that could have a huge impact on these people’s lives, that’s when I discovered industrial hemp.
TN: Then there is SI 62 of 2018, Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Scientific purposes, that comes out, but it doesn’t take on board your passion, talk to me about that.
ZM: That is, of course, what drove me nuts. It came out in 2018 and this was in the new dispensation. The Health minister was still Dr Parirenyatwa; this was not what we discussed — a new journey had started.