GROWING up, Afra Nhanhanga (AN), the operations director at one of Zimbabwe’s biggest passenger transport firms CAG Tours, aspired to be a journalist.
But the largely reclusive God-fearing executive’s life took a different turn when her father started a small business using a pick-up truck to transport commuters in Harare.
The CAG boss took time to speak to our senior reporter Winstone Antonio about her journey into the corporate world, and what makes her tick.
Here is how their discussion went…
WA: Tells us briefly, who is Afra Nhanhanga?
AN: Afra Nhanhanga is a wife and mother of four children, three girls and a boy.
I am an entrepreneur, who started from very humble beginnings as the conductor of our first bus while my father was the driver and my brother would sell the tickets.
At this time, it was taboo for a woman to be a bus conductor.
But my father allowed it because I was his first born child and my young brothers were still at school, so they would only help here and there.
Now I am one of the directors of CAG Tours.
WA: When was this passenger transportation business launched?
AN: This is a family business. My father Golden Nhanhanga founded it in the late 1990s with AVM coaches.
My father ventured into this business to meet all family needs.
I became part of this at a tender age by assisting my father who used to operate a Datsun pick-up truck to transport commuters from Lusaka, Highfield to Mbare Musika.
WA: How big is your fleet today, and how easy is it managing the coaches when they are on the road?
AN: All I can say is we now have quite a number of buses.
As a company, we are really trying the best we can to keep the fleet up and running and to meet our clients’ needs.
WA: How have you navigated the tough business environment in Zimbabwe?
AN: Thriving in an industry dominated by men has not been an easy road. The transport sector is not for the faint-hearted. But I always believe that with God all things are possible.
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.
For this business to flourish, it can only be God. Without Him we labour in vain in our quest to become a leading company that provides safest, convenient, efficient and high-quality public transportation service in Zimbabwe and the Sadc region.
My husband Edson Chinhamu and my young brother Samson have also been of great help in growing CAG into a huge, respected brand in Zimbabwe’s public transport sector.
WA: There seems to be a lot of competition in the industry and a political dimension.
AN: Indeed there is competition in the industry.
I recall earlier everywhere I would go, the industry was just dominated by big men.
A small woman like me was not taken seriously. Men would heckle and demand that I leave meetings because they did not believe that I could run a successful transport business.
This made me stronger and pushed me to become even more aggressive in the transport business. But as I said earlier on, God is helping the company to pull through all economic hardships.
WA: What is your philosophy at CAG?
AN: Our philosophy at CAG is to provide the safest transport.
We also believe that everyone is important in his or her unique being. Every stakeholder in the company is important just like our body parts. The eyes are important just like the legs.
WA: While many operators are shunning rural destinations, you took the bull by its horns. What has been your motivation?
AN: Our workshop which is run by my father and brothers has a very strong mechanical background.
WA: Tell us about your regional operations?
AN: CAG Tours has stretched its wings to regional destinations.
We are no longer concentrating on local destinations only.
However, we have temporarily stopped servicing our regional destinations because of the outbreak of Covid-19. We are hoping to resume them soon when everything about this pandemic has settled.
WA: How did this Covid-19 pandemic affect your operations?
AN: We have taken heed of the government’s call to park our cross-border buses, save for those local ones under Zupco contracts.
In the year 2020 we only worked for five months and this year only half a month.
Financially it affected the company big time.
We are a family and we really tried to make sure everyone’s needs in the company were well catered for during this global crisis.
Nevertheless, the Covid-19-induced lockdowns have given management time to reflect on the business and improve going forward.
WA: If you had not ventured into transport business, what would you have opted for?
AN: This may sound funny, but from a tender age I really loved to venture into journalism.
WA: Tell us about your philanthropic work. You have received awards.
AN: You know what, there are many people looking forward to receiving awards in different areas or sectors in life. In my case, I was taken by surprise.
I never expected that one day I would be honoured in this area.
Honestly, this can only be God. I was just picked like the Biblical David herding the sheep in the bush.
WA: What drives your philanthropist vision?
AN: What drives me is just the passion to help others to change the world. I am also driven by the virtuous woman in Proverbs.
WA: You are a mother, farmer and motivational speaker. How do you handle the pressure?
AN: Yes, apart from the transport sector I am also into tobacco and vegetable farming, as well as a road-runner rearing project at our farm in Karoi.
In terms of handling the pressure, it is all about proper planning and time management.
Otherwise one will not achieve anything without doing these.
WA: Last year you received the Business Woman of the Year Award for the second time, what is your secret?
AN: I am actually tongue-tied on this one. Imagine with the economy and the lockdowns. I don’t even understand. I personally feel God was the rewarder. He searches the heart.
WA: What are your words of encouragement to aspiring business women or entrepreneurs?
AN: My encouragement to aspiring business women or entrepreneurs is that as women we must not use all 10 fingers when eating.
Use only five fingers for eating and the other five for serving.
As women, let’s bear in mind that the greatest way to find purpose is to yield your life to the manufacturer.
You should come to God because you want to find out how not to waste your life.
No one knows you like the one who made you. We are so special to God. Remember God is a God of purpose. Let the honey in you come out.