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Silencing the Storms- The struggles and courage of a female bus conductor

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 16:13

Portia Zeka (34) lives in Mpandawana growth point, in Gutu District, Masvingo Province of Zimbabwe. She was 19 years old when she got married to her childhood sweetheart Gervas in 1999. At that time, she felt relieved and hopeful for a better life.

Portia and her two younger siblings were raised by their mother after the death of Portia’s father when she was 12 years old. They survived on the money her mother made from selling vegetables. At the end of each day, Portia’s mother would count the coins she had made. The lifeless leaves that had not been bought were made fresh again by sprinkling a little bit of cold water on them, before they were sold the next day. The vegetables that were no longer good enough to sell, were put aside for family consumption.

When Portia and Gervas got married, they began to raise money to buy cement and bricks to complete her mother in law’s house which they occupied. Portia grew vegetables for sale whilst Gervas made use of his sewing skills to contribute to the income. Eventually, they decided to build their own house following a family dispute over the ownership of the house. They agreed that they would raise money for Gervas to get a driver’s license so he could look for a job as a driver in South Africa or Botswana.

In 2003, Gervas left for Botswana to begin a new life as a truck driver. Portia remained at home with their two year old daughter Talent, and waited patiently. Sadly, Portia returned to her mother’s house in 2006 when Gervas sent her a message that he had married another woman. A year later in 2007, Portia’s mother died. With no hope and no source of income, Portia took over the responsibility of taking care of the family.

It was like starting again. I took over my mother’s stall at the market and began to sell maize and wheat. It was not easy.

After a while Portia realized that the money she was making was not enough to send her brother and daughter to school. Compounded by the economic downfall in Zimbabwe, Portia sought an alternative source of income. She went to Gutu bus terminal to look for work and found a job as a bus conductor. She faced some resistance at first because it was unacceptable for a woman to direct buses, compete for passengers and load bags onto carriages.

Driven by desperation and the desire to provide a reasonably good life for her daughter and brother, Portia stood against stereotypes and overcame the negative perceptions about her decision. She experienced a lot of animosity from her male counterparts who felt she was invading their territory. Within six months, Portia became the most popular “Hwindi” (deregetory name for bus conductors) at the terminus particularly with owners of long distance buses who felt that she was more efficient and accountable compared to her male counterparts. She began providing ticketing services for long distance buses companies who paid her on commission

BY: Barbra Ncube from The Women’s Trust