It is a given that there are lots of people in need all over the world.
It is also a given that those who have more should give more, hence the great number of charitable organisations and institutions that exist today.
Of course, not everyone can afford to donate millions to their favourite foundations and causes and, even if they can, they don’t always do so altruistically.
Money and power tend to corrupt. However, people like Iris Zemza Nozizwe Mhlanga have shown us that this isn’t always the case.
Zimbabwe Development Democracy Trust’s (ZDDT) news reporter, Mollet Ndebele (MN), talked to Iris Mhlanga (IM) who narrated how she became a philanthropist and walked the reporter through the interesting journey that she has so far travelled.
MN: Can you give us a brief background of yourself.
IM: I come from a family of givers and helpers. My namesake was a healer who looked after orphans and widows.
One day she disappeared up a mountain near Mozambique and, three years later, she returned and started healing.
This continued for years until her death and disappearance. The legacy continued in my family, with family members helping the poor.
They unfortunately were all men and it had been her wish that this activity be continued by a woman.
At the time, my father and his siblings all had male children and, when my father finally had a girl, he named me Zemza Nozizwe after that great aunt of ours.
MN: How did your journey begin?
IM: My father was president of Highlanders Football Club. He was also a city father who owned businesses in Bulawayo.
He helped orphans and everyone he could. When he passed away in 2016, my siblings and I inherited the family business and, two years later, after a strange encounter in church, I was told that I will meet a homeless man and that I would help him.
That came to pass and that was the beginning of me doing what I do now. In 2018, we established the Nomasizwe Mother of Nations Trust.
MN: How did you manage to get support from people?
IM: I blogged about my experiences with the homeless man and the community reacted and rallied behind me to help him.
A wonderful man, Aboobaker Omar, from Harare, responded to one of my posts and, eventually, we teamed up to help the poor.
Companies like Swift Transport, Overnight Express, United Refineries, Probrands, Rank Zimbabwe and many other small companies, joined in helping us make a difference in the community.
MN: Can you tell us about one of the projects that you are currently working on
IM: I was called in by colleagues in Belmont. They were worried about a woman who had showed up at the office looking very weak and emotional.
They called me in to assess and possibly assist, which is what normally happens when various people call me when someone is distressed. Usually we help the homeless, disabled and underprivileged people.
I packed food parcels in my car and drove to the office. I went straight to the manager’s office as I usually do. When I got there, we gave her something to eat and sat her down to get her calm.
She then told us her life story and how she had walked around companies where she had been turned away countless times and ignored by the public. I felt sorry for her; she was in tears telling us there was no food or much of anything at her house.
She said she had two grandchildren relying on her to come back with food and that she had left them with neighbours so she could try and get help. After she calmed down, we gave her the groceries and stationery for her grandchildren.
We arranged for a driver to take her home as she was in no condition to walk. I blogged about my experience that day as I usually do when something bothers me.
The public responded again, I gathered some clothes and more food and went out to personally deliver the goodies hoping to meet the grandchildren and see how best I could assist. I got the shock of my life when we arrived there. It was a deserted house and basically falling apart.
I phoned her and she popped out of nowhere and led us into the yard. She took us round the back to a small room and that is where we saw the state of the room and rest of the property.
So since then, she has received food, clothing, toys, blankets, a gas stove and offers for tuition for the children, all in a space of three to four days.
In all of this, we have been trying to locate family and dig deeper to see how best to assist in this particular case. We have advised that she goes to social welfare and relates her story in the hope that they can assist her in the long run.
MN: Tell us more about Nozizwe as a mother
IM: My son Christian was born with bilateral talipes (double clubfoot). He had his first surgery when he was five months old when non-surgical intervention failed. I never had time to think or grieve and I just accepted my child as he was.
He grew up behaving like any other child, even though he did not walk in the normal way. He was a happy child; quiet in public but full of mischief around family. Much support came from my in-laws, maternal grandparents, aunts and siblings.
My son’s condition deteriorated as he grew older and I had to find help for him. I went back to social media and shared my story. Help came from strangers in Kenya who referred me to an orthopaedic hospital in Zambia.
We set off not knowing what to expect and my experience there afforded me my first close interaction with single mothers, orphans and disabled children.
I finally learnt that my son’s condition wasn’t my fault. I learnt that he was not the only child with health-related issues.
I saw children with far worse disabilities than my son and that touched me. We blended in and adapted in a foreign country for the duration of his treatment which, by God’s grace, was free till the age of 18.
I learnt a lot about patience and love and giving and the kindness of strangers.
MN: What were the most memorable times in your career?
IN: My most memorable times were being voted in by the public as Inspirational Woman of the Month and being honoured by several banks in Zimbabwe, then getting calls from local famous soccer stars to international icons cheering me on and telling me not to give up.
MN: What have you achieved so far?
IN: My key achievements have been finally attaining international exposure for what we do in the back of beyond. I can never get over how people on the other side of the globe follow what we do in various communities. It is inspiring to receive letters and messages of encouragement from all over the world.
I never really think about who is watching. For me, the biggest achievement is seeing a big smile on someone’s face. People become like family when we’re out there and I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life, irrespective of the challenges they face. I’m just happy to be the reason someone smiles.