Trying new things

George Moore

In 1991, following the path trodden by many of her countrymen, Joyce Dzakatira left behind all she knew in her homeland of Zimbabwe, moving south of the border to seek her fortune – and even a little fame – in Botswana.

31 years later, and while life has been far from easy, it is a decision the Bulawayo native does not regret.

“I came here to work. I’d heard many good things about the country; everyone said it was the best, and they were right, it is! This is my home now,” says the 64-year-old, who has packed much into her time in BW.

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A qualified Hairdresser and Beauty Therapist, Dzakatira’s story has taken her to all parts of the land, from the salons of Orapa to the farms of Boteti and finally to the streets of Francistown via the bright lights of Gabs.

In between, the mother-of-five has served as a translator at Customary Court, where she worked part-time for over 14 years, interpreting Shona and Ndebele. She even enjoyed a short stint acting on BTV, making it to the latter stages on Season One of the talent show, Signed International.

“I like trying new things,” she explains of her colourful past.

“I played the role of an Olympic Silver Medalist who had been raped by her stepfather. It was an emotional part; I had to cry on camera!” is Dzakatira’s fond recollection of the eight-year-old memory.

Having spent her first two decades in Bots cutting hair at ‘Diva Den’ and then ‘Magic Tips’ in Orapa, the gifted granny found herself out of work in the early 2010s.

“They don’t use hairdressers from outside anymore, only locals,” she notes with a rueful smile, displaying a set of crooked teeth, the result of a terrifying late-night encounter with a violent intruder.

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“It happened on 2nd August 2013. I was attacked by a young man who broke into my home. He chocked me and punched me repeatedly in the face, breaking teeth. I fell from my bed and injured my spine; even today I still walk with a slight limp,” the old woman tells The Voice, adding she recognised the culprit but he fled the diamond town before the cops could catch up with him.

Prior to Covid-19, Dzakatira passed eight happy years working on the farms near Letlhakane, teaching local farmers how to plant and grow Cassava.

It is a skill she picked up during her youth in Zim, where her family cultivated the sweet potatoe-like crop in their backyard.

“For Cassava, the secret is to grow the tree at a slant; it shouldn’t be straight. It is not such a common vegetable this side as it requires a lot of water, so the farmers don’t really know about it,” she says.

In March 2020, an ill-timed trip back home to renew her passport proved the catalyst for Dzakatira’s recent woes.

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A delay at the passport office meant that by the time her documents were ready, the pandemic had taken hold and the borders were closed.

They would remain shut for nine months, leaving Dzakatira stranded in Zim.

“When they finally re-opened on 2nd December, I was one of the first people to cross. However, by that point my job was no longer there,” reveals the grandmother-of-nine, stressing she bears no bad feeling to her former bosses for letting her go.

“I don’t blame them. I’d been away so long they really had no other choice!”

Temporary jobs on farms across the country, including Maun, Lobatse and Palapye, have since followed for the hard-working foreigner.

Dancing in the cold
SEEKING A SALE: Trying to convince an interested customer

Lacking the stability she craved, Dzakatira ended up in Francistown earlier this year, where she remains today.

She survives on yet another of her many talents: using a crotchet needle to weave shoes, bucket hats, bags and skirts primarily out of Raffia – a type of nylon plastic hard to find in Botswana.

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In the past, it was a hobby conducted in her spare time; now, necessity has turned the pastime into her sole source of income.

“I can make up to four pairs of shoes in a day; I’m very used to it. My eyesight is not that good anymore but this is something I can do with my eyes closed!” she states matter-of-factly.

With the raw materials difficult to source, the bulk of the Raffia coming from South Africa, Dzakatira struggles to keep up with demand.

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“People often come with big orders but I just don’t have the material,” admits the Area S resident, whose stock is dominated by football colours, especially the orange of Orapa United.

“I am the number one supporter for Orapa, they are the best team in Botswana,” declares the footy fanatic, proudly adding most people are surprised to learn she makes her products by hand and not machine.

“Sometimes crowds gather round to watch me work, it’s like being on TV again!” she giggles.

Already a familiar figure on the streets of Ghetto, Dzakatira displays her admittedly limited wares on the roadside by Choppies Meriting.

Sharing a table with one of the street vendors who knew her from Letlhakane, Dzakatira admits this is not the future she envisioned for herself. It is a low point in her topsy-turvy journey.

“Botswana has been good to me but it’s very difficult at the moment. Life is tough right now but I keep trying different things. I will never give up. I love this country and am here till I die!” she concludes with a defiant pump of her frail fist.

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