We’re firm believers here at The Weight She Carries that some of the most successful women among us are those who have seen some of the darkest of days. Allow us to introduce you to Vivian Moyana (née Munjanja) who holds two master’s degrees – including an MBA – and is a titan in corporate strategy. But we’re going to take you back to a time when adversity threatened to dim her light.
To onlookers, Vivian Moyana embodied success. At the time, she was pursuing her MBA, climbing the corporate ladder and had a beautiful family. What they couldn’t have imagined was the private battle raging within the four walls of her home. After enduring years of abuse in a toxic marriage, she mustered the strength to leave. This is her story:
I am the firstborn in a polygamous family of a father, three wives and 12 children – eight girls and four boys. My mother is the first wife. My three sisters and I are partly the reason why my father married the other two wives. He wanted sons to bear his name.
My parents separated in 1986 when my father married his second wife. My mother took my sisters and I to live at my grandparents’ plot near my father’s workplace. My mother had dropped out of school when I was born and was unemployed at that time. Her brother, a former agricultural extension officer in the Gokwe/Sanyati area, advised her to move to Gokwe to look for work as a nurse aide at rural clinics since she had obtained the Red Cross nurse aide certificate in the early 80s.
In February 1988, my father requested full custody of my sisters and I to avoid paying child [support]. Living with our father and stepmother was very tough. Thus, my childhood was not an easy one. My sisters and I were only allowed to visit our mother once a year – either for Christmas or the August holidays. Whenever my sisters and I complained to our mother about the ill treatment we suffered at the hands of our stepmother, she would comfort us by telling us how all the suffering was going to end once we passed school and got ourselves good jobs. In her own words, “Upenyu hwakanaka nezvose zvakanaka zviri pamuromo we ballpoint.” (A good life and good things come from the tip of the pen. In other words, a good education is the key to success.)
My stepmother always hired domestic workers whom she instructed not to do any work for us but for her and her children only. So my sisters and I grew up doing housing chores, including our laundry, without the help of domestic helpers. As a day scholar for the most part of my school days, I did all house chores after school, after walking five and seven kilometres back home and still stayed up at night to do my homework and study. My maternal grandmother advised me to reframe my situation and see this as a training for later in life. It is during this phase of my life that I developed resilience.
Shooting for the Stars
My first degree was a Bachelor of Commerce Honors Degree in Finance from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Bulawayo attained in 2003. After graduating, I worked for just under a year for the now-defunct ENG Capital’s business unit called Hybri[d] Trading. I had plans to pursue a master’s in finance but could not when I lost my job after my company was shut down by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
I migrated to South Africa in 2008 in search of a job. I could not get a job in South Africa’s financial services sector as most jobs required South African certified chartered accountants. In 2010, I got a temporary job as a bookkeeper in an engineering construction company, relieving a lady that had gone on maternity leave. What was meant to be a three-month job ended up being a nine-year employment contract. I occupied several positions in this company, including tender administrator, quality management representative, safety, health, environment and quality manager.
I decided to pursue a Master of Business Management and Administration (MBA) in 2014 — almost 12 years after obtaining my first degree. I enrolled with the University of Stellenbosch Business School for a block-release MBA program so I could study while working full time. The aim was to develop my leadership skills for higher management strategic positions.
A troubled marriage
I met my late ex-husband in 2000 in Bulawayo when I was a second-year student at NUST. We were both living at the National Railways of Zimbabwe staff quarters, where I and other fellow students were renting rooms. He was already working. We started off as friends. He was kind and caring and would sometimes transport me to and from college. He was not a university graduate. He studied at one of the technical colleges.
I moved in with him in 2001 whilst on industrial attachment in Harare. We were customarily married in January 2002 and legally in August 2005.
My ex-husband was the last-born in a family of six boys and one girl. Two of his brothers and their wives each had experienced almost 10 years of childlessness. When I had difficulties conceiving, he was not surprised. However, it hurt me. It pained me at family gatherings when my sisters-in law came with their children and would be called by their children’s names and I would be called by my first name.
I consulted various prophets and prophetesses, especially from the white garment churches for prayers and solutions. It was quite a harrowing experience because of the things I was made to do and some which [do] not make sense now. At that time, I was determined to conceive and bear children. I cannot recall how many days I fasted, prayer mountains I climbed and the type of things I ingested during the process. That negatively impacted my self-esteem and confidence. I felt empty and incomplete even with a good education and job. My mother, sisters and friends were my support system.
During the period of our childlessness, my late ex-husband was ill-advised by some people, including some of his friends, to try having children outside of our marriage. Thus, he became unfaithful and saw other women. That did not stop even after we eventually had our son.
My husband became insecure when I started working and getting promotions at work. His insecurity manifested by way of being critical of what I did or what I was, including my body. This worsened when I began my MBA studies because the studies were very demanding of my time, including one-week long stays in Cape Town every three months for the duration of the coursework.
The verbal, emotional and physical abuse increased in frequency and intensity. Three incidents stood out for me and that drove me out of my matrimonial home. These include the one time when he harassed me in front of my sister who had picked me from the airport on my way back from one of the MBA block weeks. He intercepted me in the parking lot, shouted at me, kicked around my suitcases and dragged me by the hair into the house in full view of my sister, children and neighbours.
The second occasion was when I came home from work late after staying over at the office to do a group assignment with fellow MBA students on Skype and he almost strangled me in a rage accusing me of neglecting my wifely duties, such as cooking for him, in pursuit of an MBA. He said that he did not marry my MBA.
The third instance was when he yanked me out of bed by the leg in the early hours of the morning whilst I was asleep, resulting in me hitting my head hard on the floor. The scuffle woke up the children and they witnessed him dragging me into the lounge, pushing and shoving me around. When my daughter, who was just four years old, tried to make him stop. He pushed her so hard that she fell over the sofa. It was at that moment that I made up my mind that I had to leave.
At dawn that same day, I drove around the neighbourhood in search of an apartment to move in to, and I got it. From that day, I never looked back. Verbal, emotional, physical abuse and infidelity characterizes the toxicity of our marriage.
Life as a single mother
After suffering abuse at the hands of my late ex-husband of 15 years, I decided to walk out of my marriage in April of 2016, at the peak of my MBA studies and career progression.
I left with my personal belongings that included my MBA textbooks, certificates, identity documents, clothes, photos and linen only. I left the children with their father and my domestic helper for a month since I was not sure how he was going to react to my leaving. He came home to find me gone and his reaction was to call me, demanding keys for the garage in which we parked the cars overnight.
After a month, I returned to collect my children, helper and a few furniture items to use with the children. I slept on an inflatable mattress for three months whilst saving for a bed and covered windows with bedsheets and newspapers.
The first days were tough and filled with questions regarding the future of my kids and I without him. I feared that he would come [to] my workplace or apartment and harm or embarrass me. I was anxious [over] a lot of things, but the thought of dying at the hands of my husband prevented me from considering returning to an abusive marriage.
I had a good and well-paying job and thus, I was not stressed about money or our financial well-being. I was more concerned about what society was going to say about me. So I hid this from my relatives, boss, fellow employees and fellow MBA students.
I made sure that I remained cheerful, productive at work and excelling in my studies. I made an effort not to physically interact with him but let him play an active role in the children’s lives.
A balancing act
I relied heavily on domestic helpers for support with taking care of the children when I was busy with work and studies. I had very good helpers to assist me and that made the transition to single parenthood easier. They helped me with taking care of the children and running the house. It was tough, and some days I would struggle with fatigue. I also received support from my sisters, workmates and fellow MBA students.
I remember one semester during a block in Cape Town. I was so depressed that I struggled to contribute to a group assignment and presentation. I was suffering from severe burnout and exhaustion. I was rescued by two of my group members who took me out for dinner to cheer me up. My state of mind resulted in not-so-good grades for some of my MBA courses.
I was introduced to sustainability in one of my MBA courses called Business in Society. In my quest to gain mastery in my newfound area of interest, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in sustainability. I was accepted by the American University in 2020. I applied for a merit scholarship and was awarded a $25 000 [one].
Due to the COVID pandemic, I could not travel to the USA in 2020. I opted to start my studies online from South Africa in January 2021. After performing well in the first semester I applied for the Academic Excellence Scholarship and was granted a further $500. When online lessons were suspended in July 2021, I had to travel to the US to complete my studies in-person. I ended up with two masters’ degrees due to my inherent need to gain mastery in areas of interest.
During my second master’s, I received a lot of support from my sisters, domestic helpers, fellow employees, college mates, lecturers, friends and fellow Zimbabwean immigrants in Washington DC. Studying in the US had its own set of unique challenges that included the discomfort of using public transport as opposed to the convenience and comfort of driving [my] own car, bitter cold temperatures, a different culture and the distress of living far away from my children. However, I still endured and performed well in my studies and work, and I managed my household remotely with the help of my relatives and domestic helpers. I missed out socially as I just did not have time to really enjoy social activities.
My key achievements include:
- Successfully completing several academic and professional courses and passing them convincingly against all odds. These include the two master’s degrees, a certificate in project management, ISO 9001 implementation and lead auditor certificates.
- Bouncing back from adversity to pursue my dreams.
- Providing my children with a secure, peaceful and loving home.
- Walking away from a toxic marriage with my dignity still intact, mentally and physically fit to fend for myself and children.
- Remaining positive after so much adversity.
Advice to young girls and women?
- Hold on to your dreams and never give them up for anyone.
- Discipline, determination, diligence and positivity will get you far in life.
- Do not live below your full potential trying to make an insecure person secure.
- Never consider marriage as an end or achievement.
- Marry for the right reasons.
- Marry someone who is secure and not threatened by your success. He should be your cheerleader and a fan of your vision and dreams.
- Do not lose your identity. Remain authentic to who you are and what you stand for.