Regina Pasipanodya / Tafadzwa Mwanengureni
As someone who grew up in Kanyemba in the Mariga village under Chief Chapoto, an underdeveloped community in the Mashonaland Central province of Zimbabwe, Rosemary Kateguru (26) who managed to go to school up to Grade 7 level never knew that one day she would receive any kind of recognition.
How things change.
Defying the odds staked against her because of her poor background and limited education, Kateguru has found a niche in animal conservation.
She is the first and only female wildlife ranger in Zimbabwe with a Launch-Masters Class One.
Kateguru is a member of the Doma people, a tribe commonly known as the two-fingered people. Many among the kanyemba community believe they are a forgotten people. They believe there is little concern about their economic and social well-being, and this could be a result of many Zimbabweans do not recognise them as part of the country’s indigenous community.
The majority live in abject poverty with some Zimbabweans stereotyping them that they are of Mozambiquan origin. Some people see them as people accustomed to living in the mountains along the Zambezi River.
Very few people from this community have managed to gain national recognition or managed to rise to national recognition. Exceptions include public personalities like Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation National FM radio producer/presenters Kanyemba “KB” Bonzo and Phillip “Bla Phidza” Makazhu as well as news presenter Sabastian Kanhema and former Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police Emmanuel Ruzario.
Even today, after having been recognised by the government of Zimbabwe as one of the country’s indigenous communities, many of the Doma people still live below the poverty line and some of them form the poorest people in the country.
According to the socio-economic data which was collected in late 2013 and followed up in 2018 collected by the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) the Doma people have a history of foraging and continue to rely on the wild plants, animal, and insect resources. Some members of the community have diversified their livelihoods through providing cheap labour for other communities in agriculture, pastoralism, tourism, and small-scale business enterprises.
However, as is the case with other Zimbabweans, getting an opportunity just to showcase one’s capabilities in the corporate world has been a serious struggle, especially for those in marginalised communities like Kanyemba.
But this is a place where Kateguru’s luck changed unpredictably.
She was selected along with nine other community members consisting of nine men and two women, to join ZimParks by First lady Auxillia Mnangagwa as part of her efforts to transform marginalised communities through the Angel of Hope Foundation initiative.
“To me, it still feels like a dream. I never knew that one day I would be recognised with such an honour as the first female ranger with a Launch-Masters Class One in Zimbabwe,” she said.
“Most families in my community are peasant farmers and the women, besides taking care of the family, spend most of their time farming vegetables along the river banks for food and selling in Mozambique.”
Kateguru, joined Zimparks in November 2018 when she was selected to join the Zambezi River Specialised Anti-Poaching Unit (ZARSAU) at D Camp. She was the first and only lady at the camp.
She believes she had a strong understanding of wildlife behaviour due to her experiences of human-wildlife conflict (HWC). Each year growing up she witnessed their fields being invaded by elephants, antelopes and other wild animals. She has also seen their livestock being killed by lions and other predators.
“All my life I had always been in constant contact with the wild animals. We would run whenever we encountered dangerous animals such as lions. We found the means to keep ourselves safe, maybe by hiding. In some instances predators were killed by community members. Physically, I am a very strong woman, so when we were instructed to run about 10 for kilometres to qualify to join Zimparks back in Kanyema, I came out first,” she said.
“I felt that it was an opportunity for me to represent other women in marginalised communities who always wanted to break the narrative and change our story. For years, we had not been known and never been recognised as part of Zimbabwean people.
“We lived in isolation and today I am proud that I have managed to break the barrier and acted as a role model and a missing link on how poor and marginalised a community can be useful. There is always something significant that they can do to contribute toward the well-being of the country.”
As the first female ranger in Zimbabwe with a Launch Master Class, Kateguru has the responsibility of being a Field Patrol Commander (Stick Leader) who ensures that all details are always put on the appropriate dress code for the mission.
She ensures that firearms are carried all the time, and that firearms and kist are always clean and serviceable (routine checks by stick leader); sanctions use and possession of cell phones during field patrols; ensures no visitors are allowed at patrol base camp; maintains a daily diary log of important events; ensures a proper compilation of the field data collection form; gives a daily situation report as well as ensuring the proper signing hand over and takeover of assets.
In an interview with She Corresponds Africa, Senior Area Manager for Marongora Field Station, Zachariah Nyakomba, who has been working with Kateguru since February 2022, says Kateguru is brave and able to work in harsh Zambezi Valley conditions.
She is accustomed to the hippo and crocodile-infested Zambezi River whether it’s by night or day.
“Rosemary is a dedicated and eager-to-learn Ranger, who had adapted well to field anti-poaching and law enforcement duties which are mostly shunned by other female rangers and are dominated mostly by male rangers,” Nyakomba says.
“She has also shown great dedication to her work as she works tirelessly to protect the natural resources of Zimbabwe.
“Furthermore, the conditions in the field are so harsh and require bravery and a self-motivation. Work involved is diurnal, all-weather, aquatic, and sometimes terrestrial and it involves encounters with dangerously armed poachers as well as dangerous animals,” said Nyakomba.
Kateguru has contributed a lot towards anti-poaching and law enforcement initiatives, which saw the prevention of poachers from crossing over from neighbouring Zambia through the porous boundary and also the cabbing of illegal fish harvesting in the Zambezi River from the Dam wall to Kanyemba.
“She is involved in river patrols as she is a ranger based at River Specialised Unit, the Zambezi River Specialised Unit (ZARSAU), based at D-Camp in Nyakasanga, Hurungwe Safari area,” he added.
Other than being the first female ranger with a Launch Class one, Kateguru also became a Coxswain in December 2021 after going through a Waterman ship training at Lake Kariba by the Zimbabwe National Army Boat Squadron.