Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

From Intern to Public Affairs Manager at Schweppes: The inspiring journey of Judith Mbetu living with albinism in Zimbabwe

By Lance Guma

With nine years experience in marketing and public relations, the rise of 32-year-old Judith Mbetu has been nothing but amazing. Her journey to the top however has been a very difficult one.

Schweppes Zimbabwe Public Affairs Manager Judith Mbetu seen here with Managing Director Mr Charles Msipa
Schweppes Zimbabwe Public Affairs Manager Judith Mbetu seen here with Managing Director Mr Charles Msipa

Mbetu has albinism, an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of melanin pigment formed in the skin, hair and/or eyes. It can sometimes cause impaired vision or blindness.

“My biggest challenge was my sight as I had walk to the board to read everything throughout my school life. Sometimes I would finish work late and my classmates would laugh at me.

“My mother was a teacher and she made an extra effort to teach me some concepts at home that I hadn’t grasped in class. When it was time for exams I managed to write using enlarged print,” Mbetu told Nehanda Radio in an exclusive interview.

“I was born in a small district called Mwenezi in Masvingo in Zimbabwe. I’m the last born in a family of four. My parents who are both late were civil servants who worked in various districts in the province and hence they had a fair knowledge of how to take care of a child with albinism.

“We had a strong family support system namely my aunt Ms Patricia Mbetu who ensured that I had sunscreen daily. She would even go an extra mile to buy blonde braids when she travelled. This built my confidence levels as I felt pretty like all my other cousins,” she said.

Mbetu’s educational background now includes a Diploma in Public Relations (ABAMA), Bachelor of Commerce Honors Degree in Business Management and a Masters in Marketing Strategy.

From the Midlands State University (MSU) she started off her career as a marketing intern with Population Services International (PSI) before working in several corporate branding agencies.

Schweppes Zimbabwe Public Affairs Manager Judith Mbetu (centre)
Schweppes Zimbabwe Public Affairs Manager Judith Mbetu (centre)

Her journey would eventually lead her to joining Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited as a graduate trainee in 2011 where she held positions leading to her current job as Public Affairs Manager .

“I became aware of who I was at an early age but I was coached to work hard and never to feel sorry for myself. Completion of a task was a motto in my mother’s house regardless of how slow I was. I still am that way and believe in completing work even if it means I have to go home late.

“As years passed by I learnt to develop strong friends’ support system for things like notes in high school and college. I have used this concept for completion of some tasks at work or when I need help with anything,” Mbetu explained.

As already pointed out, having albinism means Mbetu has poor eyesight and cannot drive. This means sometimes using public transport which is not always safe for her in Harare.

“I have heard various stories from my friends with albinism some have resigned when they were stigmatized or failed to blend in the workplace,” she told us.

Did you dream of being a public affairs or marketing person growing up?

“No. I wanted to be an accountant. (away from people) I was very good in accounts in high school.  Someone advised me that the only area where they didn’t write examples on the board was marketing that is when I joined the marketing class in College.”

On the 3rd of December 2019 Schweppes Zimbabwe took to its official Twitter account and wrote;

“Meet our Public Affairs Manager, Ms Judith Mbetu living with Albinism. In commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we encourage other organisations to empower people living with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development #IDPWD.”

Have you received a lot of attention after Schweppes tweet?

Yes, some stakeholders I have always worked with are now keen to hear about my journey and what can be done to improve the life of people with disabilities in workplaces.

What is the level of stigmatization towards people living with albinism in Zimbabwe?

I am not in a position to comment on a national level as I do not have factual stats. The level of knowledge is fair but one will still face one or two instances of stigmatization due to lack of knowledge.

I have heard stories from my friends. For example on my way to work I was once chased by a man downtown telling me that he wanted to take me where people with albinism should stay. I’m not sure whether he was mentally challenged or not.

Tell us about your daily work routines at Schweppes, have you ever felt stigmatized, what makes you go on.

I have always told myself that I should talk less and let my work speak for itself. My time at Schweppes Holdings Africa Limited has seen me plan, implement and evaluate Corporate Social Responsibility programs that provide both immediate relief and sustainable local community development, being  able to help others drives me I was and I am who I am because I was helped by others every day.

I have an amazing supervisor, our Commercial and Public Affairs Director Mrs. Unaiswi Nyikadzino who regularly reminds me that I’m equally good at any task that I’m given, sometimes she has faith in me more than I have faith in myself.

She has been a key person in moulding me into what I am today. I work with an amazing departmental team which is my greatest pillar of strength. My mentors and friends in the marketing industry regularly work with me on career development.

They have been many low points at work some are confidential at an organisational level, my greatest challenge is that I’m not able to drive so sometimes it’s very hard to execute my tasks. 

I constantly have beg for help if it’s something out of the office of which many labels are placed on me which hurts a lot.

At one point someone was asked to go with me to a meeting in Norton and they just left me.  This venue is far and I could not afford to hire a cab to follow them to the meeting. This senior representative felt that I was very disrespectful towards his instruction regardless of my situation.

People are different and I have learnt to swallow various types of stigma there are testimonies for my future.

What have been some of your notable key achievements at work?

  • Corporate brand development for Schweppes Holdings Africa Limited, Beitbridge Juicing Private Limited and Best Fruit Processors
  • Farm Style and Fruitade Product brand development
  • Coordination of development of awarding winning exhibitions at Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and Zimbabwe Agricultural Show
  • Coordination of the first group sustainability report for Schweppes Holdings Africa Limited
  • Development and execution of several CSR projects for Schweppes Holdings Africa Limited

Do you feel that you inspire other people living with albinism?

Yes I do but I’m not there yet.  I’m currently mentoring two young girls who I encourage to work hard. I believe that my few achievements have been a result of God’s Grace and hard work. I pray to inspire more people one day.

Who inspires you?

The late political commentator an UZ lecturer Dr John Makumbe and the late paediatric cardiologist, Dr Isidore Evans Pazvakavambwa.

What aspects of albinism or disability do you think should be tackled in Zimbabwe?

There is need for policy development on sustainable employment for people living with disabilities in Zimbabwe. I believe that the time for donations of sunscreens and hats is over but we need to look at how best we can ensure that people living with disabilities are empowered to live independently with everyone in society.

This can only be achieved through awareness and dialogue by interested stakeholders. Funding from partners should be tailored towards sustainable and equitable development.

What is your dream job?

Working in the FMCG industry has taught me to develop and a nurture a brand. I dream to be in a position where I can develop programs and communication packages for people living with disabilities.

What’s next for Judith Mbetu?

I will be finishing my management development program this month. Thereafter I will start other developmental targets for the year.

For example I’m planning on doing a lot of voluntary work with local community organisations that may need my help in any way. I’m also praying to be accepted into international professional development programs so that I can gain international experience and exposure in my field.