Rebel Women: Tofara Chokera

“Your background does not determine your future”

By |

36 years ago, in a small town near the Murowa mine in Zimbabwe, a girl called Tofara was born. The youngest of three children, Tofara was raised by a single mom, who was a teacher. “When she came home from work, she would sew dresses or mend clothes for extra money, she would sell home-made lemon and milk sweets, or grow and sell vegetables,” Tofara recalls.

Tofara’s mother was able to save enough to pay for her older sister and brother to attend boarding school, but as the youngest child, there wasn’t enough left for Tofara’s boarding education. “I had to walk an hour to a different secondary school and back every day, but the mindset I have from my mother is to always focus on the positive and not the negative, so I put in every effort. In those days, most girls grew up to get married while the boys found employment, but my mother always told me I had to create my own income, and I studied hard.”

Tofara wanted to be the first person in her family to get a degree and she soon realised this dream after securing a place at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe to study computer and Information Systems, at the age of twenty. Incredibly, she had never had access to a computer before. “I was thrilled and confused to be shown a ‘mouse’. It made me think of the mice that we saw growing up. From that day, when I had the chance to use a computer I would make sure I understood everything I was taught. Within time I became so comfortable that I discovered endless opportunities.”

A graduate trainee position quickly led to employment within the IT sector of the diamond mining industry. In 2008, Tofara joined RZM Murowa, and over a 12-year career rose to an exciting supervisory position as an IT engineer. “When I got my job at Murowa it was a huge breakthrough. I was so happy to call my mom and give her kudos!”.

Beyond the business, using her IT skills and experience, Tofara now devotes her life to helping girls access free computer skills to prepare them for the future world of work. She created and self-funds the to bring together digital learning resources in IoT, Artificial Intelligence, coding and digital design, working with the IBM Digital Nation Africa platform. Her academy has already helped thousands of Zimbabwean women and this August, 22 of these women received an IBM Digital Nation Africa Innovator Award through a project that Tofara suggested to the Organisation for Women in Science for the developing world Zimbabwe National Chapter.

“I want to reach untapped communities, to give them free digital skills they can use even if they can’t go to college or university”

Since COVID, Tofara has developed and shared WhatsApp-based initiatives to help more girls learn about technology though their phones. “I want to reach untapped communities, to give them free digital skills they can use even if they can’t go to college or university”, says Tofara. “In the past, a young person would have to pay thousands for a private course and that’s something they shouldn’t have to do.”

At RZM Murowa, Tofara mentors male and female interns who join the tech team every year. “I applaud this opportunity given to young people by Murowa and I’m proud to work for an equal opportunities employer. When I first joined, I was the only lady in the department. Now we have more female colleagues working in IT here and a woman leads our department”.

Tofara’s advice to other girls who dream of going to university and having a successful career is to never be afraid to try something new, just as she did with computers at the age of twenty. As for Tofara, she insists she owes it all to her mother. “My mom made me think there was nothing that I couldn’t do if I tried. Your background does not determine your future. It’s my passion to pass this on and make positive changes in my community.”