Elisabeth Valerio, leader of the United Zimbabwe Alliance is no stranger to business or politics in Zimbabwe. Her mother, descended from the Mugabe Chieftainship of Masvingo, was the first woman in history to challenge the power of an African President. Elisabeth spent most days of her childhood in the mid 1970s in her parent’s grocery store at Machipisa Shopping Centre in Highfield, then a hotbed of the African political movements.
Elisabeth attended university in the United States and began her career as a biochemist before moving to Hwange, where she has spent almost a decade honouring a promise she made to her mother who, while on her death bed, asked that she look after a herd of elephants in Dete.
It was only when she arrived in Dete that she realised the place was adjacent to Hwange National Park. At the time, it was an abandoned stretch of land with no infrastructure, facilities or utilities. With nowhere to stay, an old truck became her home, amongst lions, buffalo, hyena and a magnificent herd of very docile elephants.
During her time in Hwange, Elisabeth has established Gobelo, a business focused on research and development of natural and indigenous consumer products. With her husband she also built Gwango, a tourism destination at the edge of Hwange National Park, with guest rooms, conference facilities, restaurants and a BaNambya Cultural Exhibit.
In addition to promoting the tourism sector in Zimbabwe, Elisabeth devotes her time and resources to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programmes, creating jobs and improving access to quality education in African communities. She founded of the Entrepreneurial & Leadership Initiative for Sustainability in Africa (ELISA) supporting Africa focused entrepreneurs via an online web portal and annual summit to be hosted in Hwange. She is a frequent speaker at entrepreneurial and career focused programmes and events and has played a key role in the professional development of countless students, educators, scientists and entrepreneurs.
In 2020, her work in conservation became overshadowed by news of a coal mine that was to be established in the heart of Hwange National Park. With tourism operators and conservationists, she authored a public statement to President Mnangagwa and championed an appeal to stop mining in the park, until eventually Zimbabwe’s cabinet announced that no mining would occur within any national park in the country. The pronouncement, however, was soon followed up with the issuance of special grants to mine for coal in nearby safari areas and other significant sites.
Elisabeth continues in her efforts to protect the tourism sector from mining activities but has expanded her focus to include national interest, saying, the future we are building is one of unity for all of Zimbabwe, to ensure that each and every one of us possess the same opportunity to participate and succeed. As President of UZA, she envisions a society which benefits every man, woman and child, one which supports innovation and economic growth by celebrating the gifts of its citizens.