FRANCISTOWN: There are two things about Sylvia Muzila. You either like her, or hate her.
Her colleagues and the multitudes that throng her office daily searching for a shoulder to lean on are in the first category.
In the second group, you can list the men who default on maintenance payments, as well as some ruling party politicians who believe she is positioning herself to challenge one of their own for elected office. Of course, she has consistently denied any political interest ? for now. Her unswerving refrain is that she is currently employed in the civil service, and politics is out of bounds for her.
The Francistown District Commissioner is a women?s rights advocate, civil servant and mother figure to the town?s marginalized and less privileged. For someone who began formal employment as a junior police officer, Muzila has not done badly for herself.
She holds an array of educational qualifications: Master of Social Science in Development Studies from the Birmingham University (Britain), an Honours programme in Urban Social Area Analysis, as well as an Associate Degree in Policy Administration both from the University of Purdue (United States), and a Bachelor?s degree in Public Affairs specializing in Housing Policy and Urban Development from Indiana University (United States).
Born in Plumtree, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in October 1953, Sylvia Tabitha Muzila was one of the first women to enlist in the Botswana Police Service. That was in 1971. Somehow, her heart was never really in the law enforcement forces. She felt that her true calling was elsewhere, someplace where she would work intimately with the community. A newly launched housing scheme aimed at the low-income group offered just that, and she joined the Self Help Housing Agency (SHHA).
She coordinated work in the town?s lowest income housing projects within the jurisdiction of the Selebi-Phikwe Town Council as a community development officer.
The rise was not meteoric, but it wasn?t too slow either. She ascended the ladder to Senior Housing Officer, Principal Housing Officer, and then Chief Housing Officer in the former Ministry of Local Government, Lands and Housing. In 1996, Muzila was appointed District Commissioner for Gaborone, a duty she served in until she was transferred to the Kweneng District, then North East District before making a stop in Botswana?s second city, Francistown ? her current posting.
It is safe to say it has been in Francistown that Muzila has made her mark, such that the Francistown District Commissioner?s office was adjudged the best in the country and earned a P12 000 prize from the Ministry of Local Government.
Her staff describe her as a shrewd administrator, as if to suggest that the more 35-years experience in the civil service had not been in vain.
Those who work closely with her say she is an all-rounded citizen who enjoys making a difference in other people?s lives.
?I help everyone who comes to my office. Since I cannot provide a solution to every problem that is brought to my office, where I am out of depth I direct people to relevant authorities,? she said, as outside the office, people line up to have audience with the DC.
Each of the people outside brings a peculiar problem.
There is nothing like a typical day here.
Each brings its own challenges, and one has to constantly think on their feet.
Muzila has also been widely involved in voluntary community work, having been Secretary General of the Catholic Women?s Association of Botswana, founder member of the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa (Botswana chapter), Member of the Gaborone Society for People with Disabilities, as well as founder of women?s self-reliance initiatives in the North East District that included farming and poultry. Some of the projects are still running to this day. She is Patron of the newly formed Society for People with Disabilities in Francistown and a member of the Lions Club.
Since 1996, Muzila has been a member of the women?s rights pressure group Emang Basadi. Married with three children, Muzila says besides being a community worker, she also regards herself as an educator. This explains her involvement as a director and owner of Tabitha Training Centre, which is a unified secondary school whose intake runs from Form One to Form Five. The school?s current enrolment is close to 200 students.
Her overwhelming involvement in both her professional and community work caught the eye of the country?s first citizen and in 2005 she was decorated with the Presidential Honour of Meritorious Service.
?I use my brains to try and make a difference,? says the woman who says her greatest inspiration comes from a deep desire to help other people.
As the Chairperson of the District Administration Multi-sectoral AIDS Committee, she is Francistown?s number one foot soldier in the war against HIV/AIDS.
?There are caravans around Francistown. We are trying to widen access to Internet so that young people can access information about HIV/AIDS,? she says.
As a Catholic, she derives strength from prayer, meditation, and readings from the Holy Bible.
?I like everybody, including people who have chosen to see themselves as my enemies. That is why I don?t hold grudges,? she explains.
No other civil servant in Francistown has taken a beating from politicians the way Muzila has.
It all has to do with the theory that she intends to swap the District Commissioner?s swivel chair for a parliamentary seat. As the interview draws to a close, we afforded her an opportunity to state ? once and for all ? on the record, if, indeed, her next destination is politics. She refuses to confirm the speculation.
But here is the clue. She will be happy, she says, to serve the nation in any capacity where she will make a difference.
?I am contemplating retirement, but that is not something that you do in a rush. It is a decision that is currently made difficult by people I work with. They just do not want to let me go,? she says. (FPN)