LONG after she climbed out of the pool to give up the life of sweat-pain and glory, decorated Olympian and former world record holder, Kirsty Coventry, is still changing perceptions and setting trends.
In a country accustomed to separating family and work, in which some sectors still see parenting as a liability, Coventry is not worried about taking her baby to work.
With her baby in tow, a sea of scathing gazes and surprised faces greet her as she enters the Zimbabwe International Exhibition Centre (ZITF) in Bulawayo to tour exhibitors’ stands and participate at the 12th edition of Sanganai/Hlanganani.
The Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation was temporarily appointed Acting Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister by Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Effectively, Coventry is balancing two ministries and a new baby, and in the process keeping her sanity.
An athlete who overcame great odds, Coventry is enjoying the challenge.
Her first port of call: Sanganai/Hlanganani World Tourism Expo where at least 290 exhibitors, 170 buyers and 25 international media practitioners from Zimbabwe’s different source markets have converged for the annual tourism expo.
On the expo’s opening day, September 12, she walks from stand to stand, engaging tourism players. Her five months old daughter, Ella, is fast asleep, stretched out in a pram while being pushed up and down the halls.
Coventry’s husband,Tyrone Seward, is not far behind and is quick to offer a helping hand to his rather reluctant wife who does not want to let Ella out of her sight, while at the same time fulfilling her post’s obligations.
It’s a balancing act which she seems very much to relish.
“It’s wonderful (being a mother). It’s great to try and balance. I think I am doing a good job,” Coventry tells the media on the sidelines of her tour.
She adds: “My husband here is supporting me today, helping me with the baby. She is too little for me to leave at home. I am still feeding her.”
Turning to Travel and Tourism, one of the world’s largest industries, contributing about US$ 8.8 trillion (3.9%) to the global economy in 2018 (WTTC 2019), Coventry said the temporary responsibility to oversee the ministry has been smooth because of the strong link that exists between the sector with sport, arts and culture.
Travel and Tourism outpaced other major sectors such as manufacturing and retail, and continues to be recognised as a key catalyst for global transformation.
In Zimbabwe, tourism is one of the key economic drivers, contributing 7.2% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The sector is expected to contribute 15% to GDP and generate close to US$2.5billion in foreign currency receipts from the current US$1.4 billion thereby increasing tourist arrivals from 2.6 million to four million by 2025.
However, widespread power and fuel shortages have made it difficult for tourism players. Local tourism consumers have particularly been hit hard as their salaries remain stagnant in the face of inflationary pressures pushing up the prices of most basic commodities.
Industry has also been steadily increasing prices as 50 percent of their production per day is reliant on diesel powered generators, which on its own is scarce and ever rising.
Coventry admits that tourism as a sector cannot make it without a holistic approach by all other sectors in order to paint a positive image of Zimbabwe. Problems affecting the tourism sector are not isolated from what Coventry is experiencing as Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation.
The celebrated athlete-turned administrator has been battling the strifes that often rock most administrative bodies in this southern African nation.
The sports sector, being the most followed of her portfolio, has been battling to stay afloat as epitomised by the Zimbabwe Warriors’ dreadful African Cup of Nations flirtation that ended with a 4-0 humiliation to DR Congo in a tournament that was blighted by allowance rows.
On the other end, the game of cricket is also on tenterhooks, with the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) only recently reinstating the Zimbabwe Cricket board which it had suspended a few weeks earlier, on the grounds that they had gone against a directive to postpone their elective Annual General Meeting so as to allow a forensic audit.
Administrative shortcomings in the creative industry sector pose another headache for Coventry.
However, all appear to be hurdles the 35-year-old is taking in her stride.
Said Coventry: “I have always been proud of Zimbabwe and if we can figure ways to bring things together, and work together closely, I think that’s a win for everybody.”