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Editor’s Memo

Legacy of failure

I THOROUGHLY enjoyed the piece we ran on our opinion pages last week by veteran journalist Bill Saidi.

>In a typically rasp allegory, Saidi had this to say about the Anti-Corruption minister Paul Mangwana’s hairstyle: “He will always be remembered for a very peculiar hairstyle; or the lack of one. His hair looks uncombed most of the time. Perhaps this is how he wants to be recognised; as Harold Wilson was recognised by his pipe, Margaret Thatcher by her hats, Helmut Schmidt by his snuff, Fidel Castro by his beard and Mugabe by his dyed hair.”

Sithembiso Nyoni’s head is always adorned with fascinating hairstyles and perhaps that could be how she wants to be recognised. Like the Indian premier Morarji Desai who drank his own urine for medicinal purposes, everything about her demeanour appears normal and straightforward until her political life is factored in. Desai eventually let out the shocking secret about his life and his whole history drowned in the acrid liquid.

Perchance Sithembiso will one day tell us the secret of her political survival and how she appears to have become an extremely useful person in the government of President Mugabe.

She does not need to win an election to remain in government. She appears to live a charmed life in which the presidential crane is always at hand to pluck her from the political scrapyard, which is where the electorate in Zimbabwe believes she belongs.

The president was involved in one such rescue operation this week after Sithembiso lost in last weekend’s senate vote in Magwegwe-Lobengula.

To finish off the operation, President Mugabe then put up a mesmerising juggling act. Edna Madzongwe, a non-constituency MP and deputy Speaker of Parliament, was shifted from the lower house to become President of the Senate. The vacancy in the lower house then went to Sithembiso and with it, the reappointment to the portfolio of Small Enterprises Development minister.

She has now lost three times in national elections. She has beaten the record set by veteran politician Enos Nkala who was never able to win an election despite his long history in nationalist politics.

Nkala lost the first-past-the-post poll in Bulawayo in 1985 and 1990 when he had to be accommodated in the Kariba constituency amid protests from Mash West voters. Sithembiso is joined in the league of serial losers by former Bulawayo mayor Joshua Malinga who has also lost in three elections. He has also been appointed non-constituency senator.

Sithembiso was in 2000 routed by MDC’s Thokozani Khuphe in Makokoba. She was appointed a non-constituency member and given the post of Minister of State for Economic Development.

In April she was appointed minister when she was not an MP. She had lost the March poll in the Bulawayo South constituency to the MDC’s David Coltart. Before contesting in Bulawayo, she had literally camped in Nkayi where again the electorate thought she was not the right candidate for them.

So parliament for a brief period this year had 121 MPs because our constitution tolerates this strange arrangement for 90 days during which a constituency should be found for the extra MP. Another juggling act could have saved her.

Ray Kaukonde, who was MP for Mudzi, was appointed governor of Mashonaland East which called for a by-election in the constituency.

However, that did not save the day for her. She reportedly could not take up the offer because the people there did not know her.

In August, having failed to find a constituency, she mutated from minister to become a consultant in the Office of the President.

Attending the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries congress in Nyanga in September, delegates sarcastically bestowed on her a new title of “Honourable Consultant”. But she is back to her former glory as honourable minister. I wonder why she had to go through another embarrassing electoral defeat to regain her post in government.

The story of Sithembiso is a graphic example of a leader subverting the will of the people. She is the epitome of political patronage which is the hallmark of failed governments. If she is not a beneficiary of sheltered employment, then she has to prove that she is too important to be missing from the list of ministers in Mugabe’s government.

She may want to claim credit for mushrooming SMEs in urban centres. She should be reminded though that this was a natural process wrought by the closure of big businesses due to the inclement economic environment.

Under her watch the SMEs and the informal sectors have failed to contribute to national development through taxes and other government levies. Under normal circumstances she should have been swept away by the Murambatsvina tide together with ramshackle shelters housing the informal sector.

She has survived three election defeats but remained in government. Is this how she wants to be remembered?

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