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Female MPs prove mettle in politics staying power

Ray Matikinye

TOWARDS the eastern end of a city avenue honouring the South African-born political celebrity, Nelson Mandela, in Harare’s central business district is a building that could easily pass f

or an old colonial outpost.

The building somewhat represents Zimbabwe’s long and tortuous walk to freedom.

Were it a biscuit or leather factory, some of its familiar occupants who have spent decades busy debating matters of national interest there would be rewarded with the traditional bicycle or wristwatch each in recognition of their long service.

These are, however, not just ordinary workers. They are Zimbabwe’s longest-serving members of parliament — men and women who have withstood either heckling or booing or the thunderous applause or bench thumping from fellow MPs for more than a decade and a half or more.

Among the long stayers are three women that have distinguished themselves by displaying endurance, political resilience and acumen to win polls since they were elected more than a decade ago.

Shuvai Mahofa, who has been in the House for the past 20 years and weathered a stormy tenure in her checkered political history, sweeping aside electoral challenges from male challengers in her Gutu South constituency, has become familiar to the surroundings.

The legislator, who cut her political teeth from a community development worker to the first female rural district council chairperson for Gutu rural district council, has mastered the art of anaesthetising voters in her rural constituency with fiery political rhetoric. Twice she has beaten veteran Independence war fighter Charles Dauramanzi in primaries to represent the ruling Zanu PF party and went on to make short thrift of Ransom Makamure of the MDC in the 2000 polls.

Mahofa appears to have developed an arcane charisma among voters in her constituency so much that no one dared challenge her in primaries for this year’s general election.

She and Sabina Mugabe came on board in 1985 and have swept away all challengers in their chosen constituencies since then. While Mahofa has held various positions at deputy minister level, Sabina Mugabe, the president’s sister, has remained a backbencher.

The sedentary Sabina, MP for Zvimba South and architect of various

women empowerment projects, could easily be credited with working behind the scenes to encourage and groom her two sons for political office.

If her sons, Leo Mugabe and Patrick Zhuwawo win in their chosen constituencies, she will score a first in the Sadc region by becoming the only mother ever to sit in parliament with her two sirelings.

Both Sabina Mugabe and Mahofa’s political fortunes havenever match-ed Teurai Ropa Nhongo (Joyce Mujuru), the war fighter who left home to prosecute the war for Independence in 1975 after assuring her doubting father she would buy him a lot of cattle and other livestock on her return.

From the onset as a legislator in 1980, Mujuru has held substantive posts such as Community Development and Women’s Affairs minister, Information Post and Telecommunications, Water Resources and Infrastructural Development and briefly acted as Minister of Defence. She has been consistent, as her other two peers, in getting the electorate’s nod during the past five general elections.

Last year, Joyce Mujuru graduated from being an ordinary MP and minister who had held various portfolios in government over the past 24 years to become the first female vice-president of Zimbabwe.

If Victoria Chitepo, the pioneer MP for Manicaland at Independence who retired from active politics 13 years ago stages a dramatic come back after March 31, she would rank the first female MP to achieve such a feat and extend her tenure in the House from the current 12 to probably 17 years.

Other familiar male faces at Parliament House are Sydney Sekeramayi, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Kumbirai Kangai and John Nkomo.

Mnangagwa’s 25-year tenure in the House could have been shortened to 20 after he lost his Kwekwe constituency to Blessing Chebundo of the opposition MDC in the last election but the president extended his stay, using his party’s majority to appoint him Speaker of the House.

Other bureaucrats who seem to possess remarkable staying power are Masvingo governor, Josaya Hungwe who has been at the helm of the province for an unbroken 15 years and Cephas Msipa, governor for the Midlands who has been minister, deputy minister and parastatal head until he was appointed governor.

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