AS the 2005 parliamentary election hype picks up countrywide, the battle for Tsholotsho has begun in earnest with all the attention focused on the district which hosted the alleged coup plotters
against President Mugabe.
Campaign posters are all over the place — even ox-drawn carts have posters of former Information minister, Jonathan Moyo, who has decided to stand in the constituency as an independent candidate.
However, only Moyo’s posters are visible as one drives towards Tsholotsho up to the business centre. There is nothing for the opposition MDC or the ruling Zanu PF seen.
“Phambili LeTsholotsho” (Forward with Tsholotsho) read Moyo’s colourful posters that also declare him as an independent candidate.
At Godzo business centre, 25 kilometres from Tsholotsho, Moyo’s posters are stuck on trees and on bridges while at Nqoya centre, about 15 kilometres from Tsholotsho, Moyo’s posters compete against each other for space.
“We have a situation where Moyo’s teams are putting up posters at night and pulling down ours,” said Mtoliki Sibanda, the sitting MDC MP for the area.
Zanu PF district co-ordinating chairman for Tsholotsho, Vumile Dube, said his party’s posters were damaged by rains that pounded Tsholotsho in the past week. He said, however, Zanu PF did not rely on posters to campaign but on teams doing work on the ground.
Villagers at the local business centre speak highly of Moyo and the development projects he has initiated in Tsholotsho since 2000 when he took a keen interest in the constituency.
“The development we are seeing in Tsholotsho is new. We had never seen this in the past 25 years. People are glad that Jonathan Moyo is standing as an independent because the majority of the people were not going to vote for him if he was to contest on a Zanu PF ticket,” says Siphiwe Mafu, a resident from nearby Mvundlana area.
She says people in the district will never vote for Zanu PF as long as President Mugabe remains in power since the majority have never forgiven or forgotten the cruel massacre of thousands of their relatives by Mugabe’s South Korea-trained Five Brigade.
“People have not forgotten the Gukurahundi issue and they were not going to vote for Moyo if he was standing on a Zanu PF ticket regardless of the development he has brought to this area,” says Mafu.
Tsholotsho, together with Lupane, bore the brunt of the atrocities during the early 1980s disturbances that saw close to 20 000 people being butchered in cold blood.
Campaign teams from all three contesting candidates criss-cross each other without incident as they try to win the hearts of voters.
Police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, last week said the election campaign had been peaceful countrywide and no incidents of violence have been recorded in Tsholotsho.
But the talk in this Matabeleland North district is the candidature of Moyo who until last month was a very vocal minister in President Mugabe’s cabinet.
While Moyo is disliked elsewhere for his vitriol and notorious media laws, he is the darling of the people of Tsholotsho.
Since he was elected a cabinet minister in 2000, Moyo has initiated numerous development programmes in Tsholotsho that have seen the main road linking the business centre with the local council offices being widened and tarred while tower lights have been erected around the business centre.
Moyo followed that up with the setting up of a scholarship fund that benefits disadvantaged children from all over the constituency.
Under the fund, the top two students in each of the over 90 primary and secondary schools in the constituency have their fees paid by the minister.
However, it was the doling out of computers to the majority of poor and underfunded schools around the constituency that endeared Moyo to the Tsholotsho community.
Moyo was tipped to easily stroll into parliament until he was sidelined for allegedly organising and sponsoring the Dinyane meeting that saw him being barred from contesting in the constituency. It was declared reserved for women.
Moyo then chose to stand as an independent candidate, a move that led to his expulsion from Zanu PF party.
Despite his seeming overwhelming support in the constituency, there are some who believe that he will not win the poll.
“He is not going to win the election. People in rural areas do not understand what an independent is and he will never win in Tsholotsho, never,” said a Zanu PF activist.
“He has no structures of his own and all along he was organising meetings using Zanu PF structures. He was using party and government funds as if they were coming from his pocket but the people know that the development is from the party and government,” he added.
He said the disgraced former Information minister worked round the clock to win Tsholotsho but blundered when he decided to stand as an independent candidate.
“If Moyo had stood on a Zanu PF ticket, the party was going to sweep everything in Tsholotsho. But now Zanu PF has to fight it out with him,” said the activist who added that no one from Zanu PF had defected to Moyo’s camp.
“The only people we are aware of who jumped ship and joined Moyo were in previous elections campaigning for the opposition MDC. As for Zanu PF, no one left the party,” he said.
However, the situation on the ground is different.
At the business centre, the villagers are content that Moyo is their saviour and most agree that he should represent them in parliament.
“Senior Zanu PF leaders who are fighting Moyo have done nothing for us. We now have a bank here and very soon we will not be travelling to Nyamandlovu to sell and buy maize,” says Thubelihle Nkomo, pointing at the nearby Grain Marketing Board depot nearing completion and the new Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe branch established through Moyo’s efforts.
The sentiment about who is likely to win Tsholotsho changes as you move further and further away from the business centre.
“We have heard about Moyo who has done wonders for people at the business centre but we have never seen him here,” says Thembani Mhlanga from Phumula area, 35 kilometres West of Tsholotsho centre.
“We are still waiting for him to bring similar development projects. We also want electricity here and we want him to tar our roads, too.”
However, the battle in Tsholotsho appears to be mainly between Sibanda and Moyo since Musa Mathema of the ruling Zanu PF, despite growing up in Tsholotsho, is an unknown quantity.
Most villagers said Mathema was imposed on the constituency as a result of the influence of her husband, Cain Mathema, the governor of Bulawayo Metropolitan who also comes from Tsholotsho.
“Musa Mathema was imposed on the people and now it is pay-back time. The people have vowed not to vote for her. The contest is really between the MDC and Moyo,” added Mhlanga, saying Zanu PF was a dark horse in the race.
Another villager disputed the allegations that Mathema was a newcomer to Tsholotsho.
“Musa Mathema is a local person, she grew up at eMakwakhweni, just three kilometres from Tsholotsho business centre. She is also popular with the locals and come April 1, she would be the new MP for Tsholotsho,” he said without a hint at a fool’s day joke.
Moyo however seems to enjoy the support of local chiefs whom he helped to acquire new trucks under a government scheme.
Tsholotsho has four chiefs — Tategulu, Gampu, Magama and Mathuphula. Chief Tategulu, who controls three large wards in the constituency, is Moyo’s uncle and is said to be campaigning for Moyo.
“We might have a problem with the chiefs because we know some of them are still aligned to Moyo. We know some are campaigning for him. We know Tategulu is Moyo’s uncle but that does not mean he is campaigning for him,” said a villager.
The MDC and Moyo, however, could be undone by the new Delimitation Commission demarcations that moved the entire Siphepha area in Tsholotsho into Hwange East constituency while adding four more wards from the new resettlement areas into the Tsholotsho constituency.
The four new wards include resettled farmers and war veterans who are the majority of voters.
Moyo comes from Siphepha and one of his elder uncles, Mlevu, is a headman in Siphepha while most of her aunts are based in the area.
The MDC MP, Sibanda, who also hails from Mathuphula area in Siphepha, says the ceding of Siphepha to Hwange East and the addition of new areas are is one way of boosting Zanu PF votes in the constituency.
Sibanda however said the MDC remained confident of retaining the seat despite these setbacks.
“The police still want us to apply for permission to hold meetings but Zanu PF is allowed to hold rallies without even notifying the police. We will still win despite the addition of invaded farms to the constituency,” Sibanda said.
If Moyo fails to snatch the Tsholotsho seat he would be relegated to the dustbins of Zimbabwean politics.