CONTROVERSY appears to be co-Minister of Home Affairs Theresa Makone’s middle name.
A self-professed beautician, her appointment to a sensitive security ministry, that of Home Affairs, raised as many eyebrows as her ascendancy in the MDC hierarchy where she took over the women’s assembly leadership from Lucia Matibenga in questionable circumstances.
Those who want to see this woman’s back viewed her rush to facilitate the release of Zanu PF hardliner Didymus Mutasa’s son from police custody as a nail in her turbulent, but seemingly rising, political career.
But after escaping from the incident without censure — police described her behaviour as illegal — many neutrals, and even rivals, appear resigned to the fact that her closeness to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai puts her beyond reproach.
Some within the MDC party put her so close to Tsvangirai that they claim she is a key component of his so-called kitchen cabinet which influences party and ministerial appointments.
Does she control Tsvangirai from his home to Munhumutapa Building, right down to Harvest House?
This question came after the Zimbabwe Independent put it to her that many think she could have been behind Tsvangirai’s reported love affair with one Locadia Tembo, reportedly a close relative of Zanu PF MP for Goromonzi Beatrice Nyamupinga.
“Tsvangirai’s appointment of ministers and personal relations are his prerogatives,” said Makone in an interview from her new offices at Mukwati Building on Tuesday. “We don’t control our party president and we are also not in any way related to Tsvangirai. My husband comes from Southdowns in Chipinge, just a step from the Mozambican border and Tsvangirai hails from Buhera. Our relationship with Tsvangirai started in 2000 when we joined the MDC as ordinary members.”
She vehemently denied that together with her husband, Ian, they have ring-fenced the former trade unionist and that he is hardly accessible to some of his former comrades such as Matibenga.
Ian is Tsvangirai’s chief secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.
On allegations that she was influential in bringing former radio personality James Maridadi to the PM’s office even though he lacked relevant experience, Makone said: “He is just a warm person who wouldn’t even hurt a fly. I knew him as a DJ but I’m not the one who influenced Tsvangirai to appoint him.”
Out of the hundreds of activists such as Farai Maguwu who have faced what rights groups have described as political persecution, Makone chose to start her new job by rushing to the assistance of Mutasa’s son, Martin, who was arrested together with Zanu PF member and businessman Themba Mliswa on a fraud charge.
Is she related to Mutasa or Mliswa? Why would she jump at the first instance to rescue a person accused of using political influence to muscle out a private businessman?
“When I gave birth to my first baby in the UK in 1976, Mai Mutasa (Didymus’s wife) was like a mother to me and she taught me how to take care of the baby. I didn’t know anything concerning child upkeep because I was just a simple girl straight from university. Mai Mutasa was a nurse and I still believe she is still a nurse in the army. That’s how I came to know the Mutasas but we are not related in whatever way,” she said from her 11th floor office.
It is from this plush office that she is expected to do what her predecessor Giles Mutsekwa, a former military officer, failed to do when he was in the same seat. For 15 months, Mutsekwa, an army major before joining politics, watched helplessly as the police shredded his instructions, leaving him to publicly admit that he had no effective control over Augustine Chihuri and his men.
Makone said she will be different in spite of her lack of experience in this sector, showing a certain naivety of how contemptuous the police are of anyone viewed as a Mugabe rival, including cabinet ministers.
“I will work for or enforcement of law without fear or favour,” she said.
“This is a big ministry with many challenges. I can’t do everything by myself, but with the help of my co-Minister, Kembo Mohadi, we will do our work properly.” Makone said she recently handed over to her permanent secretary a dossier of cases she wants investigated and prosecuted to show her determination.
“The permanent secretary is the most senior official in any ministry, that’s why we gave him the document,” she said. “From there the papers will then be taken to the police who will institute arrests against the wanted persons. That is the way we operate, we have our line of command.”
“We will work together with my co-minister Mohadi to enforce the law,” she said. “Reforming the police, believed to be partisan, requires working hand-in-hand with all parties in the inclusive government. It’s not an individual thing.”
Makone, who grew up in one of Harare’s poorest and most crime-ridden suburbs of Mbare, says she is no novice in politics.
She was a student at the then University of Rhodesia in 1973 when she was forced out for being part of demonstrations against the expulsion of student leaders who included her husband, Ian. Ian had been expelled together with Mavambo leader Simba Makoni and Harare governor David Karimanzira.
She went to the United Kingdom in 1973 where she studied Bio-Chemistry and Human Nutrition at Nottingham University. She met her husband, Ian, who was studying at Leicester University in February 1974 before they married two years later.
Born Theresa Chigariro on October 6 1952 in the volatile Highfield township, Makone said she joined the MDC a year after the party’s formation. Her husband was a founder member of the party that was to end Zanu PF’s political dominance.
She was district treasurer in Wedza when she contested the 2005 parliamentary elections and lost to Mashonaland East governor Aeneas Chigwedere.
She rose to the post of MDC provincial chairperson in 2006 before taking over the Women’s Assembly chairperson in 2007 in scenes characterised by violence, vote buying allegations and accusations that she was riding on the back of her personal friendship with Tsvangirai and his late wife Susan.
“I worked tirelessly preparing women for participation in the March 2008 elections,” she said. “The women performed fairly well. Nonetheless, it was a challenge to work with women because I was used to dealing with men in my life,” said Makone.
Prior to political activism, Makone worked for Chibuku Breweries, Cairns Foods and Sterling Winthrop where she held managerial posts, but quit her jobs “to take care of my two daughters”.
Makone admits to doing little during her time as Public Works minister except facilitating the re-opening of the National Sports Stadium “because of financial constraints”.