I will be judged on account of my competence: Mahere

Fadzayi Mahere (pictured), a social activist and advocate, announced last month she will be contesting for the Mount Pleasant parliamentary seat in Harare as an independent candidate in next year’s general elections. Mahere’s announcement received mixed feelings with some opposition activists and some social media users accusing her of being a Zanu PF pawn to split the vote in aid of the ruling party. Zimbabwe Independent senior political reporter Wongai Zhangazha (WZ) spoke to Mahere (FM) about her entry into politics and her views on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), among other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:

Fadzayi Mahere
Fadzayi Mahere

WZ: Why have you decided to run as a parliamentary candidate in next year’s polls, and why in the Mt Pleasant constituency?

FM: My decision to run as a parliamentary candidate hasn’t been an easy one. It has been a complex journey that has culminated in my realisation that while my natural inclination is to be an advocate for citizen issues, given the current state of our politics, the changes that I am seeking to see require that I get much more involved in the decision-making processes that affect us all using a skill set that comes naturally to me, that is competence in legal issues. I believe that there is a need to focus more on the issues that affect us as individuals and to give them a voice as part of the dominant political narrative.

Mt Pleasant constituency is home to me. I have interacted with this constituency in so many ways, having been a student here and now making my home within the constituency. I realise that a lot of my frustrations stem from my immediate environment and in my bid to contribute to my nation, I really need to begin at home. As they say, charity begins at home, and Mt Pleasant constituency is definitely my home.

WZ: Why did you decide to contest as an independent candidate given that historically Zimbabwean voters have not been kind to independent candidates?

FM: Over the last year, I have been on a journey of engaging with government policy, government actors, public officials and politicians in various fora — including debates with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, town halls with the Mayor of Harare, online interviews with various presidential aspirants and other politicians. My observation has been that the daily struggles of Zimbabwean life, including the worsening economic crisis (bond notes, bank queues, cash shortages), unemployment, homelessness, police brutality, declining service delivery, roadblocks and potholes are nowhere near the top of the agenda for most political parties. It’s either factional squabbling or personality/position politics. Rarely do we see the daily problems we face occupying the mainstream political agenda.

When tough questions are asked in parliament and when salient legal issues are debated, more than partisan politicking is required to ensure progress. One also has the advantage of not being forced to tow the party line on various issues that need to be raised and having the liberty to fully place the best interests of the community at the fore.

WZ: What qualities do you have which can be a magnate to voters?

FM: I hope my record shows that I am capable of being a voice for the voiceless, the disempowered and those who wish to take the establishment on in order to fight for a better life for the ordinary Zimbabwean. I am a slave to the issues, a slave to reason and a slave to principle. I have a firm grasp of constitutionalism and the law generally. That would place me in good stead to, not only give expression to the will of those whom I represent, but also to tackle the tough questions that many are afraid to ask because they wish to tow their party line.

I am also aware that key pieces of legislation are currently under review including the Banking Act, the Labour Act and the Companies Act. My background in legal practice would place me in good stead to offer improvements to these laws, bring them up to date and enhance their usefulness.

WZ: Is there a specific reason why you did not join an opposition party? Is it because you do not value or respect them?

FM: I do value and respect a number of opposition politicians and political parties. However, I do think that it is time to start a new way of doing politics in this country where we focus on the issues, engage the youth in a sincere way and become more creative in how we confront political issues.

I long for the day when discussions in parliament are not the preserve of the political elite but spark national engagement and spur people to perform their civic duties and speak on the issues of concern to them. I do not see this in our politics yet. This is compounded by the fact that young people in Zimbabwe today make up the largest number of voters but are not adequately represented in our politics.

WZ: What do you think of the country’s opposition political parties?

FM: I think that they should do everything they can to keep the flame of democracy that they ignited in the late 1990s and early 2000s alive. Democracy in its true sense is a sustainable foundation for social and economic progress. We must not dilute its essence. I think that if the opposition political parties remain true to the ideals that gave birth to them, they will be less likely to imitate the beast that we all know is the enemy. I think that they should never run away from their essence which is to speak truth to power — even where it is inconvenient or hard.

No amount of deal-making should ever get in the way of this core value. I think they should never be afraid to reinvent themselves, to innovate politically, to welcome new blood, to give a meaningful voice and political space to the young. I think that hope and inspiration are central to keeping the electorate engaged and destroying apathy.

WZ: You have introduced a fresh campaign with new innovations such as an interactive website and a huge online presence. Do you think this will chime with Zimbabwean voters who are accustomed to big rallies and other forms of mobilisation?

FM: These innovations are also coupled with a strong focus on the community. We have been having several community meetings on the ground and speaking to people about what their aspirations for our constituency are. I think what is most important is our message online and offline – a message that champions hope, accountability and development.

We are spearheading a door-to-door campaign with an ever-growing number of volunteers. This has been received well so far and we hope our decision to adopt a new political strategy that focuses on the unmobilised, the apathetic and the young will reap the necessary dividends when the time comes. Rallies have their place, but we hope to move away from the tradition of talking at people and choosing rather to listen more and build the vision for transformation together.

WZ: Mt Pleasant is very complex — one of the reasons why the MDC-T’s Jameson Timba lost it in 2013 was because Zanu PF allegedly bused in voters and now we hear reports that the constituency is now being gerrymandered with some swathes of rural communities being incorporated into it. How do you plan to counter this?

FM: Without divulging too much of our strategy, the campaign team has put together certain safeguards including a strong observation taskforce, a legal reaction mechanism and huge investment into demographic analysis to mitigate against the electoral malpractices we have witnessed in this constituency in the past. We are also doing everything we can to fight the biggest rigging tool, which is apathy. We want all eligible voters to register, to vote and to ensure that their vote matters at the end of the day.

WZ: Zimbabwean politics is a male dominated terrain. Do you think gender will influence how voters will respond to your call?

FM: It shouldn’t. I hope I will be judged on account of my competence, the sincerity of my motives and my plan for progress as opposed to the fact that I am a woman. I hope more woman step out into the political terrain as voters and as candidates. I am confident that women are just as qualified to lead in the political arena as men. I will support as many women as I can who hold similar ambitions.

WZ: Some members of the opposition political parties have accused you on social media of being a Zanu PF spy, mainly because your father once worked for government as a permanent secretary. What is your comment on those allegations?

FM: I can categorically state that I am not Zanu PF. I have never been. This goes for Zanu PF in all its forms and all its factions. I disapprove of how they have caused the country to roll back in almost every sector and field of endeavour. I disapprove of their disregard of the rule of law and property rights. I disapprove of how they have diminished the quality of life of the ordinary Zimbabwean. I disapprove of how they are relentless in their quest to steal the future of the young and destroy our ability to hope.

Coming to my father, it is important to get the facts straight. He was a civil servant, not a “top politician” as alleged, until he retired a few years ago. He has never held or contested for any political office for Zanu PF or otherwise. He has never featured in any of the top organs of Zanu PF — that is to say the central committee or the politburo.

I love him dearly. However, to say his views, which he should be allowed to express and hold, are mine is lazy analysis.

Fascinating how nobody ever speaks of my mother — that’s a discussion for another day.

WZ: How do you relate to other opposition political figures?

FM: A number of them are my friends. A number are colleagues of mine in the legal profession. I harbour no ill-will towards any of them.

WZ: How are you financing your campaign?

FM: Donations and various fundraising initiatives. There is a platform on our website (www.fadzayi4mp.com) that has further information and all the methods that can be used. We are relying on the goodwill of the community who we are encouraging to make an investment into a transformed Mt Pleasant constituency for the future.

WZ: Do you think Zec has capacity to hold credible elections, and if not, why?

FM: I think they should always act independently from the executive and the ruling party. I think if they stick to their obligations under the constitution and refuse to be compromised by the ruling elite, then yes. There is also a need to ensure that they hear the concerns of all political parties and actors to avoid electoral malpractices of past elections.

WZ: What are your thoughts on biometric voter registration? Do you think it will curb rigging allegations or can it be used to rig?

FM: I think the law must be aligned to accommodate it, especially the Electoral Act. I think if done properly with appropriate voter education, a clear commitment that the 2013 voters’ roll will not be used, a reasonable time for people to register and a transparent procedure for the storage and transportation of data it could work. Real political will to ensure a free and fair election is required. Paying lip service to technical terms alone is not enough.