. . . seven candidates emerge
Chiefs are proving to be political game changers in rural constituencies as they are often accused of force-marching the electorate to the polling stations and threatening against voting for any other party of their choice except, in most cases, the ruling Zanu PF party.
Zanu PF politicians who are eyeing Zaka North seat seem to be acknowledge the enormous political influence that chiefs wield as the politicians battle it out to control Chief Ndanga ahead of the 2018 general elections.
Chiefs pride themselves for playing an instrumental role to ensure that Zanu PF won the previous elections. Even the president of the chiefs' council, Chief Fortune Charambira has been on record saying they play a critical role in coercing people to vote for Zanu PF, and even dismissed the idea that chiefs should be apolitical. Chiefs even chant Zanu PF slogans at public meetings and rallies.
First to win the heart of Chief Ndanga in Zaka North is Phiona Rheiket who introduced the Chief Ndanga Soccer Tournament about two years ago. Youths from Zaka North battle it out for honours every year with the winners receiving cash prize and trophies from Chief Ndanga.
Rheiket, a South Africa-based businesswoman, is readying herself for the party primaries and the soccer tournament has not only endeared herself with the chief but with the electorate in general. The Chief Ndanga Soccer Tournament has attracted so much attention and the villagers especially the youths are really excited about it and this might give Rheiket an edge over several other emerging candidates.
Rheiket's biggest undoing, though she is now popular even in the whole province, is her alleged association with the maligned Generation 40 (G40) faction. Masvingo province is Team Lacoste faction's stronghold and G40 is a hard sell. Now that Team Lacoste has gained full control of the province following the election of Ezra Chadzamira to become the substantive chairperson for the province, Rheiket might find it difficult unless she quickly jumps ship and join the most popular faction in the province, Team Lacoste.
Though she has become very popular with her Grace Mugabe-branded yellow Hummer and silver Toyota D4D, Rheiket's affectionate support and love for the First Lady may blow her chances of winning Zaka North primaries especially against the incumbent legislator Robson Mavhenyengwa. Mind you this is Team Lacoste faction's stronghold!
A wily Mavhenyengwa, having realised that Rheiket was now in the race and was kind of getting the G40 endorsement, immediately jumped ship and joined Team Lacoste.
Together with his Zaka Central counterpart Paradzai Chakona, they hurriedly organised a youths soccer tournament where Chief Ndanga was the guest of honour, a move which was viewed as an attempt to lure the chief to their camp. Whether Chief Ndanga will remain with Rheiket who sponsors a tournament for him or will choose Mavhenyengwa who makes him guest of honour at his tournament is not known but time will tell.
But Mavhenyengwa, being a Zion Christian Church (ZCC) member – a church which commands a huge following in Zaka – has an extra advantage. The former police superintendent (intelligence) often brags that he is a strategist saying his work experience helps him a lot to outdo his opponents.
He however has a mammoth task as it emerged that another senior official from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) is eyeing the seat – it will be interesting to see who of the intelligence guys will show more intelligence.
A local teacher and businessperson John Chitoro who is popularly known as 'Teacher John' is also said to be interested in contesting for the seat. Chitoro runs grocery shops and kombis. He lost to Mavhenyengwa during 2013 party primaries; hopefully he would play his cards right this time around.
It won't be a stroll in the park though as three more other candidates are said to be interested in contesting for Zaka North. There is Alson Darikai, who is with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), another local businessperson Eliot Bheura and a university lecturer Professor Boniface Chiworeka.
Chiworeka has since become a perennial loser having lost to Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC-T) Ernest Mudavanhu in 2008 and subsequently to Mavhengwa at party primaries in 2013. He might find the going tough unless, as the most learned candidate of all, he comes up with some unique strategies this time around.
Darikai is the most unpopular of all the Zanu PF candidates and his chances of winning are slim. If he wins, it will be the greatest miracle ever!
Bhehura runs grocery shops at Jerera and Nyika growth points. His name is popular in the retail industry but I doubt if that popularity would translate into votes.
The winner from Zanu PF will then face candidates from other political parties in the 2018 general elections and the ultimate winner will go to the National Assembly.
Mudavanhu is also said to be eyeing a comeback but this time on a National People's Party (NPP) ticket. Mudavanhu lost primaries to Simon Mupindu in 2013 before he left MDC-T to join People Democratic Party (PDP) and subsequently ZimPF. He later left ZimPF together with Joice Mujuru to form NPP. The best advice for Mudavanhu would be for him not to contest any position, at least for now.
As for now, the MDC-T so far has only Mupindu who lost to Mavhenyengwa on July 31, 2013.
The danger with Mupindu is that he stays in Harare and he is seen more often during the run up to the election. This should have disadvantaged him during the 2013 elections. Almost all the candidates that have so far emerged from Zanu PF reside in Zaka North and people usually prefer someone they see every day when it comes to voting. Hopefully, Mupindu will have a different approach this time. Being a lawyer, Mupindu should work on packing his message so that it resonates well with the largely not so well-educated rural electorate. He might speak a lot of sense but if the message is not well packaged, it might be meaningless to the Zaka North electorate.
Learned politicians usually suffer this blow especially when they contest rural constituencies – Dr Tapiwa Murambi (Chivi Central), lawyer Erium Musendekwa (Gutu South) and Prof Chiworeka are prime examples of this paradox.
EDUCATION AND POLITICAL EXPERIENCE
Mavhenyengwa, being a former police chief superintendent, obviously has at least five 'O' Level and many other professional courses. The Zaka North legislator began to be politically active in 2012 when he left the force to contest for the seat. Though Mavhengwa could have been in the party structures before, he was not actively involved in politics then as his job demanded otherwise. Therefore, in terms of exposure, Mavhenyengwa is still learning the curves no wonder he is jumping from one faction to the other.
Rheiket's political history is sketchy; she emerged in the past few years but her strong financial muscle propelled her to become one of the most popular women in the province. Inexperience might be her major blow especially in Zanu PF where factions tear each other apart every day. One certainly has to belong to the better faction or risk going down the political drain.
Chitoro is a teacher by profession – a too ambitious teacher I must say! He has a degree in education. He runs grocery shops and kombis – but whether or not the money he gets from his business would be enough to battle it out against the likes of Rheiket, who have Hummers and Toyota D4Ds, is not clear. Chitoro has been in the provincial youth executive but was axed during the 'Gamatox' period. Since then, he struggled to gain ground in the province. Hopefully, he has since joined a better faction which will be stronger than the other when Zanu PF goes for primary elections.
Chiworeka is a university lecture with at least a Master's degree. He is not that resourceful compared to other candidates and that might be a disadvantage against him. He, however, has been actively involved in politics for over a decade now though he lost elections twice.
Mupindu is a lawyer by profession and he holds a law degree. He runs a law firm and is accumulating resources. Being young as he is, Mupindu might not have a lot of political exposure excluding student activism. He is still learning a lot about opposition politics and politics in general. Hopefully, as a lawyer, he will be quick to grasp certain concepts and come up with the messages that suit the rural electorate. Zaka North was once won by MDC-T in 2008 and it only needs a bit of courage and hardworking for the opposition party to retain the seat.
Zanu PF still has a big chance in Zaka North too so the MDC-T should up its game and start to be more visible now than to wait for the last few months before the 2018 general elections. Zanu PF candidates are already on the ground doing something using their personal resources while MDC-T is waiting for next year. And they will be quick to accuse Zanu PF of rigging the elections if they lose yet their candidates are not doing anything on the ground.
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