Africa

Mliswa wins in Mugabe's heartland

Kudzai Mashininga

The MP says Zanu-PF is safe in Mugabe's hands, though he has his own ideas on some matters.

Survivor: Temba Mliswa's political career was almost ruined earlier this year when he was arrested for allegedly ordering an attack on a fellow MP. The charges were later dismissed. (Shepherd Tozvireva)

Zanu-PF MP Temba Mliswa has defied the odds by landing the ­party's provincial chairmanship in President Robert Mugabe's home province of Mashonaland West, breaking the hegemony of the party leader's ­Zezuru tribe.

Just this year, Mliswa's attempt to stand on the party's ticket in the province's Hurungwe West constituency appeared to be headed for the rocks when he was arrested and charged with violence after the attack on Zanu-PF Hurungwe East MP Sarah Mahoka by party youths, who were allegedly sent by Mliswa.

But the political violence charges were thrown out by a magistrate in Chinhoyi, paving the way for him to participate in the party's primary polls, which he won in addition to the subsequent parliamentary election.

Mliswa then used his electoral victory as the Hurungwe West representative in Parliament as a springboard to garner support for the chairmanship in Mugabe's home province.

In the past, those considered to be "outsiders" have been unable to break what is widely regarded, both within and outside Zanu-PF, as the Zezuru hegemony in Mugabe's backyard.

During the days of the inclusive government in 2012, the then finance minister, Tendai Biti, who is also the secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, caused a storm when he said the adoption of a new Constitution means that "we are ‘de-Zezurunising' the state. Let me put it clearly: there is too much ‘Zvimbanisation' of the state."

Strong challenge
In last weekend's provincial polls, Mliswa defeated Mugabe's close relation Phillip Chiyangwa and Nimrod Chiminya, who is related to Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo.

There was also a strong challenge from John Mafa, who has held the chairmanship twice before.

In an interview, Mliswa (42), while confirming that he is not Zezuru, said his victory confirms that Zanu-PF has turned a corner and is not run along tribal or racial lines.

He said his election confirms that it is not entirely true that the party's old guard does not want to give up power, saying that young people should step to the front to be recognised and not just complain from the shadows.

"The party is not run on tribal or racial lines; those who want to bring tribalism may not be from here, after all. When people went to liberate this country, they went as Zimbabweans and we have no room for people who are tribal.

"To me, there is nothing like a Shona or Ndebele; those are just languages – we are all Zimbabweans."

Claiming a place at national level
Mliswa has already claimed his place at national level – in the sporting arena. He recounted his exploits as a national rugby player as well as a sojourn with the national soccer team as one of the officials.

Mliswa refused to be drawn into a discussion on his political ambitions and instead made reference to biblical scriptures, saying it was God who placed people in particular places, even when they were overlooked or there was opposition.

He said he believes that Zimbabwe is in safe hands under Mugabe's rule, describing him as a great visionary.

He attributed shortcomings in the government to the "failure by some officials to implement Mugabe's vision".

Mliswa's rise does not come as a surprise to those who know him. Many refer to him as the proverbial cat with nine lives because of the way he overcame various charges that had threatened to derail his political career.

When he was arrested in 2010, more than 40 charges were brought against him, but none could be substantiated in court. After he was arrested, he was detained at Mbare's notorious Matapi police cells, where conditions were once condemned by the Supreme Court as inhuman and degrading.

Serious charges
The charges against him were serious and ranged from contempt of court, public violence and assault to attempted murder, housebreaking and malicious damage to property. Cases from as far back as 2002 were revived against him.

At the time, Mliswa's arrest came weeks after he had accused Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri of corruption.

As an MP, Mliswa is also the chair of the parliamentary committee on sport and in recent years has cemented his reputation as an outspoken Zanu-PF member who does not shy away from criticising some of his party's policies.

Mliswa has previously taken issue with the way the indigenisation policy was being undertaken, and in ­Parliament he has entreated ministers not to blame everything that is wrong in Zimbabwe on sanctions imposed by Western nations.

That forthrightness has won him friends – even in organisations that are perceived to be hostile to Zanu-PF, including the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which once described him as "one of the few voices of reason in Parliament" after he backed the union's call for the government to stop importing cars and instead support local industries to create employment.

Known for his short temper, Mliswa once accused Faber Chidarikire, the minister of state responsible for Mashonaland West, of being a murderer at a party meeting after the latter was allegedly found with a human head in his car boot at a police roadblock and claimed that it belonged to an accident victim.

The lone and bold voice
No charges were laid against Chidarikire. Mliswa emerged as the lone and bold voice speaking against Chidarikire, who later sued him. Mliswa was acquitted.

Mliswa has been cited in controversial dealings with businessman Billy Rautenbach, whom he later exposed when an ethanol deal went sour, detailing how he had been paid handsomely as a "consultant" to lobby Zanu-PF ministers to safeguard Rautenbach's interests.

He was also previously accused of attempting to seize shares in Nashio Motors.

Mliswa also controversially seized a farm from white commercial farmer Paul Westwood, who said the politician had threatened him.

Furthermore, he was involved in a tug-of-war with another party stalwart, Reuben Marumahoko, over a service station close to the farm. Skirmishes between groups aligned to the two politicians left one person dead.

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