Some will say it’s politically shrewd. Other may feel it smacks of desperation. President Robert Mugabe, gearing up for elections in Zimbabwe, has been quick to secure a celebrity endorsement — from a Big Brother contestant.
Mugabe organised a hero’s welcome — and a cheque for $300 000 — for Zimbabwean Munyaradzi Chidzonga after he finished runner-up in the continent-wide reality show Big Brother Africa All Stars.
The move appears to have paid off, with Chidzonga swearing allegiance to the 86-year-old leader and saying he would answer the call if asked to campaign for him.
“If President Mugabe invited you into politics would you say no?” Chidzonga (24) was quoted as saying by media in Zimbabwe. “He’s a great man. Yes, he has had his ups and downs, but if he invited me I would feel much obliged. I would be much obliged. I think that anything the president asks me to do, I will do.”
Mugabe is hardly known for a love of popular culture but may feel that Chidzonga’s performance on Big Brother Africa has political capital. Many Zimbabweans were outraged when he was narrowly beaten by Nigeria’s Uti Nwachukwu to the $200 000 first prize, arguing that the voting had been manipulated to satisfy the bigger Nigerian audience.
Chidzonga — an actor whose nickname is Diamond Boy — was frequently seen on the show draped in the Zimbabwean national flag and expressed a wish to meet Mugabe. His wish was granted as soon as he returned home to crowds at Harare airport and a visit to the State House in the city.
‘Honesty, sense of humour’
Mugabe reportedly told Chidzonga: “I didn’t think you would survive because you looked so young, perhaps the youngest of them all.
“It was Nigeria versus Zimbabwe and Nigeria is a very big country, so you deferred to Nigeria. But both of you won and from our point of view, for us, you were the winner.”
Chidzonga was later quoted as saying: “One thing I admire the most about him, honestly, is his sense of humour. I mean he’s just a man at the end of the day.
“It’s his sense of humour and intellect. That’s something that I have never met in another man.”
State television showed Mugabe presenting Chidzonga with a cheque for $300 000 raised by businessmen including the millionaire property tycoon Phillip Chiyangwa, a nephew of Mugabe and former Zanu-PF MP.
Some commentators argue that Mugabe has hijacked Chidzonga’s fame in a bid to capture the votes of young people from the rival Movement for Democratic Change. He recently declared that the country’s fragile unity government should be allowed to expire in February ahead of fresh elections, though many fear this will bring renewed political violence. – guardian.co.uk