Zanu-PF's Chinotimba gets a makeover

Invader: Joseph Chinotimba talks to journalists after visiting the then chief justice, Anthony Gubbay, at the Supreme Court in 2001. (AP)

Invader: Joseph Chinotimba talks to journalists after visiting the then chief justice, Anthony Gubbay, at the Supreme Court in 2001. (AP)

When war veterans' leader Joseph Chinotimba was elected MP for the Buhera South constituency in Harare on a Zanu-PF ticket in July debate raged over whether the electorate had made a mistake in choosing a barely-educated man with a not-so-rosy past to represent them in Parliament.

Chinotimba, popularly known as "Chinoz", is viewed by many as a caricature who is not to be taken seriously because of his lack of a formal education – he is the butt of many jokes on social media that depict him as a fool.

In the 2008 elections he tried his hand at politics, standing as a Zanu-PF candidate in Buhera South. He lost, but tried again this year and delivered a win that shocked many.

The former Harare city council security guard rose to infamy during the 2000 land invasions when he and the combative war veterans' leader, Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, led takeovers of white-owned commercial farms.

In his then trademark straw hat, Chinotimba styled himself "commander-in-chief" of the land invaders and menacing pictures of him mercilessly driving out white farmers found their way into the mainstream media.

He told the Mail & Guardian this week that he is "clean" and a "committed servant of the people".

Standing accused
Chinotimba campaigned for Zanu-PF in the 2002 presidential elections and the 2005 parliamentary elections. Some of the media accused him of being involved in many incidents of violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in that period.

"Have you ever seen me attacking anyone?" he said when asked about his alleged involvement in political violence.
"Why would people vote for me if I am violent? Would you vote for someone who beats you up? I am not violent at all, it's you people in the media who write that I am violent. I am a Christian and go to the Zion Church. Does someone who worships God get involved in violence?"

This week Chinotimba made the headlines again after MDC MP Settlement Chikwinya read a list in parliament of people he said were murdered by Chinotimba. Chinotimba charged at Chikwinya pointing and shouting at him in protest.

Chinotimba is remembered for his infamous 2001 invasion of the Supreme Court in Harare, where he confronted then Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay in his chambers and threatened him, accusing the judge of frustrating the land reform programme.

The court had ruled that although there was a need for land redistribution to correct imbalances brought about by colonialism, property rights had to be respected.

Gubbay, who had also fallen out of favour with the government, which labelled him a "liar", a "racist" and a "British plant" resigned from his post after Chinotimba's threats.

Independence of the judiciary guaranteed
In return for his departure Gubbay extracted written guarantees that the government would respect the independence of the judiciary and that "no steps will be taken to unlawfully cause the suspension, removal or resignation of any of the judges of Zimbabwe".

Asked about the Gubbay threats, Chinotimba said: "Was Gubbay beaten? I just told him: ‘Gubbay please leave us alone with our country.' It was a short conversation and nothing happened. Gubbay just told me: ‘OK, I understand' and after that he went to his country and I remained in my country."

He said everything he did in relation to the land reform programme was justified because "that was war".

This included occupying a plot of land in the suburb of Mabelreign, where he built himself a house, although the land was apparently reserved for the construction of a church.

When the Harare city council demolished all illegal structures in urban areas during Operation Murambatsvina, Chinotimba's house was spared.

He refused to talk to the M&G about his Mabelreign house, saying the matter was in court.

"I live with the people"
"The journalists who write that I invaded the land will have to provide proof of the invasion," he said.

"I live with the people. I don't live in Harare any more because the people there did not vote for me. I have a permanent home here [in Buhera] because this is where I come from."

Chinotimba is fast gaining a reputation as a person who is responsive to the problems faced by the people in his constituency.

He has taken advantage of his presence in Parliament to raise sometimes unconventional subjects such as the severe hunger and transport problems faced by some of his constituents.

The authorities have acted swiftly, sending in food aid and ordering transport operators to stick to government-approved timetables.

Recently, Chinotimba has been at the forefront of highlighting the problem of wild animals in his constituency, especially hyenas.

Wild animal attacks
The animals have attacked several people, including 10-year-old Noria Musapukira, who was among five people hospitalised last month after attacks.

Noria lost an eye and flesh from her upper thigh. Chinotimba was quick to help her family with medical expenses and drove her home after she was discharged from Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare.

He also raised money to pay bills for other victims of the attacks – all, of course, in the media spotlight.

In his maiden speech in Parliament Chinotimba bemoaned the continuing inequalities in Zimbabwe. Although he sometimes sounds coarse and incoherent because of his limited ability to express himself in English, he gets his points across.

But many in his constituency love him and some residents say they are seeing another side of the fiery parliamentarian.

Already they can see "results", they say. He has sourced funds to paint schools and repair and construct bridges and is in the process of building a clinic.

When asked by the M&G where he is getting the money to fund such projects, Chinotimba was not amused: "That is a very rough question. I don't have money so I beg from companies and well-wishers. That is what a clever MP does.

Right now we are building Chipandamudzi Clinic in ward 26, and through you I am asking the M&G to donate window frames, asbestos, roofing timber and cement.

"If you don't donate it will be clear that you are just interested in selling newspapers but do not care about the people. So tell your bosses that Chinotimba wants building material."

He said that he had approached companies such as Mbada Diamonds who had helped to pay the medical bills of those people who were attacked by hyenas, "but you media people just write that they are stealing diamonds. I am clever and know that diamonds are for everyone and they assisted. You must also assist".

Chinotimba said although he was elected on a Zanu-PF ticket everyone in the constituency would benefit from his programmes. "Whether you are MDC or Zanu-PF, it does not matter, you are mine."

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