Can Mahoka last the distance?


Sarah Mahoka

Nhau Mangirazi and Idah Mhetu

KAROI — Hurungwe East Member of Parliament Sarah Mahoka probably never dreamt she could one day storm onto the country’s political stage in such a dramatic manner.
Her name is currently on everyone’s lips. Be it in pubs, eateries or kombis, a conversation is not complete without delving into the heroic antics or foolishness of Mahoka, whose razor-sharp tongue is the talk of the town.
Not much was known about her until last week when she stirred a hornet’s nest. Her political space, as of last year and the other years gone by, had been confined to Mashonaland West where she is the provincial chairperson of the ZANU-PF Women’s League.
In Mashonaland West itself, her political weight hardly counted when compared to that of Ignatius Chombo, Edna Madzongwe, Patrick Zhuwao and Faber Chidarikire, among others, whose closeness to the highest office in the land gives them an aura of invincibility.
And yet while these other seasoned politicians, perhaps with the exception of Zhuwao, are guarded in their approach to the fierce succession battles playing out in the ruling party, Mahoka has taken her gloves off. She seems to be going for the jugular.
Last week, she dared Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa — the man considered a shoe in for the presidency in the event that the veteran ZANU-PF leader calls it a day in politics.
Not mincing her words, Mahoka challenged “the crocodile” — as the Vice President is affectionately known — to spell out his ambitions as far as the succession issue is concerned.
For someone without any known liberation war credentials to embarrass a whole Vice President in front of a capacity crowd, her exploits are unprecedented.
The “crocodile” did not respond, probably bidding for his time. The multi-million dollar question is: Would that time ever come?
For more than two decades, Mnangagwa’s name and that of Joice Mujuru featured prominently among those of ZANU-PF bigwigs jostling to succeed President Mugabe.
The ugly succession race — with its twists and turns — has had the effect of creating too many centres of power within the governing party, eventually leading to the dramatic ouster of Mujuru and more than 200 of her acolytes for plotting to unconstitutionally unseat President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country for 36 years and still counting.
Nonetheless, the succession fires have raged on with President Mugabe and his wife, Grace Mugabe, increasingly getting agitated by the failure by ZANU-PF members to take heed of their calls to end the infighting.
In all this, not even the President, let alone his wife have had the audacity to mention Mnangagwa by name.
Mahoka did just that last week by venturing where angels fear to tread without batting an eye.
A week before, she said as much to a local daily; but sensing she could have probably used the wrong platform to get across her message, Mahoka took it a step further last week by addressing Mnangagwa right in his face.
To a lot of people, it marked indiscipline of the highest order.
Many are therefore watching with bated breath to see if Mahoka could get away with it.
With indiscipline reigning supreme in the party, she might not be losing sleep after all.
Many will recall Mujuru’s juniors, among them Justice Mayor Wadyajena and Psychology Maziwisa, shouting on top of their voices, accusing her of being unfit to hold office.
Because these were simply following orders from their handlers, who knew exactly how the Mujuru script was going to end, their bravery became a badge of honor that was to later earn them top positions.
Mahoka might similarly escape censure and probably get rewarded with a higher post, but only if she continues to play her cards well.
What many people are waiting to see is how Mnangagwa will react to such public ridicule.
He is no ordinary politician.
A highly calculating and crafty politician, Mnangagwa has for decades maintained a strong influence in ZANU-PF’s scheme of things.
He is one of the distinguished fighters of the liberation struggle, and probably the longest serving minister in President Mugabe’s Cabinet.
For more than 52 years, he has walked side-by-side with the President, and gets consulted whenever there are critical matters to be dealt with.
In political circles, they call him “ngwena” or crocodile because of his astuteness and precision in taking on his rivals.
Juxtapose that with Mahoka, who was only 14 when the country gained its independence from Britain, the mystery begins to unfold.
Born in the mid 60s, Mahoka does not feature in ZANU-PF’s top organs namely the Politburo, Central Committee and the National Consultative Assembly.
She is considered too junior within the party’s ranks, with her only claim to fame being by virtue of her position in the Women’s wing, otherwise known as the Women’s League where she holds the finance portfolio.
Analysts are of the view that her Dutch courage stems from her alliance with a powerful force behind her called Generation 40 (G40) as well as her limited education which makes her vulnerable to manipulation.
A deadly combination of G40 and the Women’s League has turned Mnangagwa’s world upside-down, with the Vice President losing his foot soldiers through votes-of-no-confidence and suspensions.
So far G40 appears to be having an upper hand, with their targets facing a perilous future in ZANU-PF.
The fact that Mahoka has survived where other bigwigs are falling despite her limited education means her political judgment could be spot on.
Political commentator, Alexander Rusero, believes that what is currently happening in ZANU-PF has long been part of its DNA.
“All these skirmishes that are taking place in ZANU-PF are a radical move and this is a tough talk that has always been there in the party. The (G40) click is now powerful and now sets the agenda and whoever has their support is capable of making such threats.
“It is not correct (though) for Mahoka to say such words in public and failure to comply will lead her somewhere else because these are serious threats. We saw it happening in 2014 against former vice president Joice Mujuru and this is just the radicalisation method used in ZANU-PF…”
In an interview with the Financial Gazette, Mahoka described herself as “just a rural woman from Hurungwe who stands by the truth”.
She has been in ZANU-PF for 25 years; growing up in Chisape — an area near Magunje Growth Point.
Her humble beginnings follow that of any typical village girl or boy whose dream can only get fulfilled the moment lady luck smiles on them. It was Marko Madiro (now late), who opened the doors for her when he recruited Mahoka to work as an agro-dealer.
At the time, Madiro was the lawmaker for Hurungwe West.
Mahoka was registered under the Agro Dealers Association of Zimbabwe; then led by Walter Mzembi, now the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality. The association had a network of clients across the country, with its core business being that of selling agricultural inputs to communal farmers.
It was a business that horned Mahoka’s political skills, especially at the grassroots, where she is known for her hard work and immense mobilisation prowess.
She was first elected as MP in 2008; she is the only female legislator in Hurungwe district, which has five constituencies, all under ZANU-PF.
Another of the Madiro brothers to play a huge part in shaping Mahoka’s political career was Phone, although word has it that they are no longer on talking terms owing to the infighting in ZANU-PF.
Like all politicians, Mahoka has proved not to have permanent friends — only permanent interests. She is also cunning — a side to her that a lot of her former colleagues only got to know after the tables had been turned against them.
These include Phone Madiro, Davison Mufunga (now late), Temba Mliswa and Reuben Marumahoko.
In the race for the Mashonaland West provincial Women’s League chairperson, Mahoka taught then powerful Constance Tsomondo, wife to the party’s former political commissar, Webster Shamu, a painful lesson.
Tsomondo lost the race and was eventually ejected from the party via the now too familiar vote of no confidence route after she was accused of fueling factionalism, and abusing her political office.
Her ouster came soon after Mahoka had challenged her and that challenge signaled Tsomondo’s fall along with that of her husband, Webster.
Mliswa, the outspoken former Mashonaland West chairman and ex-Hurungwe West MP could only describe Mahoka’s outburst on Mnangagwa as “interesting,” before terminating the telephone conversion with the Financial Gazette.
He was, however, quoted earlier saying Mahoka was nothing, but an opportunist who was using the First Family to achieve her political ambitions.
Many tend to agree with him.
“Mahoka has disappointed many party members and she has the guts to say so without fear. Our major concern is will Mnangagwa become her latest victim,” said one party member who declined to be named.
“If the truth be told, she was part of the team that helped Mnangagwa rise to the Vice Presidency when they fought vice president Mujuru and we are surprised that she has jumped the ship now. It is a matter of time before her colleagues see her true political colours,” he added.
Political scientist, Eldred Masunungure contends that what Mahoka had done was a bit overzealous and she should, in fact, apologise.
“She should apologise to VP Mnangagwa because if something happens she would be liable. It was impolitic for someone who holds a senior position in the Women’s League to threaten the Vice President. Mahoka needs to use temperate language when addressing public rallies.”
Mahoka is married to Luckson Mahoka, whom she has three grown up children with.
In 2006, she was allocated a farm in Karoi. Overnight she was transformed from being a peasant farmer to a commercial farmer.
“I was a communal farmer before I was allocated a farm at Munandi. As for farming, I try my best. Last year, I delivered 455 tonnes of maize to the Grain Marketing Board,’’ she said.
Munandi farm is situated about 15 kilometres east of Karoi.
Her portion of the farm measures 300 hectares. The other 600 hectares were subdivided to accommodate a private school (300 hectares) and an orphanage (300 hectares).
Because of this year’s poor rainfall, Mahoka was forced to reduce her hectarage to 20 hectares of seed maize, 45 hectares under tobacco and 55 hectares of commercial maize. In terms of farming, its a tough year for everyone including Mahoka. Politically, controversy has become Mahoka’s stock in trade. But will she last the distance: Only time will tell.