Meet one of the women challenging Robert Mugabe in 2018

by GRACE MUTANDWA | Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe goes back to the polls in 2018. The political terrain is still unpredictable and the odds favour the ruling party which has state resources at its disposal.

New and younger political players breaming with confidence and more importantly fresh ideas have stormed onto the scene. Strategies and counter strategies are being moulded, fine-tuned and debated among the new political aspirants.

Marcellina Chikasha nee Muchemwa is one of the young people keen on changing the political and economic fortunes of Zimbabwe. At 45 she has watched her country driven into the ground by a political leadership lacking in vision, principles of good governance and respect for the rule of law.

“I’m an accountant by profession but I have always had a passion for real and sustainable development. My hunger for politics that serve citizens saw me gravitate towards political participation. Like so many other Zimbabweans I’m tired of self-serving leadership and corruption,” said Chikasha.

In a country where the established opposition parties are not keen on new entrants, she reasons that every political party will have a different impact. There have been calls for the opposition to form an electoral alliance against 93-year-old Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF, but ‘there are both young and old people not keen on any of the established parties.’ The argument that more new people seeking political power will split the vote has been discounted by some potential voters as unfair and informed by an unwarranted sense of entitlement.

Chikasha admits that politics is a numbers game but also points out that there are people who would not vote if they did not feel they had the right people to vote for. She noted that votes can only be split where parties have shared values and principles and voters are forced to choose between candidates of similar standing. In the current scenario, there are committed members of established parties who would never vote any other way but there is also a growing population of disgruntled voters who feel there is more to politics than just the urge to fill positions.

“One could easily be intimidated by numbers in a march or rally but the question is how does that march or rally impact the lives of the people? How does a march benefit people? Politics should not just be about numbers but about tangible sustainable development and also about good leadership craft,” she emphasised.

A beneficiary of the British Council Interaction Leadership Programme, Chikasha, is also a philanthropist. She is the founder of Tavavanhu, a youth organisation that seeks to ignite a passion for Africa in the continent’s young population and also how to be problem solvers.

She also established Kuyamurana Trust, a charity organisation which works with orphans and underprivileged children in rural areas. She strongly believes in putting in place programmes that uplift livelihoods.

“Under Kuyamurana we have infrastructural projects that include sinking boreholes and provision of toilets for groups that look after orphans.”

More pertinent to the country’s current political and economic quagmire is Chikasha’s birthing of her party, African Democratic Party (ADP). This was launched in 2014 after she had been approached by some young men who felt she had the capacity to lead. The small team identified gaps in political growth and meaningful leadership based on their shared values and principles.

A highly spiritual woman, Chikasha, prayed over this new avenue. “This was a very serious request from these young men and I strongly believe that once you accept a position of leadership you can’t afford to let people down. We were naïve and ignorant when we started but we brainstormed and discussed how to start a political party,” she explained in a soft measured voice.

Her journey started with seeking the advice and guidance of fellow women in leadership. A colleague with whom she sat on the board of some organisation suggested she talk to Sekai Holland, a seasoned politician. Holland a former senior member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, was at that particular moment on the verge of switching political allegiance.

“I have resisted joining existing political parties because there was no easy fit for me. I also didn’t want to be a token member but someone who could contribute to the development of the country. Determined not to join any of the parties on the ground I got in touch with Mrs Holland. I found her very generous and helpful. Although our political paths were different, Mrs Holland was very encouraging and devoted time to walk me through some of the issues I needed clarified,” she added.

Chikasha would like to lead Zimbabwe one day but she is one of those rare selfless leaders who believe that if opposition parties agreed on a capable leader who could move the country forward she would support that candidate. It is in this spirit of cooperation that her African Democratic Party joined the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA). The MDC-T chairs the group which draws membership from 12 parties. (Originally13)

NERA was established in 2015 to work on and lobby for electoral reforms, promote voter registration, put in place mechanisms to carry out voter education and demolish the mystery around elections. But Chikasha’s party recently resigned from NERA because; “The direction was no longer what we had agreed on. There was greater concern about filling positions than working for the greater good of the country. We were also spreading ourselves too thinly because we are also a member of the Coalition of Democrats (CODE).”

“We remain in CODE because it is a meaningful coalition with clear guidelines and is well structured. We agree that we should field one presidential candidate for the good of our country. I know I’m capable of being that leader, I have something of value to bring to the table but I have also learnt the value of working with others and the importance of identifying not just a willing candidate but a capable one. We have to be selfless to move the country forward,” she reasoned out.

She added that while it was important to place on record the issue of electoral reforms it was vital for parties to work on the understanding that Zanu PF would not reform itself out of power. Chikasha said given the uneven environment there was a need for opposition parties to work hard in mobilising people to register as voters and also to ensure that when the time comes they go out in large numbers to vote. Bickering over positions would only detract from the important work of ensuring that as many people as possible were registered.

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Marcellina Chikasha. Image: Grace Mutandwa

On the issue of deferring to some leaders because of liberation war credentials or because they had been in opposition longer, Chikasha said unequivocally, “In 2018 we don’t need someone with a war background or someone whose claim to leadership is that of being a longstanding opposition leader. It has to be beyond that. We don’t want to be ageists but we feel it is time for a young leader – someone with new and positive ideas, someone who is flexible and one who respects diversity. Liberating people or being first in opposition has been oversung and overdone and should not be a prerequisite for the top job.”

She spoke passionately of exorcising the country of its greatest weakness which she said boiled down to dispassionate leadership devoid of clear values and principles. She said 2018 would require real leaders to make personal sacrifices, set aside their agendas and back a candidate who would run against Zanu PF.

Winding up in the spirit of CODE, she emphasised that it was vital that the country respect and uphold Constitutionalism, leaders nurture and encourage an inclusive national vision, promote national healing, discourage violence, work to eradicate corruption and impunity and encourage the dignity of honest work and service.