After making her name as an actor in the popular local drama Studio 263, Tatenda Mavetera became MP in 2018. But she fast gained recognition to the extent that as one of the youngest MPs in her early 30s, she is now occasionally assigned to act as Speaker of the National Assembly in the absence of Jacob Mudenda and his deputy Tsitsi Gezi. The following are excerpts of an interview NewsDay (ND) senior parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa had with Mavetera (TM) on different national issues pertaining to her status as MP.
ND: Who is honourable Mavetera and what were your childhood experiences like?
TM: Tandera Mavetera is the Proportional Representation (PR) legislator for Chikomba constituency. I acquired a Masters degree in strategic marketing and am currently doing PhD in business studies. I grew up in Gweru where I did my primary education at Riverside Primary School and then later went to Nashville High School. I did “A” Levels at a private college because during that time, I was an actor for the Studio 263 drama and I needed to juggle between acting and acquiring an education because acting was a full-time job.
ND: What really motivated you to leave the arts sector for politics?
TM: I will be lying to myself if I say that I left the arts and entertainment industry. Acting is still close to my heart. I believe it is the foundation that made me who I am today. A house without a foundation will certainly collapse. Acting was a stepping stone for me. I appreciate that I was an actor because it made me the politician that I am today and gave me confidence.
ND: One of the main highlights of your political career is that this is your first term in Parliament, but already you are in the chairman’s panel as acting Speaker. How has been the experience of being in that position?
TM: Up to now, it still seems like a dream for me that I am actually an assistant Speaker in the National Assembly. It is God’s Grace, because there are some things that God does that one will not be able to understand. It is a huge honour and a rare privilege. I take this privilege very seriously with a lot of respect. For me this is a learning curve and I believe that every stage which we pass through in life is meant to propel one to understand and appreciate things differently. This post made me more mature and gave me greater understanding of legal issues, parliamentary procedure and what is expected of legislators in Parliament.
ND: There is a lot of heckling in the National Assembly. What difficult situations have you come across and how have you dealt with them?
TM: The difficult situations in the Speaker’s chair include instances when the opposition MPs might think that you are taking sides. But I have always tried to be very fair and ensure that I treat Zanu PF and opposition MPs the same. At times as Acting Speaker, you have to order an MP to sit down because they will be trying to belittle other legislators in Parliament. Everyday has been a challenge for me because there is a lot of heckling from the opposition, but I take each day as it comes and appreciate it.
ND: There has been gender-based violence in Parliament and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus complained of female MPs harassment before in the House. How have you dealt with this as acting Speaker?
TM: We have had a lot of gender-based violence (GBV) from male MPs, especially targeted at women. Most of these sexist comments are only meant to distract women and ensure they lose confidence when speaking in Parliament. Men feel belittled by women that speak sense in Parliament. But women must not lose confidence due to sexual harassment and sexist comments from men. There are men who attend Parliament always and their specialty is to heckle other MPs. So as women we need to be focused, resilient and show agility.
ND: You came through the PR quota. Of what benefit is it to women and the general public. Should the PR quota continue?
TM: We need to look at the PR system in its totality. It was meant to empower women to ensure that they occupy decision-making positions. A PR MP is also involved in the legislative process of the whole country. We have had constitutional amendments and we are happy that there is still that acknowledgement that women are important, but we also need to ensure that we achieve the 50/50 gender representation as stipulated in the Constitution in order to mainstream women into politics. I feel that our best bet would be to strive to achieve 50/50 gender representation. The 50/50 gender representation should be implemented together with the PR system to ensure women are in decision-making processes. If you want to build a nation, you must empower a woman.
To say that the PR system is not effective is just an opinion. I have addressed a lot of important platforms and this shows that people out there recognise the role of female MPs under the PR system. I can also argue and say that some male MPs are not effective because there are a few men that contribute to meaningful debate in Parliament. We should also look at the issues that make males more dominant than women.
It is because men take politics as a career, but women do so in order to help the people. Women are very genuine when it comes to their representational roles. Men behave as if at the end of it all they will get a degree in politics. Men also have more experience in politics and that is why they speak more than women. PR has produced very vocal female MPs like Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC), Dorcas Sibanda and Concillia Chinanzvavana (recalled MDC Alliance MPs). There are also PR MPs like Miriam Chikukwa who chairs the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government and ministers like Jennifer Mhlanga (Women’s Affairs deputy minister), and others that are PR legislators. So PR MPs are actually effective. We need to build women so that they progress.
ND: You are also passionate about youth issues, do you think enough has been done to empower the youth?
TM: We want to appreciate what we have so far. We need to know what we want. We have 70% of the population being under 45 years. Youths can either go for the PR system or first past the post. However, the playing ground is not even for the youths. Young people have not been exposed to a lot of resources to get political positions.
The best thing is for an affirmative programme for youths which then ensures that young people get more seats considering their population so that they are economically empowered, and get tender awards — because what is currently happening is that it is the old usual people that are getting these tenders. For young people to be involved in the economy, they need a quota.
We thank our President Emmerson Mnangagwa who has said young people should get land to have them productive in agriculture. We are happy that the National Youth Policy which is being crafted will empower young people. If these issues are legislated, it means that they are enforceable and those that don’t comply can be held in contempt.
ND: Any other political ambitions?
TM: Most of these positions are appointments. I still need to learn a lot and grow. I also need to ensure that I perform well in the position that I currently hold. If I do perform well, then I would have done great service for myself before I become too ambitious.
As young people whenever we are offered positions, let us deliver, but refrain from being overzealous. Be humble and learn and the Lord will lift you up.