Bruising contest for Norton by-election

Source: Bruising contest for Norton by-election | The Financial Gazette September 1, 2016

ONE of Zimbabwe’s most controversial sons, Temba Mliswa, is back on the prowl.
Having given the ZANU-PF party a good run for its money in June last year when he contested in his former constituency of Hurungwe West as an independent candidate after he had been booted out by the ruling party, the rubble-rousing politician is back again on the hunt in President Robert Mugabe’s very own backyard: His homeland of Mashonaland West.
Fancying his chances of returning to Parliament as an independent candidate representing Norton, after he narrowly lost to Keith Guzah in the Hurungwe West June by-election, Mliswa’s role in this latest of a series of unending by-elections the country has ever witnessed, will be multifaceted.
Refusing to be exiled to the Siberia of the country’s political playground, Mliswa will wittingly or unwittingly be the best barometer that both the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition political parties would use to test the waters ahead of 2018, especially given the prevailing season of socio-economic upheavals in the form of sporadic protests.
While also weighing the chances of an independent candidate in a country that has hardly given lone rangers much chance, Mliswa shall be putting under the spotlight the country’s electoral laws that have for ages been skewed in favour of the ruling party.
Even when the electoral laws are not in its favour, fate has “somehow” favoured the ruling party.
For instance, during the June by-elections the ruling party’s candidate, Guzah, did not vote in the elections because he was not a registered voter in Mashonaland West. He, however, was still declared the winner.
When Mliswa disputed Guzah’s victory at the High Court, he lost the case after Justice Chinembiri Bhunu ruled that a registered voter can contest for a Member of Parliament seat anywhere in the country.
Bhunu also ruled that someone’s criminal record does not disqualify them from contesting in an election after Mliswa had also tried to have Guzah disqualified using this technicality.
And with the Norton by-election having been set for just about two months from now, on October 22 – to be more precise, the former fitness trainer seems to have learnt his lessons: He is already running, and running hard, as he engages in a fervent door-to-door campaign.
The Norton House of Assembly seat fell vacant after yet another of the southern African nation’s controversial sons, Christopher Mutsvangwa, was recalled from Parliament by his former party which had chucked him out of ZANU-PF for consistently being at odds with both the party and President Mugabe over the country’s divisive and ever twisting succession debate.
President Mugabe’s unclear position as to what should happen when and if he decides to leave office, has been the major reason why people like Mliswa and Mutsvangwa keep finding themselves clutching at straws having been thrown out of ZANU-PF’s fast moving bullet train.
While obviously ZANU-PF had fancied it chances of retaining the Norton seat as highly favourable when it decided to expel Mutsvangwa from the party, Mliswa’s chances of tipping the scales in his favour and running away with the trophy range from fair to very good.
In fact his chances are brightening by the day given the continued disharmony in the ruling party that has since fielded one unknown individual called Ronald Chindedza to tough it out against Mliswa.
An immediate bonus coming Mliswa’s way is the disgruntled war veterans constituency, which recently unceremoniously parted way with ZANU-PF. This constituency has been a key element of the ruling party’s campaign machinery.
ZANU-PF, as per norm, seems to be taking Mliswa’s challenge for granted.
Mashonaland West interim chairman, Ephraim Chengeta, is upbeat on preparation for the October by-election.
“They (by-election preparations) are moving well. We are currently sorting out the campaign logistics,” said Chengeta, who immediately excused himself promising to call back last week, but was never reachable until the paper went to press.
Party national political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, was in the small town to rally troops to support the party candidate following allegations of rigging during the party’s primary elections that selected Chindedza.
While the candidate ZANU-PF has decided to settle for will prove his mantle in two months’ time, the man he is up against is definitely no push over.
This is the man who single-handedly, against all odds, garnered 4 255 votes in Hurungwe West against ZANU-PF’s winning candidate, Guzah’s 5997 after the entire ZANU-PF top hierarchy, except President Mugabe besieged Hurungwe West to drum up support for Guzah. Road construction machinery was also commandeered from all over the country to the constituency where Mliswa alleged serious intimidation that he said greatly helped ZANU-PF win the election.
But has the former Mashonaland West ZANU-PF chairman really learnt his lessons from his past brushes with the ruling party, which has denied him, at every turn, the chance to embarrass it?
“The strategy of campaigning has changed. Instead of rallies, we are doing door to door meetings. I have deployed 10 young people in each of the 16 wards in Norton who are teaching people on the ground. We learnt from Hurungwe West that rallies expose people to ZANU-PF violence because they would be identified,” said Mliswa.
“There is also one thing which has happened which is a plus to me; the defection of war veterans from ZANU-PF. They have been the rigging machine for the ruling party and now they are on my side. ZANU-PF has lost the rigging machine. War veterans wreaked havoc in Hurungwe West. They have strategies to mobilise and intimidate people into voting ZANU-PF, so thank God for the first time, the rigging machine is on the side of the independent candidate,” chuckled Mliswa.
That the rubble rouser has entered the campaign trail well ahead of ZANU-PF and is psyching up the electorate not to be intimidated might just be the clearest sign yet that the man is ready for a bruising fight in Norton.
Introducing himself in his campaign posters as “Bhuru remusha mudanga (an undisputed champion bull)”, Mliswa implores people not to be intimidated if they wanted Norton to be helped to develop in the same way Hurungwe West developed before he was booted out of ZANU-PF for undermining the party leadership, among several other charges.
Mliswa says if Norton, which incorporates both urban and farming areas, hoped to develop, then residents should vote him into parliament because he was capable of initiating the same developments he spear-headed in Hurungwe West such as maintaining roads, drilling boreholes, electrifying communities and building schools and clinics.
Occupying the corners of his campaign posters are pictures of the country’s 19th Century spirit medium, Mbuya Nehanda and the 1970s guerilla war commanders from ZANLA and ZIPRA, Josiah Tongogara and Nikita Mangena.
Despite the fact that ZANU-PF’s candidate in the Norton contest is not the best of aspirants, it is most likely that the party might, after all, not take any chances on Mliswa. Chances that for the next two months the constituency would grab the limelight are high since the area is too close to call being right in President Mugabe’s backyard of Zvimba district.
Events of 2013 are a stack reminder of that the ruling party is capable of.
Norton formerly belonged to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party before Mutsvanga grabbed it during the June 2013 elections. Violence and intimidation in the run up to that win carried the day.
Even false promises laced ZANU-PF’s campaign trail.
The heaven on earth that Mutsvanga promised Norton residents by tantalising their appetites with a giant television set at the small town’s Katanga high density suburb, never materialised. Today the giant screen is nothing, but a stake reminder of false promises. Cracking under the torture of the elements the screen sticks out like a sore thumb at a shopping centre that is now overcrowded by all sorts vendors selling anything and everything.
The small dormitory town of Harare, popular for its fish and nothing else, is still much the same as it has been for years. The industries that Mutsvangwa and his former party promised would export parts to the developed world, never came on stream. Neither did Mutsvangwa even manage to resuscitate those industries, such as G&D Shoes and Corn Textiles, that once exported to the first world in the 1990s.
Despite Mutsvangwa and his former party having failed to honour any of their pledges the ruling party will undoubtedly be out in full force in Norton in the next two months to retain the seat.