Fadzayi Mahere was recently awarded with a full page Herald blast coverage in celebration of her decision to enter politics.
The interview was titled “Young people deserve political space: Mahere.”
CC: Advocate Mahere, you’ve decided to hang up your gloves in the citizens’ movement as an activist and enter the political space. When did this decision come about and what informed it?
FM: You say hanging up gloves, I view it as a natural progression. When I started out in that citizen debate with the RBZ Governor (Dr John Mangudya), it certainly wasn’t the plan at the time to enter into politics.
But the more I engaged with the issues, the more I engaged with the public officials, the more I engaged with the politicians themselves, the more I started to connect the dots in as far as realising that the issues are not in the mainstream about politics.
We even see it in the media. More and more we are hearing that faction X is against faction Y, politician A is against politician B and the issues have been thrown to the sidelines.
So I think it’s been an evolution. I wouldn’t say there is a specific date when this transition took place, it’s been a transition and it’s now crystallized into this desire to be part of the formal political fray.
CC: You have decided to run in the Mount Pleasant constituency, the seat is currently held by Hon Jason Passade. How do you fancy your chances and what makes you believe that you have the right qualities to represent this constituency?
FM: I think my chances are definitely strong. They are strong because the plan and the vision is to place the issues of the diverse community of Mount Pleasant right at the forefront, in the mainstream.
To relegate political party politics and sloganeering right to the bottom and put the issues that the daily man faces, the low- income person, the unemployed person, big business, small business, to get them in the frame.
A lot of what we are going to do, as you will see in our campaign, is going to be completely different. We want to completely flip the script in as far as the politics of the country is concerned. We want to move away from messages of fear, campaigns against personalities and move towards a campaign for the community.
I think my chances are really strong. We are going to tap into the youth bulge, we are going to work with students, those at the university and young students in high schools. We are going to capitalise on people within my demographic and those outside of it.
Basically, engage every single Mount Pleasant resident, ensure that they are registered to vote and ensure that they are empowered with knowledge of the law; what their rights are, what the technical issues around voting and politics are.
So I do think I have strong chances. Jason Passade, I am not going to decampaign him, obviously I’m against Zanu-PF but I will say he is our MP in Mount Pleasant but I have not seen him once in the community.
I know he held a beauty parade but the issues that we face as a constituency are much larger than that and we want to fight for the community and against the status quo.
CC: You’ve chosen to run as an independent as opposed to joining any of these established political parties, why?
FM: Well, firstly I am anti-establishment. I think my record shows that quite clearly. I also think that until young people with fresh ideas, who are not bound by the shackles of the old way of doing things rise up, we are not going to have real monumental change in Zimbabwe.
We always talk about youth participation but from a perspective of, you must register to vote, but when it comes to having our voice on the table, we are nowhere to be found. So we want a situation where the young, who have the largest group that is eligible to vote, we want the strength of our numbers to translate to actually having a voice that is taken seriously in the formal political arena.
Independent because, like I said, I don’t want to be bound by issues that are political party based, the politics of faction X, faction Y, the politics of trying to find a position. I want to put the community at the forefront.
I have seen as we have engaged over the last year or so that sometimes politicians don’t champion things. You see unlawful announcements being made by the RBZ and the politicians are quiet. Where are they? We don’t hear their voice.
An announcement is made flippantly, it’s unlawful, you don’t hear the parliamentarians taking the issue up. After bond notes are introduced that’s when the decision is made to conduct public hearings but it’s all now a fait accompli.
We don’t want that. We want people who are constantly on the ball, constantly watching and civic engagement to be heightened. We want people to get away from a position of apathy, we want young people to feel like they’ve got space within the political arena because until they have this space they won’t have hope.
The young people have a vested interest in the future because 20 years from now we will be here and we want a positive lived experience for Zimbabwe, we know the potential it has. Some of the older people don’t always have the vested interest of the future at heart and you see it sometimes with the levels of corruption and plunder and we don’t want that.
I think right now, the best space for me and the best way for me to carry out those wishes is to stand as an independent.
CC: There’s been a lot of criticism, from all sides, since you announced your intention to run. One of the arguments that some in the MDC-T have made is that you are splitting the vote. How would you respond to that?
FM: Well, I think if we are to be true to democracy we have to be true to choice and I think what should be at the fore at all times is not party politics but the issues of the community. The person who can best represent the interests of the community is the person whose voice should be pegged to represent people.
I don’t think the notion of splitting votes is an accurate one. The best man should win and it also carries an error of taking the electorate for granted. It’s like saying “Look your vote should come to me, no one else should contest it”.
Well, let people fight for the votes they believe they deserve. This sense of entitlement to a person’s vote is what’s led us to this place where MPs are not always fighting for the best interests of the people because it’s a foregone conclusion they believe that they will be voted for.
So I don’t think the vote splitting analysis is correct. That said, I have nothing against the MDC. I have something against the status quo and we all know that the MP of Mount Pleasant currently is Zanu-PF, so I think the whole notion of splitting votes falls away there. So let’s fight for progress, we don’t want the vote for progress to be split.
CC: Other critics have said your father was a permanent secretary in the Zanu-PF Government and also that you used the citizens’ movement as a platform to launch your political career. How do you respond to these allegations that have been raised?
FM: So, as I hear your question there are two issues, firstly the question of my dad. I think it’s regrettable that people would say because you are someone’s daughter you have no mind of your own, you have no political conscience of your own. That’s completely false.
My dad is also a top mathematician, but it doesn’t make me one. It’s a fallacious argument. I think the references to me being a Zanu-PF baby are insulting and offensive and have no space in a true democracy where women, young people of full capacity have the agency to make their own decisions and their own political choices.
I think my father can speak for himself and I can speak for myself and decisions across the board must be respected in that respect.
Coming to the question of whether I used the citizens’ movement to advance my career. Absolutely not. The day that I was called on to speak at that debate, I didn’t have this grand plan in my head that one day I am going to run for MP. In fact, I was stepping out of my comfort zone.
But because of the general lack of awareness, particularly around the legal side of the bond notes issue, I stepped and said, “Look I must speak out, no one else is speaking out, I must do something”.
I am someone who doesn’t stop, my growth game is strong. Evolution is something that I fully embrace. I also think that to say that I used the citizens’ movement is not accurate. At all times it’s been a question of service. Service without payment, without thanks, not that we are looking for it.
There is nothing that can be gained from saying that we used it in that regard. I will always remain supportive of any initiative which gives the citizens a greater voice. That will always be a part of me, the ideals that This Flag stands for is something that I will always collaborate in pushing forward.
Like I said, it’s not about me at this stage, it’s about the community. I have two choices, either I sit on the sides and be a complainer or I be the change I want to see in the community and I choose the latter.
CC: You then have another group who would say that you are a puppet of the West. You were in the USA recently for a conference where you were speaking about social movements and that sort of thing. So is there a case to be made there, that you are being sponsored by the West? Also considering that elections and campaigning are an expensive exercise to run.
FM: By the time we get to this question we can already see that the theories and the analyses are falling apart. I am my dad’s puppet, I am a Western puppet, I mean the theories are just so contradictory and yet the truth is I stand for what I believe in. I stand for the truth and I want to represent the community.
I am not Western funded. I will go so far as to say I am a self-made woman. I have been in (legal)practice now for close to 10 years.
When I went to go and speak at Harvard it was part of an academic discussion. It was an African development conference; I am an African development enthusiast. I didn’t get paid for doing so, in fact I flew myself there to participate and speak out on issues that I viewed as important.
I have not received a cent from a Western donor and we don’t intend to. This is a community- driven campaign. We want Zimbabweans locally and abroad to participate, get involved and sometimes because of time constraints and other things putting their dollar to the campaign is what someone can do.
Campaigns are expensive as you know so we do need and we are trying to raise it locally. We are not getting it from any foreign source.
Lastly, on the Western-funded notion, I have got a brain on my head and I use it. I don’t need anyone in the West to come and tell me what is wrong with Zimbabwe. I can analyse that for myself.
So again it’s offensive and insulting to suggest that I need a Western man or woman to come and direct or dictate to me what I need to do. Independent in the true sense; independent of political party politics, independent of Western funding.
That said, I am happy to learn, I am a learner. I read politics, politics in Africa, politics in the West and I see the trends and phenomena that are going on. I am happy to embrace debates around those things and I am happy to engage people from all over the world to discuss their experiences.
I am inspired by a lot of politicians abroad so I will read into them, I will talk to British, American, South African, Namibian, Botswana politicians. I am a citizen of the world obviously in addition to being a citizen of Zimbabwe, but not sponsored.
CC: I’ve seen on your website that you are aiming to raise $30 000 for your campaign. How did you come to this figure? Also what is your level of preparedness now that you have launched the website and set off your campaign?
FM: We’ve got a firm plan in place which spans the whole 12-month period. Obviously, the launch was the very first step. We are then going to go into three-month volunteer campaign where we step out into the community and we explore what issues the different constituents face.
I know what my issues are but I don’t want to be prescriptive inasfar as telling every single resident of our constituency what they should be aiming for. Also Mount Pleasant constituency is such a beautiful and diverse community. The issues that the different demographics face are different and we want to explore every single one.
We want every constituent to believe that their voice is important and will be counted. So we are going to take the next three months to do that. We have got a sign- up programme for our volunteers. We are going to go through training, there is a volunteer pack in place so we are ready for that.
Thereafter, we are going to step into full campaign mode where we go and launch all of our ideas following the gathering that we would have done. Thereafter, the legal stuff kicks in, nomination court and that sort of thing.
We want voter registration to start immediately. You will no doubt be aware that there is a class action currently in motion, so the voter registration drive is going to be at the centre of our campaign.
And even though we are obviously focusing on Mount Pleasant we want every single young person, middle- aged person, old person in urban and rural Zimbabwe to register to vote. Section 67 of the Constitution is clear, that is part of our constitutional right.
So we are going to launch a massive voter registration campaign and then obviously it’s going to culminate in the formal nomination process, etc. So the money that we intend to raise is going to be in place to support those volunteers.
We have got a budget in place that I think is publicly available or will be shortly. We have got a barometer that is going to show exactly how much we have raised. We want to run an open, transparent, energetic and new sort of campaign.
So our state of preparedness is we are as prepared as we will ever be. We will deal with challenges as they come. We are not naïve about the obstacles that we face; we understand that the electoral landscape is a tough one, but we are ready.
We are going to do everything within the bounds of the law to ensure that people participate to the maximum. We want election time in Zimbabwe to be a time of positivity, hope and inspiration, we don’t want it to be a time where people are filled with despair, apathy and where there is violence.
That’s at the centre of our campaign and we want that theme to permeate for the next 12 months and thereafter. I am not living for the campaign. Politicians tend to live for election day.
We want a new political culture in Zimbabwe where the time between elections is actually the most important, where you are now implementing the wishes of the people you have promised to serve.
We want a politics that is about service and not about privilege. We want to eradicate the chef culture; we want our chefs to be the community. The young man, the young woman, the old man, old woman; we want those people to be at the forefront.
The campaign should not end and will not end once the results are announced. Even thereafter we want a new culture where people are fully engaged with the issues that affect them and work towards solutions for those problems.
CC: Lastly, there are new political formations that have also come about, are you seeking alliances with any of these new political formations or other independent candidates who might follow in your footsteps and declare their intention to stand for political office?
FM: So far I am an independent candidate standing alone, if another young person says that they would like to do the same I will fully support them. I will support anybody who wants to make a change in the country, puts their hand up and is bold enough to say “Yes, I will step out and do something”.
Not aligned to any political party. Obviously there is a question around coalitions, will I be a part of them and so on. What you will note is that no coalition has crystallised yet, it looks like people are still in discussion.
While we remain open to those discussions we want to drive straight away the agenda of the community. We will be aligned to anybody whose ideals align with ours, anyone who has got a message of hope, inspiration, positive change, active citizenry. Who can fight against that?