By Tichaona Sibanda
When the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda famously stated that ‘even if we field a baboon as a candidate in a parliamentary election, if you are ZANU PF you vote for that baboon’— not many people knew why he said that.
Mzee as he was famously known in ZANU PF circles went on to thunder that as ‘vice-president of Zimbabwe, when Robert Mugabe is not around, I run the country and if a court sentences you death, you will hang if I append my signature on your death warrant.’
The day was Friday, June 16, 2000 and there was a good reason for his quick open expression of anger. The Vice-President was addressing a political rally at Ngundu halt in Masvingo. It was a poorly attended rally, let alone a political gathering to be addressed by the country’s second most powerful person.
Word soon went around that Paradza Mandebvu, the former ZANU PF MP for Chivi South and a protégé of Eddison Zvobgo, had been in the area discouraging people not to attend.
Weeks earlier, Mandebvu had lost the party nomination to seek re-election. Masvingo Municipality Town treasurer Charles Majange was the party’s nominee for the constituency. He belonged to then Governor Josiah Hungwe’s faction, whose godfather was Muzenda.
When the Vice-President arrived for the rally in Ngundu, after all the hype of a gathering not to be missed, he was not amused by the low turn-out. I could put the figure at less than a hundred.
I covered the event as a reporter for the ZBC with cameraman, Francis Bingadadi. The Herald was represented by Isdore Guvamombe, now based at Herald House in Harare.
From my vantage point of view, I saw Governor Hungwe whisper something into Muzenda’s ear, and that seemed to have caught his attention. He stared into the crowd in amazement…must have taken about 5 seconds before he responded.
‘Ndirikunzwa kuti Mandebvu arikufamba achirambidza vanhu kuuya parally pano. Iye naZvobgo vakuda kuzviita vakuru vemusangano. And who is Zvobgo after all. (I hear Mandebvu is moving around Ngundu, discouraging people from attending this rally. He and Zvobgo want to be big headed in the party).
This reaction led to the now famous ‘baboon’ statement. But what jolted me to write this, is the fact that on Tuesday, I received a message from Ray Mungoshi, former Editor of the Herald, telling me Mandebvu passed away in Masvingo on Monday.
Gillette Contour, as we used to call him whose dance floor routines left many green with envy died a poor man.
He was involved in a serious car accident years ago in Johannesburg that left him needing a walking stick. The troubling leg was later amputated but the man who invoked the fury of Simon Muzenda eventually succumbed to diabetes. R.I.P