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Temba Mliswa returns to Parliament

By Andrew Kunambura

Journalists in Zimbabwe seem to have great difficulty resisting the temptation to prefix the name Temba Mliswa with rich superlatives.

Temba Mliswa
Temba Mliswa

Controversial, mercurial, outspoken, combative and valiant are some of the numerous prefixes associated with the politician.

The former fitness trainer has developed quite a thick skin to face any situation and his sharp tongue, coupled with a fiery and volcanic temper, has made him a politician in his own league.

This, definitely, is the kind of a man that those who have an affinity for drama and showmanship have been dying to see illuminating the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe.

In Mliswa, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, has Zimbabwe’s own version of Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of South Africa’s opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, to contend with.

Mliswa was voted back into Parliament last month, more than a year after he was expelled from the National Assembly for being part of Joice Mujuru’s faction in ZANU-PF, accused of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe from power.

But not all who sit in the august House view his return as a welcome development. Cabinet ministers, for example, now know that Wednesday’s question time would never be the same again with Mliswa back in Parliament.

Since his expulsion from ZANU-PF and subsequent dismissal from Parliament last year, Mliswa has been fighting the ruling party on all fronts and has never shied away from the hottest political topics in the country.

He has also formed his own pressure group, the Youth Advocacy for Reform and Democracy (YARD), composed of young people who are extremely loyal to him.

YARD played a key role in his Norton National Assembly by-election victory, matching ZANU-PF pound for pound on the campaign trail, even when the ruling party decided to turn violent.

The run up to the polls was fraught with drama and controversy – all the time with Mliswa at the centre of it all.

Those who attended the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission stakeholders’ meeting at a local hotel still recall how he dared the commission’s chairperson, Rita Makarau, unflinchingly telling her that her organisation was an unfair arbiter on elections in the country.

Makarau, as moderator at the meeting, was trying to stop him midway through his contribution, a sure way to infuriate the short-fused politician.

Trying to calm Mliswa, Makarau suggested that he comes to her office the following morning to discuss his concerns over a cup of tea. His response, which was followed by a walkout, was sharp.

“I don’t want your tea, I can make my own tea at my house,” he shot back.

With that, he became the star of the show, something he does all the time without effort. During his first stint in Parliament, when he was representing Hurungwe West, Mliswa asked arguably the toughest questions to ministers during the usually heated Wednesday question time.

Among those who were frequently at the receiving end of his sharp tongue was Agriculture Minister Joseph Made whom he asked to resign because of alleged incompetence.

Mliswa also took to task Macro-Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Minister, Obert Mpofu, asking him to reveal the source of his enormous wealth. Now that Mliswa – the only independent Member of Parliament in the legislative assembly – has no political party leash around his neck, the nation awaits unrestrained fireworks in the august House.

In fact, he has already given glimpses of what the remaining one-and-half year life of this Parliament holds.

He recently dismissed the recent 2017 National Budget consultation meeting with MPs in Bulawayo, as a waste of time and money because their input would never be considered. Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda

“I think the Minister of Finance (Patrick Chinamasa) should just tell us how much money he has budgeted for each ministry and not waste time on these meetings,” he said.

It is quite easy to figure out which ministers could be his prime targets. For now, Mpofu could be safe because he was shunted to an obscure Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion, whose mandate is, to all intents and purposes, to do nothing.

But there is no escape for Made, especially given that the nation is getting into the agricultural season with no adequate preperations.

But without doubt his biggest targets could be his four nemeses, Saviour Kasukuwere (Local Government) Jonathan Moyo (Higher and Tertiary Education), Ignatius Chombo (Home Affairs) and Patrick Zhuwao (Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment), all of whom have had a taste of what it feels like to cross Mliswa’s path.

Already, Mliswa has threatened to effect a citizen’s arrest on Moyo and Kasukuwere for their alleged corrupt activities.

Moyo is accused of misappropriating funds under the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund, while Kasukuwere is accused of fraudulently allocating large pieces of land meant for ZANU-PF youths to his relatives, friends and political surrogates. Both deny those allegations.

Perhaps, no one knows better how not to cross Mliswa’s path than Kasukuwere who must surely have regretted his decision to delve into the legislator’s personal life at a rally in the run up to the Norton by-election after he fired unbridled salvos back at him.

Both Moyo and Kasukuwere filed lawsuits against Mliswa when he branded them homosexuals and thieves last year.

Typical of him, Mliswa has since written to the High Court demanding that the case, which has not yet been placed on the roll, be heard. Chombo also knows Mliswa very well. Following his suspension as Mashonaland West provincial chairman for ZANU-PF, Mliswa clashed with Chombo several times after refusing to take orders from the Minister, who is regarded as the provincial political godfather there.

In one incident, Chombo refused to give the floor to Mliswa at a ZANU-PF Provincial Co-ordinating Committee meeting in Chinhoyi citing his suspension.

Mliswa had forced his way in, only for him to interject Chombo’s presentation throughout, repeating all the words that Chombo spoke.

Zhuwao, whose political base is in Mashonaland West province, also clashed with Mliswa during the latter’s tenure as provincial chairman.

Analysts were this week divided over Mliswa’s return to Parliament.

Some said his return was a welcome development since he brings fervent debates and vibrancy to the National Assembly and the committees.

“It is healthy for Parliament to have such strong characters who will enrich debates in the House. For Parliament to properly function, it needs more such fearless figures that not only represent their constituencies, but also do the oversight role wholeheartedly,” said John Makamure, executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust.

The director of the Parliamentary Monitoring Trust, Sibanengi Ncube, weighed in saying: “We are definitely expecting him to add one more critical voice in Parliament. We have tasted his pudding before and we know what he can deliver.”

During the campaign for Norton, Mliswa found himself somewhat a strange bedfellow of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) camp led by former Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Now, expectations are that he would join the MDC MPs in adding a critical voice to the debates and bringing ministers to account for their actions in an assembly that is often dominated by the sheepish ZANU-PF parliamentarians, who cannot be seen challenging ministers – their superiors in the party.

Political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza, argued that Mliswa’s return to the august House will not change anything.

“Wasn’t he an MP before? He was and did not influence anything. Nothing will change,” he said on Tuesday.

Mandaza was also wary of Mliswa’s controversial nature.

“He has been embroiled in controversy all the time and this could work against him and his ideas. He also seems to be entangled in too many establishments. There are reports that he is a war veterans’ man; others say he is (Vice President Emmerson) Mnangagwa’s man, while others even say he is MDC-T or Zimbabwe People First.

This makes him no less controversial.

“Mliswa’s return will not help matters regarding the legislative processes of the country because we have an Executive which is too powerful and does not respect the principle of separation of powers. In fact, the legislature is a lame duck and this means the Executive will always have its way,” Mandaza opined.

University of Zimbabwe political science professor, Eldred Masunungure, believes Mliswa has what it takes to leave a positive mark in Parliament.

“If you go back in history, you will notice there have been some individual legislators much like him who have made lasting contributions in Parliament. I can refer to Margaret Dongo who shook Parliament in the 1980s and made contributions that reverberated across the whole country. The same can be said of (Buhera South legislator) Joseph Chinotimba. Some may take him as a joke, but he makes some very positive contributions.

“I would place Mliswa in the same category. What you need to understand about him is that he is someone who does not just make senseless emotional outbursts, but he speaks a lot of substance. My only fear is that he could return with vengeance and bitterness, wanting to revenge on ZANU-PF for expelling him. He needs not to have his sense of bitterness stand in the way,” said Masunungure.

Masunungure also disputed the fact that Mliswa could fail to deliver due the fact that he is someone’s proxy.

“He doesn’t strike me as someone who can allow other people to tell him what to do. He has a proven reputation of standing up for his own beliefs. He is not in anyone’s basket, he is in his own basket and I doubt very much that anyone could be successful in controlling a liberal individual like him,” he said.

Political commentator, Rashweat Mukundu, said the noise that Mliswa brings to the august House is necessary.

“His fearless voice is needed in debates and committees. While ZANU-PF is dominant, voices that challenge it are needed in Parliament. He, however, needs to direct himself to substance rather than rubble rousing,” Mukundu said.

Mukundu, however, said there was real danger that Mliswa could find himself fighting ZANU-PF wars instead of focusing on critical parliamentary and policy issues at stake.

“Mliswa is a product of ZANU-PF factionalism and he still has connections within the party. One can expect that he will still be fighting ZANU-PF factional wars. He needs to prioritise issues of concern to the people who voted for him,” he said. Financial Gazette

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