By Blessings Mashaya
Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa collapsed and died early yesterday morning, splitting opinion in the deeply-divided Zanu PF party almost immediately after the provincial leadership initiated steps to have her buried at the national shrine.
Known in Masvingo as “the iron lady” because of her abrasive style, Mahofa collapsed at her house in Rhodene — a low density suburb on the northern side of the city centre — and was pronounced dead before she could be attended to at Makurira Hospital — in the same city.
Mahofa ,76, had been unwell for some time, although she had always insisted to be in good health.
In December 2015, she survived suspected food poisoning at a Zanu PF conference held in the resort town of Victoria Falls, and spent close to six months in hospital.
She never regained her health from then on.
A close friend of Mahofa and a fellow Zanu PF politburo member, Josiah Hungwe, confirmed her death yesterday.
“It’s very sad. I am currently going to officiate at the Heroes Day celebrations (in Masvingo) where she was supposed to be officiating. We are going to sit down and map the way forward,” Hungwe told Daily News.
In his Heroes Day message yesterday, President Robert Mugabe, revealed how as recent as a fortnight ago he had inquired into her health at a Zanu PF politburo meeting held at the party’s headquarters in Harare and was told she was fine.
“In the last politburo meeting, as I always do, I asked how she was feeling and she said ‘I am okay’. So the news is astonishing. As astonishing as it is; depressing and sorrowful, I say let us not think that as we move along we are totally healthy. See doctors as often as possible,” Mugabe said.
A hugely divisive figure in her home province, Mahofa was hated and liked in the same measure.
She was a darling of the Team Lacoste faction, which is campaigning for Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed the incumbent.
Naturally, she had no sympathisers among members of the Generation 40 (G40) faction who could be shedding crocodile tears following her sudden death.
Mahofa was popularly known for her passion in dancing so much such that she collapsed while on the dance floor at one of Zanu PF’s gatherings.
Despite her advanced age and the fact that she was not really good at it, Mahofa never slowed down on dancing.
She was also part of a growing breed of Zanu PF politicians who owe their ascendance to influential positions to praise-singing for Mugabe.
Having presided over a fractious province, Mahofa’s death has divided opinion in Zanu PF over whether she deserves a place at the National Heroes Acre.
Her death comes less than two months after the death of renowned freedom fighter and musician, Dick Chingaira, popularly known as Cde Chinx, who was denied national hero status.
She is survived by four children and 27 grandchildren.
Zimbabwe Liberation War Collaborators Association (Ziliwaco) chairperson, Pupurai Togarepi, yesterday described Mahofa as a mentor who deserves a place in the sun at the national shrine.
“She was the patron of Ziliwaco — a war collaborator herself. She was a firm political and principled leader. She was a powerful proponent of unity among revolutionaries. I am what I am because of Chikoforo. A natural leader,” gushed Togarepi.
“While that decision is the preserve of the highest decision-making body, for us she is a heroine of the highest order. She has all the credentials as a freedom fighter, a consistent and persistent advocate of the founding principles of our revolution. We know our party leadership respected her as well,” he added.
While her friends in Zanu PF will remember her as the hoarse-voiced woman who had to bring the office of the minister of State for Masvingo Province from the 4th floor to ground floor since she had trouble walking, her foes had no kind words for her.
The former Member of Parliament for Gutu South for more than two decades was described by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC secretary for recruitment, Job Sikhala, as a thug who used to terrorise people in the constituency.
“In 2002, before the presidential election, she led a group of storm troopers to my village homestead and accused my mother of hiding firearms that were alleged to belong to me. My mother went through a nightmare on accusations that shocked her to her death,” Sikhala claimed.
Early this year Mahofa, who was nicknamed “Chikoforo”, threatened to unleash violence against anti-Zanu PF supporters during the Bikita West by-elections.
The election was at the end won by Zanu PF’s Beauty Chabaya.
The veteran Masvingo politician, who played an instrumental role in the expulsion of former vice president Joice Mujuru and her team, was widely revered as the Zanu PF political godmother in the volatile province.
At the time of her death, Mahofa was involved in nasty battles with the G40 faction opposing Mnangagwa’s ascendancy.
Mahofa engineered Mnangagwa ally, Ezra Chadzamira to win the race for Masvingo provincial election race against a G40-linked Mutero Masanganise.
Chadzamira was later endorsed by Mugabe despite a spirited fight from G40 to have the results nullified.
The late Mahofa was in recent months the target of First Lady Grace Mugabe’s wrath.
Grace sledged Mahofa for failing to acknowledge her while chanting a Zanu PF slogan and failing to display party regalia during a recent women’s league national assembly meeting.
This did not go down well with Grace, who went for Mahofa hammer and tongs, claiming there were women who were working with rival party bigwigs to stampede Mugabe out of power.
She also cited an unnamed South Africa-based woman she claimed was splashing money among women’s league members, urging them to dump Mugabe.
It has been a bad week for the Team Lacoste faction as Mahofa’s death comes at a time when the faction’s alleged leader, Mnangagwa is battling for his life at a private hospital in South Africa after he was allegedly poisoned by political rivals.
The Team Lacoste faction has been on the back foot since Grace suggested that Mugabe should name his successor and also publicly undressed Mnangagwa.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said it was surely not looking good for the Team Lacoste faction to lose one of its most vocal kingpins at a time when the dye on Mugabe’s succession has been cast.
“What is happening is meant to show Lacoste camp that they might have the army but not the intelligence and police. Hitting on their head was a way to show them power lies in G40. But this may not be true when Lacoste starts fighting back. It’s likely to be nasty and dirty. This poisoning of the crocodile is just a minor setback, a single battle in an impending full-scale war. When they hit back things will be nasty,” Saungweme said. Daily News