Lost primaries, declined top post . . .
WHEN Nokuthula Matsikenyere lost her Chimanimani West constituency seat to a rival during Zanu PF’s primary elections she knew her ministerial post was also on the line.
Having accepted her fate even ahead of the 2023 general elections, nothing was to prepare the veteran educationist and businesswoman to the highs and lows of an emotional roller-coaster that was to follow which even saw some of her ardent critics pity her.
Out of the blue, President Emmerson Mnangagwa reappointed the Trinity University philanthropic honorary doctorate recipient her old job as minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Manicaland as a non-constituency appointee.
Only to drop her at the last minute! John Paradza, who had been appointed deputy environment minister, was also dropped from the list.
“We were too many. His Excellency had appointed nine of us, of which seven were technocrats and cabinet ministers.
“Constitutionally he can only appoint seven, so two of us were dropped,” Dr Matsikenyere said of the circumstances behind the withdrawal of her name.
That the President had considered her for the post even after she did not feature in the national election was however a pleasant surprise for the soft-spoken media-shy politician.
She however exclusively revealed to The NewsHawks that she was then offered an ambassadorial posting to Tanzania which she could not take up because of her husband’s ailing health.
“It shocked me because His Excellency initially had returned me. He then offered me to go to Tanzania for an ambassadorial post, but because of my ailing husband l could not take the position,” Matsikenyere said.
Despite serving two terms in Parliament and being minister for more than two years, little is known of the veteran politician as she chooses to stay clear of the media limelight.
Born to Evelyn and Edward Gumbo on 7 June 1964 in Mberengwa, Matsikenyere grew up in Mashonaland.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts Education Development (B.Ed) and a Diploma in Education from the University of Zimbabwe.
She became a daughter to Manicaland by virtue of marriage. The mother of four’s political exposure started when she got married to her war veteran sweetheart.
“Getting married to a war vet(eran) exposed me to politics and when l got exposed to politics that is when I found people who were desperate for help and l felt l could make an impact in their lives,” she said.
Dr Matsikenyere’s philanthropy work began way back when, as a high-school teacher, she assisted underprivileged children “I trained as a teacher and l had a passion to assist vulnerable people.
Helping people in my community was always in me,” she said.
Matsikenyere taught at Zengeza 5 in Chitungwiza for 15 years before transferring to Gweru and later to Bulawayo where she taught at a military school — Bulawayo 1.1 Secondary School.
Besides her growing interest in politics, she was also making long strides in business. Asvit happens, Matsikenyere was the first owner of popular hang-out joint Club 747 along Airport Road in Bulawayo.
“I retired when I was teaching at an army school to start my business in Bulawayo. I was the first owner of Club 747 along Airport Road and I gave it the name 747 because the same year Boeing 747 was launched, then I later ventured into trucking till today,” she explained.
A proper political career for Matsikenyere started with her taking over from her husband. Succeeding where he had failed, Matsikenyere went on to serve two terms as a legislator.
“It started with my husband who campaigned as an MP in 2004 and couldn’t make it, then 2008 havana kuzozvida, ndipo pandakadawo but ndakazongotyawo (in 2008 he did not like it, that’s when l wanted to contest but fear overwhelmed me).
“In 2013, that’s when l contested and won to become MP for Chimanimani West. In 2018, l was again voted to represent the same constituency, then in 2021 l was appointed minister of State after the passing on of my predecessor, Honorable Elen Gwaradzimba,” she said.
Matsikenyere also served in Parliament in the Justice and Public Accounts committees. Her major highlights in party politics were as suming the Zanu PF women’s league chairpersonship in 2015.
During her tenure as minister, she said she had an open-door policy to assist mainly the vulnerable groups.
“When l was made the minister of State l made sure l have an open-door policy. The vulnerable would come anytime for assistance and as an office we were always there to assist of particular note people living with albinism, cancer patients etc.
“People with albinism would come for lotions and sun screens. l don’t remember all the names, but some l would give them starter packs to start their small businesses. Cancer patients, I would assist by sending them to hospitals for their cancer treatment,” she noted.
Matsikenyere said her ambition as minister of State for Manicaland was to see the urban renewal succeed; Forbes Border Post expanded; construction of a bigger road port in Mutare; have a district hospital for each of the province’s eight districts; see a clinic in every ward, each village to at least have two boreholes; see women empowered; and have more drug rehabilitation centres for youths affected by drugs and substance abuse.
Not everything went according to her wishes for varying reasons, but she had her own successes as both MP and minister.
Among the things she counts as achievements, Matsikenyere points at the construction of blocks and renovations at schools in her constituency; drilling boreholes in her constituency; construction and rehabilitation of roads for example Magamba Road; progress on the Birchenough-Murambinda road and Mount Selinda tarred road; a significant number of solar installations in village gardens across the province; repair of damaged bridges such as Rwenya Bridge in Nyanga; and resolving of chieftain disputes and installation of Chief Muusha and Mutasa as well as 25 headmen, among many other achievements.
Although Matsikenyere is on sabbatical from politics as she nurses her ailing husband, she does not plan to stay in politics forever.
“Politics is an interesting game, but like a dancer you should know when to stop and leave the dance floor,” she said.
The veteran politician feels women have nothing to fear in joining politics as fear is robbing the nation of good leaders.
“To those women who like to join politics, there is nothing to be afraid of. It needs hard work, courage and humility. l would like to encourage ladies out there to try politics because women are better leaders. If they shy away, the country will be losing.”
*This article was supported by the Canadian Embassy in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Centre for Public Interest Journalism (The NewsHawks)