While the late national heroine Shuvai Ben Mahofa was a darling to her legion of Zanu PF supporters in her home province of Masvingo, many opposition supporters are not mourning her death.
news in depth BY OBEY MANAYITI/ SUKUOLUHLE NDLOVU
Known for her spirit of hard work in Zanu PF party business, Mahofa defied her gender and became one of the towering figures in the ruling party.
President Robert Mugabe surprised many when he appointed her Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister after the 2013 elections, but it became clear that the veteran ruler was charmed by the “Iron Lady”s industry in campaigning for the ruling party.
Mahofa fought and survived many political battles within the faction-ridden Zanu PF Masvingo province.
She also ensured Zanu PF dominated the province, clamping down on opposition supporters and in other instances resorting to violence.
Many opposition supporters are nursing emotional and physical scars they claim were inflicted by Mahofa.
“The main exposition of her brutality against my family was when she went for my mother in 2002 towards the presidential elections,” prominent opposition activist and MDC-T secretary for mobilisation, Job Sikhala said.
“She went in command with her boyfriend who was a soldier (name provided) at Gutu’s 4.2 Infantry Battalion and one Masasire and a troop of youth militias and demanded from my mother that they be shown where my alleged armoury was.”
He added: “After realising the stupidity of their witch-hunt, they ended up stealing food and also some money which my mother used to keep under her pillow. They went on to destroy our homestead.”
While Zimbabweans normally don’t speak ill of the dead, opposition activists say people like Mahofa are an exception.
She also gained notoriety in the sugar plantations saga in Chiredzi and the Save Valley Conservancy troubles.
Opposition activists said political violence started in Gutu and then spread to other parts of the province.
They said Gutu South, where Mahofa was once MP, experienced more deaths and violence than elsewhere in the province.
“We could talk to people like Ephraim Marwizi, Lovemore Matuke and the late vice-president Simon Muzenda, whereas with Mahofa, it was difficult because she would make sure you got beaten up,” said Oliver Chirume.
He said unlike other political leaders who sent thugs under the cover of darkness to terrorise opponents, Mahofa made herself available at the crime scene to make sure that the job was done and gave orders to ensure opponents were thoroughly beaten.
She also allegedly kept a team of thugs at her home and would feed and provide them with liquor at all times.
Chirume, an MDC Gutu South youth chairperson between 2000 and 2005, later became the Gutu Central MP.
The ex-lawmaker has vivid memories of the suffering he endured at the hands of Mahofa.
“During the 2002 presidential elections, I heard people knocking at my door.
“Among the gang was Ben Mahofa, Johannes Makakurireyi, Josphat Hungwe, Mathias Masarire and another one who was known as Cde Satan,” he said.
“They burnt down our shop at Magombedze Chivave and a thatched hut that was behind it.
“We wanted to retaliate and that is when Shuvai came and said ‘kill these people’.
“We can only thank Job Sikhala, Nelson Chamisa and Tafadzwa Musekiwa for rescuing us as we had gone to seek refuge in another shop.”
When she was appointed deputy minister of Youths, Mahofa allegedly travelled with the graduates of the National Youth Service (green bombers) to terrorise people.
She reportedly stayed with a team led by Cde Satan that unleashed terror in Gutu.
Wisdom Tichazorwa was among the people who suffered the wrath of Mahofa during the 2008 presidential election run off.
His father’s shop at Chomungayi business centre was damaged three times and he had to protect himself by firing shots for three consecutive nights after Mahofa’s youths stormed their premises.
“Political violence started with Shuvai in Gutu and it spread to other parts of the country.
“My father was not politically active but because me and my brother were active MDC supporters, they took it out on my dad,” said Tichazorwa, who said his father died a bitter man.
“When Mahofa’s people came looking for him, one Vanhuvaone Mlambo told him to be alert and he took the chance and ran away; that is why they did not find him.”
In 2001, Ernest Mudavanhu found himself in Mahofa’s cross hairs during the bloody Bikita West by-elections. The former Zaka North MP can never forget Mahofa’s threat.
“Mudavanhu muchamuwana mucoffin [You will find Mudavanhu in a coffin],” Mahofa warned.
Bikita became a war zone and people were terrorised and blood was shed. Houses were burnt down in Chikuku, Negovano and Marecha. The violence also led to the death of one person identified as Gara.
Unlike in other districts in Masvingo, car burnings by thugs associated with Mahofa were common, according to witnesses.
In 2008, after Mahofa lost her parliamentary seat to Eliphas Mukonoweshuro during the subsequent presidential run off, her thugs allegedly burned the late Senator Empire Makamure’s premises at Mupandawana growth point.
Beria Musimudziwa, a prominent Basera businessman, did not see it coming during the 2008 presidential elections when his brand new Toyota Hilux was burnt to ashes.
Musimudziwa was kidnapped and held for two days by Zanu youths and MDC youths had to travel from Harare to go and rescue him.
Gutu businessman Crispa Musoni who operated a take-away at Mpandawana was allegedly beaten up by Mahofa’s youths. Ironically, Musoni and Mahofa were closely related.
“The reason why we believed she was the driver of violence is because in her public speeches, she openly advocated for the beating of opposition supporters.
“Kana uri munhu weimwe party ucharohwa [if you belong to another party, you will be beaten up], she would say this at rallies,” Chirume said.
Teachers in Gutu also suffered at the hands of Mahofa. A teacher at Murairwa school by the name Chamba was killed and another was discovered unconscious after three days.
The minister was also often accused of snatching other women’s husbands and would co-habit with younger men.
Information at hand shows her last known boyfriend was a man who mended tyres at Mpandawana growth point, something that baffled the Gutu community.
She was open about everything, always calling a spade a spade, no matter how unpalatable.
But not everyone associated Mahofa — who dominated Gutu politics from 1985 until her death — with violence and moral decadence.
Masvingo provincial administrator, Fungai Samuel Mbetsa who worked with her, described her as a good person who was passionate about delivering services to the local people.
“She was keen to see locals benefitting from the Tokwe Mukosi dam and the dualisation of the Harare-Chirundu road.
“The party in Masvingo became more focused and leadership was strengthened because she wanted people to work together,” Mbetsa said.
“She was a straight person and that is why she was called Chikoforo.”
He described Mahofa as a purposeful person with a vision and who knew what she wanted.
“The resuscitation of the Cold Storage Company was one of her dreams in Masvingo, which is one of the biggest companies in the country,” Mbetsa added.
“She used the government to propel the things she wanted in a proper manner as she knew everyone was going to benefit.”
Meanwhile, the intense acrimony between the two warring Zanu PF factions prevented an early burial for Shuvai Mahofa, The Standard can reveal.
Mahofa died on Monday and is scheduled to be buried today at the Heroes Acre.
On Thursday, a Zanu PF politburo member was quoted saying Mahofa’s family had requested that her burial be moved to Wednesday so that Mugabe could preside over it.
Information gathered by The Standard showed that the Lacoste faction linked to ailing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa did not want Acting President Phelekezela Mphoko to preside over Mahofa’s burial ceremony.
Mphoko is associated with the G40 faction, which is locked in a bitter fight to succeed 93-year-old Mugabe, who is increasingly showing signs of frailty.
Mahofa was an ally of Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa fell ill at a so-called youth interface rally in Gwanda and was airlifted to South Africa last week.