in 2014 Zanu PF politburo member Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri relinquished her position as the ruling party’s secretary for women’s affairs to make way for former first lady, Grace Mugabe under controversial circumstances.
By BLESSED MHLANGA
Grace used her newly-found position in the women’s league to aggressively position herself as her husband’s possible successor.
Muchinguri-Kashiri became one of the ruling party officials targeted in the latest Zanu PF purges before the army seized control of government and forced former president Robert Mugabe out last week.
The former Climate and Water minister was among those who were facing an uncertain future for allegedly being members of a faction linked to new party leader President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Muchinguri-Kashiri (OMK) on Friday spoke exclusively to our reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM)about her relationship with the former first lady.
The Manicaland political heavyweight said she was forced to make way for Grace and revealed the extent of deepening divisions in the ruling party.
BM: How do you feel after witnessing the inauguration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Mugabe’s exit?
OMK: It’s sad that we have had the former president [Robert] Mugabe for the past 37 years [go like this].
I think he created a foundation [that is] now enabling us to move forward.
We have had all sorts of experiences and we feel that the country is mature enough.
We have endured problems, we have also met some successes in other areas but in the past seven years we had reached a certain stage.
We are saying we want to usher in a new era. We have learnt from our mistakes.
I am sure you appreciate that in the last two years all we have been doing was fighting with each other and where there is no peace and unity, there can never be development.
BM: You say in the past you have made mistakes. which mistakes can you single out that the outgoing government made?
OMK: We concentrated too much on building schools and infrastructure, which was good.
We also concentrated on educating our nation, but in terms of ZimAsset, we needed now to invest much more into the productive sector.
I am sure from our budget, you appreciate that 70% of our revenues were going into paying workers, not into the productive sector.
So we are saying more resources should be invested in developmental issues so that we create jobs for our own people.
I am also saying we have trained doctors, but if you look at our hospitals, they are in a deplorable state.
People are going to India, our doctors are operating in other countries.
We are saying that’s an opportunity, let’s invest in our health sector so that we don’t have to go out of the country, that is capital flight.
Our much-needed foreign currency is going out of the country while we should be developing our health sector. We need to focus on the economy.
BM: Some would blame you for the two years of Zanu PF infighting because it was you who stepped down from your post as the women’s league boss to pave way for Grace Mugabe.
OMK: It’s unfair to say I handed it over. I was pushed to surrender that position.
Grudgingly, I surrendered that position because some women approached me to say I should give it up for the first lady.
I don’t know what benefits they were looking for, so I had to do so reluctantly.
BM: You have been targeted in the few years as a member of Lacoste and you were being pushed out. We saw your ministry being whittled as you lost power. How did you feel at that time?
OMK: It was very sad, very painful. But you can appreciate that I handled that situation with dignity and so much maturity because I realised that it was not the right time.
You can imagine being harassed in public by my own junior officers.
I was not allowed to exercise my responsibilities sometimes, but I am glad that people were watching all this, which resulted in them taking responsibility for the changes that have taken place.
BM: Do you feel sorry for the manner in which Mugabe was removed from power? Do you think Grace destroyed Mugabe’s legacy?
OMK: It is really unfortunate that President Mugabe who has invested all his life into developing this country [went that way].
We really have a lot of respect I must say, for our former president. Those people who invited Grace into politics should take full responsibility for bringing her.
I remember in the past she had committed herself to just going to church. These people did not take heed of that cry.
I am sure she evaluated herself and realised that she was not good for politics but people pushed her. Those people really should be blamed.
BM: Would you name these faceless people who you continue to refer to as responsible for Grace’s rise?
OMK: At this juncture it’s not necessary. What we want is to unite the people, but every person should have some introspection to say where did I go wrong in all this, because we all contributed in one way or another, all of us.
Some were involved in illegal activities of externalising foreign currency.
So we need to address all these things from an individual point of view.
BM: The new first lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa is a Zanu PF central committee member and MP for Chirumanzu-Zibagwe. What advice would you give her at this point?
OMK: I think she is a very mature and seasoned politician with so much on her plate. I don’t think that she would want to remain an MP.
That was a very necessary base, she needed to appreciate what happens in Parliament to understand the role of Parliament as a first lady.
I hope she learnt a lot when she was involved in all this because I am told she was a member of the Pan-African Parliament and the debates that took place at that forum will be very key for her now that she is the first lady. That should help her to advise her husband adequately and also in a manner which is informed.
BM: What role are you going to play in this new government? Are you looking forward to playing any key role?
OMK: Well, it’s up to the new president really to identify areas where I could be of help or of assistance to him.
I have been in government for a long time. I have served in many capacities. I have been an MP. I have held quite high positions in the party. So I am saying if I remain in my position, I am comfortable with it as I have always been.
You will remember when we really pushed hard to have a woman vice-president, I was at the forefront campaigning, but I did not consider myself as a candidate as was the situation and case with the former first lady.
She herself was doing everything changing structures just to fit her personal interests.
In my case, I paved way for Amai [Joice] Mujuru whom I respected because she was senior to me.
So I am saying I am not a person who is greedy, who at every juncture wants a position, no. I will wait until the president decides what he wants to do with me.
BM: Your name has been mentioned among potential vice presidents, will you accept such an appointment?
OMK: I cannot comment on that. That’s a rumour, that’s speculation, so I don’t go with rumours.