She burst into national politics in 2013 when she was elected National Assembly representative for Mazowe Central at the age of 31, becoming one of the youngest members of the current Parliament. She grabbed attention when she was subsequently appointed Deputy Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture. And recently, Tabetha Kanengoni-Malinga was appointed Minister of State in the Office of Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko. But that was after she had taken the football governing body, Zifa, to task over alleged corruption, telling its leaders to “Stop it” – First Lady style!
Last week, our Assistant Editor Wendy Nyakurerwa visited Minister Kanengoni-Malinga at her office to talk about the road she has travelled. During the interview, her visibly smitten husband, Mr Mpehlabayo Malinga, passed by her office “just to check how wifey was doing.” Below is the chat with Minister Kanengoni-Malinga in her own words.
I am a 33-year-old mother of a three-year-old girl, Thando. I am happily married to a very handsome man. I come from Mashonaland Central where l am Member of Parliament, and hold a Bachelor of Social Sciences Degree in Politics and Gender Studies from the University of Cape Town. I am now pursuing a Masters Degree in International Relations with the University of Zimbabwe.
It goes back to my academics. l studied politics and then decided to become a politician. So, my father, who is now late, groomed me, teaching me everything that l know today.
In 2008, l was voted into the Zanu-PF Provincial Youth Executive.
In 2009, l was elected Secretary for Gender and Culture; this resonated well with my Degree.
After that, l contested and became the Deputy Secretary for Health and Child Care, again in the National Youth Executive. In 2013, l contested to be an MP in Chiweshe. Leading up to that election, I took time to learn what Zanu-PF really stands for and l would articulate it to the people.
Having won the election, l was appointed Deputy Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture and worked with Minister Langa and now l am in the VP’s office. Only last year, l decided to cross over from the Youth League to the Women’s League, so l was seconded Secretary for External Relations in the Women’s League National Executive which is led by First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe.
What drives her
Certainly, l am a Pan-Africanist, with a little liberal feminism, but certainly not radical. I think l have had an inert gift to lead since childhood. I am driven by a combination of two agendas – female empowerment and upholding the national flag wherever l go.
I am a patriot who wants to leave a mark even when l die. As a woman, l have to make sure that my position benefits other women as well; l must pull them up with what l have at my disposal.
I have been in many boardrooms where l was the only woman and l am not proud of that. There have to be more of us in those places, even more than the men. It’s lonely up there when you are alone.
Remembering Elias Kanengoni
Sadly, my father passed away in May 2013, just two weeks before the primary elections. It was a very difficult time for me because we were very close. I had two options – either to move forward or give up. I then decided to soldier on in my father’s honour because he had put in so much in grooming me into a strong woman. So, l contested in the primary election, went for the national elections and won! I contested against men and beat them all (chuckles).
God definitely had something to do with that one. My father wasn’t really a politician. I was a politician before him (laughs). He joined Zanu-PF structures after l was already in the Youth League structures. I think l motivated him.
But having been in the liberation struggle and having worked with the President, he was very knowledgeable on how Government systems work.
So, my father came in to help me with my passion. As a parent, l believe in concentrating on your children’s passion, not in making them do what you failed to do or your passion. In our family of three girls, one boy, none of my siblings has interest in politics. My parents would focus on what each child had passion for.
Duties as Minister of State in the VP’s Office
My duties are centred on the responsibilities of VP Mphoko. I have to ensure that whatever the President assigns the VP is done well.
So, l have to ensure that his Office fulfils its mandate. And it’s a Herculean task, especially for a young woman like me, but l am up to it.
It requires a lot of energy and l’m the right person for that. The President will be looking at me to either critique or praise the VP. The ministries that he oversees; l have to ensure that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
These ministries fall under Zim-Asset’s Clusters of Social Services and Poverty Eradication and Infrastructure and Utilities. There is also the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation. The National Healing Bill is already in the pipeline, awaiting Cabinet approval.
A wife, a mother, a politician
If you think about balancing it,it becomes a problem – l just do it. I come from a well-balanced background. My parents were always together. I took my lessons from my mother. In a family, everybody has a role and there will be problems the moment you take someone else’s role. Know your place and everything will go well.
So, when l get home, l take off that blazer and l become Thando’s mum and Mpehlabayo’s wife. When l get home, Thando just wants her mummy time and l have to provide that; the same goes for my husband.
Luckily, my husband is also a politician. He is the Secretary for External Affairs in the Youth League; so it brings some kind of understanding.
God has really blessed me with a good husband, without a good partner at home, it would be difficult to be productive at the office.
I involve my family in everything that l do. If l can take them to work-related events, l take them so that they get a full appreciation of what my work is all about. So, being a wife is the least of my worries: l got that area covered! (laughs)
And I cook for them almost every night, about four times a week, and l prepare breakfast everyday. I also try to spice up my marriage by keeping my meals exciting and different. I look for recipes online.
President Mugabe, the good boss
I think hard work eventually gets rewarded and my feeling is that currently the President is looking to have the right people in the right place, hence the reshuffles that are taking place in Government.
Zanu-PF has a mandate to deliver to the people according its election manifesto. So, we need to have the right people in the right positions.
I am sure the President has been watching, seeing who has potential to deliver, who does not.
The people expect us to deliver; people need food, education, land, etcetera. Sometimes you may pick someone for a particular job then realise later that they are better off somewhere else.
So, it’s necessary to make certain changes than to wait for the Government to fail. The only reason why someone would have a soft spot for you is if you have contributed something positive.
But l’m honoured for getting this opportunity to be mentored and groomed by this icon, the President. It is an experience that will stay with me forever and l will impart it to other women, my children and grandchildren. The President is my father and my boss. He is really a warm person, even when you chat with him. He talks about serious things in a very relaxed manner, making you feel comfortable.
He is an amazing boss. You only have to listen to every speech that he gives to pick the direction he wants to take. By the way, him giving us these responsibilities, (means) we have to take them seriously.
Grooming the young
I think the President realises that the future is with the younger generation. They need to be groomed so that they can take over in future. You must never, never leave a young generation lost because everything that you fought for will be destroyed. Even if you are still alive, it’s good to know that you are there to advice, but they must be capable.
So, I don’t know . . . maybe the President talent-spotted me for a grooming opportunity. But l have worked hard for Zimbabwe and will continue to do so because there are a lot of people who are saying, “Now that she is there, how are we going to benefit?”
So, l have to deliver.
Relationship with the First Lady
As Women’s League Secretary for External Relations, I am in her Executive. Basically, our relationship is not personal, it’s professional. My responsibility is to help her execute the duties of the Women’s League as guided by the party’s constitution. But she is an amazing woman, a role model who has a rich philanthropic background. If l become half the woman she is, l would have done well in life.
She was brave enough to come out and castigate people who were doing the wrong things in the party. As a woman, that takes lots of courage.
If she can be that brave, so can l.
It’s a rare quality. Most people in her position might just want to stick to their wifely role, looking pretty, like a trophy wife, but Amai Mugabe is different. She is beautiful inside out.
She has proved that beauty goes with brains. As a young woman, l try to emulate what she has done. I know that people say a lot of negative things about her, but the moment people start saying negative things about you, it means you are doing something. If they are quiet about you, especially in politics, it means you are a nobody. Where there is impact, there will be talk because you will be disturbing someone who was doing corruption and so on. I respect her very much.
Issues affecting women
It takes a special kind of leadership to be able to address the issues affecting women. But as women, we need to learn to unite in fighting for our cause. Sadly, in politics, women haven’t really mustered the art of supporting each other. The First Lady is one of those who support other women very well.
Issues affecting women include health, high blood pressure, cervical and breast cancer and abuse in marriages. Abuse comes in different forms. A solution to this is to have a bigger sense of unity among women. Of course, we need the men in order to help push our agendas, but they need to see that we are serious first.
Take those 60 seats reserved for women in Parliament for example. It was a result of unity by women across the political divide – Zanu-PF, MDC-T/N or whatever it has become. Women fought for those seats together.
Women’s issues cut across the political divide. That’s why there is a Parliamentary Women’s Caucus – to unite female legislators. But above all, we need God.
We need to pray for our country, for our children. But then l don’t believe in placing a woman in a certain position because of gender. No. That’s not how it works because at the end of the day, she will be ineffective. Women have to work and earn their way through life.
Quota systems are there to try and push things. Being female is not enough to get a position. We need to fight for education for the girlchild so that they are competitive. We also need to create a conducive environment for those educated young women to thrive in politics, business, and sport, etc. Just saying we want 50-50 and not doing anything else is not enough.
The Zifa war continues
Most people will remember my football fight and l am still fighting. That fight is not over yet.
I am not the type that can see corruption taking place and look the other way.
The people we are serving expect results. The spectators are valuable players because they put in their money and time to come and support, so you have to give them a good show.
My fight was not a Tabetha versus Cuthbert Dube or Mashingaidze fight. It was versus Zifa administration.
I wanted that body to be run professionally and also wanted the administration to stop stealing money. l still want that to stop. So, l hope that will be addressed.
I have great hope that the Sports, Arts and Culture Ministry will take us far in terms of creating careers. And I know exactly what is happening at Zifa.
Fifa rules are making it appear as if Government is not acting fast enough. They say governments cannot interfere with the running of football. But we are in crisis mode and we are banned already; we can’t even participate in the World Cup.
We might as well go all the way.
Jonathan Mashingaidze is not a straightforward person. He manipulates the Zifa constitution, and he does jobs that have nothing to do with his position as CEO, including handling funds. He can even collect gate-takings after a match.
He has created such a hostile environment. It’s either he likes you or you are out. Even the board member handling finance will refer you to Mashingaidze if you try to find out anything. This chaos has to stop.
So, while l was still at the Ministry of Sports, the Sports and Recreation Commission came up with a committee to investigate the Zifa issue.
The recommendation came out and though l can’t divulge this recommendation, it supports everything that l have been preaching because now the evidence is there, of mismanagement and so on. The ministry just has to action the recommendation from the SRC. By the way, when l talk of Mashingaidze, l mean him and Cuthbert Dube.
Mashingaidze is the one who runs around a lot. Cuthbert Dube is not well, so l don’t want to kick a man while he is down, but Mashingaidze is his boy. Everything just has to go back to ground zero, including Cuthbert. But the nation is ready for this change. Everyone just wants something to happen.
The funding situation is really bad and unsustainable. They can’t be running to Magaya all the time. They will come and say, “Tibatsireiweo”, two days before the game and this is how they have been operating. They come at the very last minute so that they can say Government is failing us. Treasury doesn’t work like that. That whole board has to go; there has to be a normalisation committee. We have to start from scratch.
And if we develop our football from the grassroots to national level, the corporate world will see we are organised then corporates will put in their money.
We even might have to change the name Zifa because that name is tainted.
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