Meeting Remigious Matangira for the first time does not seem like it is for the first time – he laughs with you, shakes your hand and claps on your shoulder like you have known each other for decades.
And he interacts with the electorate in the same way, irrespective of gender or age.
Recently voted into Parliament by a whooping 19 000 voters in Bindura South, a massive jump of 5 000 voters from the figures he retained in the 2013 poll, Matangira has left many wondering what could be the driving force behind him.
“It has been a rough road, travelled over the course of life, that has seen me here today. What drives me, though, is that I came into this world without and will leave it without, so why not share the little that I have with other people.”
Born in humble Chivhu surroundings 65 years ago, Matangira says, “My family was so poor that we could not afford cattle, but donkeys.”
He says he has been through most of the toughest refineries that life has to offer.
“For part of my education, because my parents could not afford the fees, Jesuit priests had to pay for my education at Monte Casino. I have not been able to repay those priests for what they did for me, but I have, in turn, helped those who have found themselves in the same situation. Today I think I have managed to help many acquire their education, some are even graduates as we speak.”
Matangira says his family was so poor that when he was born, he was nicknamed Dhongi.
“The joke was that my mother had been blessed with yet another donkey to help with draught power. Up to now my maternal relatives jokingly call me by that name, but I think that was to be the beginning of my blessings.”
After a somewhat checkered learning experience, hopping from school to school, he was to leave secondary school in 1970 in search of employment. He settled in Bulawayo, where he could not immediately land any job.
“The alternative was to sell vegetables until I got a driver’s licence and worked with an abattoir. It was through this job that I traversed the whole of Matebeleland and I know almost every corner of the province as I would buy cattle and return selling the meat.”
Some three years after buying and selling cattle, he moved on to drive a taxi.
This is when he got involved in politics.
“As a cabman, I was to meet political activists. This also coincided with the 1974 release of Robert Mugabe, the political temperatures were rising in the country then.
“We were involved with the underground People’s Movement and I was the vice chairperson of the youth wing. It was during this period that I met most of the political activists then and my orientation, politics-wise, got the right direction.”
Around 1975, he received a message from Chivhu that all children, especially boys, who were working in towns should come back home and help with the liberation struggle.
This saw him becoming a mujibha from then till ceasefire in 1979.
“And because I had been to Matebeleland and spoke Ndebele fluently, I was attested to that region during the ceasefire. I was the organising secretary, political commissar you might want to say, as we went into the 1980 polls. So you can imagine what kind of task I had at hand, trying to mobilise support in Matebeleland during that time when Zipra and Zanla were still two entities.”
Then after independence, Matangira was to be driver to the late Herbert Ushewokunze, the first Minister of Transport in independent Zimbabwe.
“It was through being Ushewokunze’s driver that I got to be an engineman for the National Railways. I wanted something more challenging and I applied to be an engineman. Catch was, I didn’t have the certificates. But I convinced them to let me sit for an aptitude test, which I passed.”
Joining the National Railways in September 1981, he was to work in Bulawayo briefly before being transferred to Hwange, “because we had staged a sit-in demanding that our wages with our white counterparts be equal”.
Then a vacancy arose, for a mainline engineman in Bindura, and out of about 600 applicants, Matangira landed the job. This saw him move to the Mashonaland Central capital towards the end of 1983.
In 1985 he started mining, “and so successful was the mining venture that one time we would make $10 000 per day”, of which the success of the mines led him to leave the National Railways in 1988.
“Then in 1996 I bought my commercial farm, which unfortunately was designated when the land reform started. I tried to explain that I had bought the farm and even produced the papers but no one would listen to me.”
As the land reform gained momentum, he then occupied the 540-hectare Trump’s Farm, just outside Bindura, where he is currently farming.
“The turning point in my political journey was to come in 2008 when we lost the Bindura South seat to the opposition. When then President Robert Mugabe visited Reward Marufu, brother to Grace, he asked us (me and Reward) if we were happy to be farming in a seat being controlled by the opposition. We share neighbouring farms with Reward.
“So we began working on reclaiming lost ground. I was only a chairman of a political district but was tasked to be the chairperson of an administrative district as we prepared for the run-off in 2008.
“From 2008 until 2012 when the district co-ordinating committees were abolished, I was chairman. That is the period when I laid the ground for my 2013 campaign and it was not difficult to win the seat come election time.”
The same year that the DCCs were abolished, Matangira says he lost his mines to Saviour Kasukuwere.
“The wrangle has not been resolved and we are waiting for the current electoral process to be done then we see how the issue can be put to rest. I was accused of belonging to the Lacoste outfit, hence they took away my mines.”
With the crushing victory of the opposition in the recent election, Matangira believes that the only way is forward.
“We are going to be more vicious in our victory in the next election, we don’t want to see the opposition this side. And this was by far the most difficult election in Zimbabwe ever. Imagine you had to love your enemy, and love them we did. We never spoke ill of the enemy, we only preached our message, what we had to offer the electorate. And going forward that is the message that we are going to be spreading, what we have to offer the voter, not what the guy next door is doing or not doing.”
Truly a larger-than-life character, Matangira, whose dreadlocks might mislead one to assume that he is a drinker and smoker, is a teetotaller married to four wives, who all live harmoniously at his Bindura farm and is father to a brood of 24, 16 boys and eight girls.
“I a farmer, miner and politician. But before I am all these, I am a family man.”
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