EDGAR Mbwembwe’s surprise entry into the contest for the Mashonaland East provincial chairmanship has added a fresh dimension that has thrown the race for the strategic post wide open.
Before Mbwembwe’s entry into the race, Joel Biggie Matiza — a Minister of State for Provincial Affairs — was being seen as a sure in.
Since the beginning of the year, Matiza has been embroiled in a bitter political war with Aeneas Chigwedere — the interim provincial chairman — to succeed Ray Kaukonde, who was booted out of the chair in the run-up to the ruling ZANU-PF congress held last December.
Following the removal of Kaukonde, Phineas Chihota was made the acting provincial chairman, but did not last for long in that position.
Chihota was replaced by Chigwedere, with Matiza coming in as his deputy.
Both appointments were in the interim.
The Mashonaland East interim executive has since February been under pressure to hold elections to choose a substantive leadership.
Due to intense infighting, especially between Chigwedere and Matiza, the provincial leadership has been struggling to restructure the lower structures of the party, resulting in a situation whereby the elections for a substantive executive have been postponed over and over again.
In the intervening period, Chigwedere and Matiza have been wedging divisive campaigns against each other to wrest the provincial chairmanship.
By virtue of being the Provincial Affairs Minister for Mashonaland East with government resources at his disposal, Matiza had hitherto appeared to enjoy an upper hand as he traversed the length and breadth of the province, drumming up support.
His rival, Chigwedere, didn’t appear to be any match as his meetings were poorly attended, an indication that his social base was not that strong.
But when everything appeared to be going on well for Matiza, Mbwembwe has emerged from nowhere to crowd the race for the chairmanship.
The Chikomba East legislator is being touted as one of the few level-headed politicians in Mashonaland East capable of uniting the deeply divided province since he is not tainted by the factional politics playing out in ZANU-PF.
Despite his closeness to the late retired general Solomon Mujuru, husband to former vice president Joice Mujuru, Mbwembwe has proved to be his own man, not prone to being swayed by factional politics.
ZANU-PF has for long been divided into two camps; one led by Mujuru and the other by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The Mujuru camp had dominated Mashonaland East until the dethronement of Kaukonde.
With Kaukonde out of the picture, the province has been plunged into a new wave of factional fighting between Matiza, who is thought to belong to the Mnangagwa camp and Chigwedere, a protégé of ZANU-PF national political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere.
Kasukuwere is linked to a faction called Generation 40 or simply G40.
Kasukuwere single-handedly appointed Chi-gwedere as interim provincial chairman earlier this year after he dissolved the one led by Chihota.
He also blocked an attempt to oust Chigwedere by Matiza and then tore into the Provincial Affairs Minister at a meeting where he reinstated the former education minister.
According to sources in Mashonaland East province, the entry of Mbwembwe has taken the province by storm and stunned earlier favourite, Matiza.
Matiza had seen his star rise in recent months ahead of the delayed provincial polls, now slated for June 30.
While Matiza and Chigwedere have been engaged in a fierce campaign laced with an exchange of vitriolic verbal slurs and near fistfights, Mbwembwe has been lurking in the shadows.
But he has suddenly launched a blitz of a campaign that has rattled the political landscape in the province which has been ZANU-PF’s stronghold since independence in 1980.
Sources said since last month, Mbwembwe has been moving around the province canvassing for support and he was fast gaining ground, much to the shock of Matiza.
Mbwembwe is said to have immediately gained sympathy from disgruntled party members who have been victimised for their perceived support of Mujuru and many neutrals.
But others say Mbwembwe has the support of Kasukuwere, insinuating that the ZANU-PF national political commissar might have dumped Chigwedere.
Mbwembwe confirmed he was eyeing the hot seat but denied being imposed by Kasukuwere saying he was his own man.
“How does that ever happen? At my level, I am not that much related to the national political commissar. I am running (for chairmanship) in response to a call by the people. It is in the interest of my party that I should contest for the chairmanship. I thought they would say it is actually those two (Chigwedere and Matiza) who are close to him (Kasukuwere) because they were appointed by him to lead the province in the interim. We currently have a strong presence in all the districts in the province and once the process becomes formal, we are going to put up a vigorous campaign,” said Mbwembwe, who also quickly described himself as the “best placed candidate to win”.