BULAWAYO – For the first time Dumiso Dabengwa-led Zapu will participate in national elections since walking out of the Unity Accord in 2008.
Our Bulawayo reporter Jeffrey Muvundusi (JM) this week caught up with Strike Mkandla (SM), the party’s alternate secretary-general and National Assembly candidate for Bulawayo’s Pelandaba-Mpopoma Constituency in the forthcoming plebiscite.
JM: Who is Strike Mkandla?
SM: I was born at the time of the first General Strike in Zimbabwe led by Benjamin Burombo in March 1948, hence the name.
I am an experienced political worker, administrator, researcher and cultural activist who was born in the countryside but grew up in Bulawayo’s Pelandaba township.
I spent the better part of my working life in the service of the United Nations Organisation in various capacities until my retirement in 2010.
JM: Your brief political background?
SM: I joined Zapu by default because I grew up in it and its predecessor (NDP) as a young volunteer doing menial errands for Pelandaba-based politicians in the 1960s.
When the original Zapu was banned I was already a politicised teenager who was simply assumed as a member of the militant youth wing. I worked in the underground movement until that took me to Lusaka during the days of the armed struggle.
JM: What have you done for the party since you joined and after your election to the post of alternate secretary-general?
SM: When Zapu was revived after some of its members pulled out of the so-called Unity Accord with Zanu PF, many of us who had never joined Zanu PF rallied round.
Consequently, I was tasked with coordinating the development of the party’s manifesto in preparation for the 2010 Congress.
After being chosen to be the alternate secretary-general (ASG) I have been charged with the work that would normally fall to the secretary-general.
The holder of the SG post is based in London and was unable to relocate because of family commitments. I have had to service meetings of the presidency (the top six in the party), carry out representational functions, serve as a principal administrator and oversee policy formulation.
JM: Why do you think you are the best candidate for Pelandaba-Mpopoma constituency?
SM: At the local level I am impatient to drive for restoration of some of the services and amenities that have actually deteriorated below the standards of the 1960s and 1970s.
I am acutely aware that the youth have fewer and poorer recreation facilities than we had in our time in the townships.
I am concerned and would like to facilitate solutions to the poor pass rates that prevent our youth from entering places like the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) at our doorstep.
I want to fight for skills training for young people so that they can be self-employed while we also strive to bring industries back to Bulawayo to create employment opportunities.
I have a good understanding of systems and useful experiences from around Africa and the world that I picked up over two decades while keeping closely in touch with Zimbabwean developments and trends.
JM: How are people in the constituency receiving you?
SM: One of my first problems was that my national duties did not allow me enough time for interacting with my constituents.
However, they have warmed up to me because I have been open to frank dialogue and shown my understanding of local concerns and possible answers.
The party structure in Mpopoma has been extremely helpful in mobilising young volunteers and rekindling the residual support base among the older members.
These two prongs of the campaign have made it possible to wage a low-budget but dynamic campaign.
Another good fortune in my campaign is the close-knit team of candidates for MP, councillors, senator and woman MP that shares tasks and strategises constantly.
This is important because Zapu is not a darling of internal and external donors, so we are our own liberators once more.
JM: Do you see yourself being the next legislator for Pelandaba-Mpopoma Constituency?
SM: I had a chance to gauge the calibre of candidates in a debate at Mabutweni Hall over the weekend (Sunday, July 14).
Some were rabble-rousers but low on substance. Others showed good understanding of local issues but were weak on the institutional frameworks for delivering the solutions.
If this was a representative audience I would rate my chances of getting through to the voters very highly because I was able to articulate what, why and how we should change.
Since Zapu is contesting elections for the first time as an independent entity for the first time since 1985, I need to continue winning over uncommitted voters and those who were apathetic until we came along.
I am confident that I shall also pick up a lot of votes that would have gone to other candidates if I was not contesting.
JM: What are you promising to the people of Pelandaba-Mpopoma Constituency?
SM: I do not like extravagant and unrealistic vote-catching promises.
The broad package that I promise to see through to change the lives of residents and those of their children and strive for a share of the national “cake” for local priorities, including water and secure and affordable energy for the city and making the constituency an attractive place to invest in its small and medium scale enterprise zone.
I will also push for revival and improvement of recreation and sports facilities for children and youth, and provision of care for old people and other needy.
And work with others to reverse de-industrialisation of Bulawayo and marginalisation of Matabeleland.
JM: This is the first time Zapu has participated in elections ever since you pulled out of the Unity Accord in 2008, what does this mean?
SM: Zapu should be one of the best resourced organisations but has yet to get back its properties confiscated by the Zanu PF government in the early 1980s.