Harare – Zimbabwe’s next parliament is set to have a significant voice of the country’s sports leaders after the nation’s football and cricket chiefs both swept to victory in their constituencies riding on a ticket of the ruling ZANU PF party.
The only party to rule Zimbabwe since Independence from Britain in 1980, ZANU PF rode on a tidal wave of euphoria related to the resignation of its former leader Robert Mugabe, who quit amid protests and a military intervention, to power to a majority in the National Assembly.
Its new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who swept to power in November last year, has been opening the country to business and leading an aggressive campaign for re-engagement with the Western nation’s after years in which the country limped in international isolation.
Zimbabwe has already applied for readmission into the Commonwealth with the group made up largely of former British colonies saying a determination on that application will be based on the country fulfilling a number of conditions, including holding of free and fair elections.
The Southern African nation was given observer status at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting for the first time since it left this Club of nations at the turn of the millennium.
The country’s finest athlete of all-time, Kirsty Coventry, has already supported the political leaders’ decision to rejoin the Commonwealth and for its sportspersons to participate in the Club Games again.
Coventry announced her arrival on the big stage at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, in 2002 where she won a gold medal before exploding at the Olympics in Athens, Greece, two years later.
Zimbabwe Football Association president Philip Chiyangwa, who is also the leader of the Council of Southern African Football Associations, returned to parliament after winning his home Zvimba South constituency.
The flamboyant Harare businessman beat former Mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa, who was his main rival, comprehensively after winning more than double the number of votes of his compatriot.
“The people of my constituency, just like those in football in this country, in this region and across the continent who have warmed up to me as a man of his word, have spoken with one united voice,” he told The Southern Times.
“They have said they want progress and in me they believe they have a man who can help them achieve their dreams.
“It wasn’t any easy contest and there were a lot of nights spent in the road but it was worth it and l am proud of what we have achieved as a team.
“When l became the ZIFA president l said that l will become the leader of COSAFA and there are some people who laughed at me only to be shocked when l won that seat easily.
“Then l said my attention had shifted to CAF because we needed to change the set-up there which had been in office for years and doing nothing to help African football and some people doubted that.
“But l played a big role in dethroning Issa Hayatou and helping Ahmad come to power as his campaign manager when a lot of football leaders were not prepared to be seen to be fighting against Hayatou.
“Even the Americans, when they wanted to host the 2026 World Cup, realized they could tap into my influence because the African vote was key and the votes we delivered to them made a big difference.
“Now l am back in parliament and l will have a big voice to try and shape policy that benefits my constituency and sport, in general, and football, in particular, in this country.”
Chiyangwa’s deputy at ZIFA, Omega Sibanda, was also a runaway winner in the Vungu constituency in the country’s Midlands province.
“This is a defining moment for the people of Vungu because they now have a leader who can listen to their concerns and deliver real change for them,” Sibanda said.
“I told you guys that sport has to be seen to be developed in such areas because there is a lot of talent out there but sometimes it goes to waste because there is no one to help identify and nurture it.
“We need infrastructure where the young men and women of our rural constituencies can pursue their sporting ambitions and l have some plans for my constituency and l sold them those ideas and they related to my words.
“On a national level this gives me more muscle in terms of crafting policy that can help move our football and our sport in a certain direction and l can tell you that there will be some big changes in the next five years.”
Zimbabwe Cricket boss Tavengwa Mukuhlani also won a ticket into parliament as a ZANU PF candidate when he took the Mhondoro Ngezi seat.
“It has been a trying time for me given that l had to juggle with the issues of ensuring that we ensure Zimbabwe Cricket is not stripped of its membership of the International Cricket Council and then at the same time campaign for this political office,” he said.
“I am happy that we won on both fronts but this is not the time for celebrations but for us to start the tough work that lies ahead because that has to be done urgently.
“People have seen what l have done at Zimbabwe Cricket, to try and bring order, to ensure that we clear that mountain of debt that was choking the game, to stop the borrowing spree that was sinking the game and they know that is what leadership is all about.
“These are interesting times and l can assure you nothing will ever be what it used to be because this mandate is huge and l am humbled as a person.
“It has been quite an interesting two weeks given that the ICC recently released the funds to enable us to pay our players and stuff and now there is this parliamentary victory.”
Former Zimbabwe Cricket chief executive Ozias Bvute also won the battle to represent Goromonzi North constituency in the next parliament.
Bvute is now a banker and is the chief executive of Metropolitan Bank and its sister companies that have a huge portfolio in real estate and farming.
Kazembe Kazembe, the Sports Minister in the outgoing government, also won resoundingly in Mazowe West on a ZANU PF ticket.
He is a former secretary-general of the country’s biggest football club Dynamos and has been prioritizing the investment of funds into development of sports facilities in the rural areas.
Temba Mliswa, a former fitness trainer of the Zimbabwe National football team, also won the right to represent the Norton constituency as an independent.
Mliswa briefly held a role as the leader of the country’s most successful and biggest football club Dynamos and has also worked with the nation’s rugby teams.