Hon. Sichelesile Mahlangu believes the key to winning elections is maintaining a presence among the people you want to vote for you. This also helps you understand their needs. First elected MP in 2018, but then recalled in 2020, this is how the new MP for Pumula Constituency made her way to victory in Zimbabwe’s March 26 by-elections.
Take us through your campaign
My journey was not easy because I wasn’t prepared financially, but campaigning re-motivated me and gave me the strength to run a successful campaign. I never stopped working with my constituents after the 2020 recall. So restarting my campaign was not that hard because I was already connected to voters, stakeholders, churches, pastors, and young people. My main problem was campaign financing.
Why did you contest the by-elections?
Because after the re-call, there were projects that I had not yet finished and I couldn’t just leave my responsibilities hanging and unattended to.
What lessons did you learn during the campaign?
If you are elected as a Member of Parliament during harmonized elections, never leave the people. Be with them in whatever they are doing, and they will always recognize, love and spread good words about you. And when you campaign again, they will vote for you because you showed them love, and after you were elected, you stayed close to them.
What challenges did you encounter during the campaign?
As I mentioned, funding the campaign was a major problem. But intimidation from my male counterparts was also very challenging. I was the only woman running against six male candidates. They were saying all kinds of things about me. Some people even tore down my campaign posters and replaced them with those of my male rivals. So I resorted to using fliers and campaigning door-to-door.
How did you work with other women during the campaign?
My campaign team was comprised mostly of women, which was motivating in its own right. Women happily climbed ladders to plaster posters, simply to campaign for another woman. I like the way women worked during the campaign. They are now seeing the light – supporting each other as women is important.
How were you feeling as you went to cast your vote?
To be honest, at first I was nervous because of voter apathy – and because it was raining! I wondered whether people would commit and turn out to vote. But as someone who was trained to know what she wants, I overcame that fear. I told myself that today is my day, let me go and cast my vote as early as possible in hopes that this would encourage women and youths to follow my example.
What is your opinion on the youth turnout to vote?
Although more young people registered to vote this time around, the actual youth vote was low due to late registration. Anyone who registers late doesn’t appear on the voters’ roll and isn’t eligible to vote.
How did you feel when you heard of your reinstatement into office?
I was so happy because I had earned it. This is what I was expecting and had been fighting for. I campaigned really hard because there are only a few women in Parliament. In most cases, men overrule us, so I’m very happy I can go and speak for other women and fight for their rights.
How did you receive the results?
I got my first results at the Pelandaba West polling station. When I arrived, they told me that I was leading. That quashed all my fears because if I was leading at Pelandaba, where there were new voters, then I’d also be in the lead at other stations. And I was.
What are your goals as an elected leader?
I want to see more women and young people contest the 2023 harmonized elections. And I want them to win through the First-Past-the-Post principle [the candidate with the highest number of votes wins the seat], which shows your true leadership. In my case, this also showed that the training I received from the She Leads partner, Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD), helped me win in a male-dominated field.
As an elected leader, I also intend to mentor young women and girls to give them the confidence to run for elected office. I look forward to meeting and motivating them, and sharing my journey with them to make them strong.
Do you feel these elections gave you a different outlook as a leader?
Yes, they did. As a leader, I didn’t sit back and watch the men contest; I stood up and fought for my seat. Winning both the harmonized elections and the by-elections has made me very proud to be a member of WILD’s Leadership Mentoring School.