Elizabeth a hit

HARARE - Staunch MDC supporter John Moyo last attended a political event nearly four years ago.

But there, he was in line three hours early for a glimpse of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's new wife, Elizabeth.

"I want to see her," said Moyo, who went to the MDC anniversary celebrations just two days after he had been discharged from a hospital. His last event was at a White City Stadium rally in 2008.

It is that kind of appeal that Tsvangirai’s re-election campaign loves, hoping the popular political spouse can rekindle some of the 2008 spark among Zimbabweans for a contest that is looking more difficult by the day.

"Chinja iwe," the MDC first lady said, delivering a feisty stump speech to more than 20 000 supporters who were jammed into the White City Stadium last Saturday shouting "mother!, mother!".

Elizabeth has been politically active on her husband’s behalf since her customary wedding last month, helping the needy, visiting political prisoners, appearing at functions by her husband's side and conducting meetings with key groups of supporters, mainly women.

She is also a pop culture phenomenon, a fashionista with a spectacular dress sense that has heads turning everywhere she goes.

But as the campaign hots up, she will be deployed to headline larger rallies like the one in Bulawayo last week.

"Next to the (MDC) president himself, and maybe including the president, she’s our most in-demand surrogate," said a top MDC official. "There is no doubt, she is tremendously popular."

The campaign will want her out there.

Given the excitement she has stirred, she is no doubt on her way to becoming one of the most popular political figures in the MDC.

"We believe in our president, but her support to her husband really seals it," said Gloria Mtetwa, a retired school teacher who is a fierce loyalist of Tsvangirai. "She has so much energy, and she looks genuine."

Spouses of leaders are often more popular than their husbands, perhaps because of the non-combative nature of the position.

Political strategists note that a popular spouse often can humanise a candidate, an important factor for Tsvangirai.

Elizabeth appears anything, but reserved.

She boasts of her husband’s accomplishments, and she vouches for his character.

She never mentions her husband's rival Mugabe by name or uses the word Zanu PF as she implores MDC supporters to get working.

Macheka controls her image carefully, focusing on her role as a mother, philanthropist and morale booster.
 
She has emphasised that she is an ordinary person, and comes across as very patriotic.

A daughter of a Zanu PF central committee member, she stays clear of divisive politics.

Her speeches are long on cheerleading and devoid of partisan attacks.

A businesswoman, who has been forced to assume a stay-at-home mom role, managing her husband's tight schedule at their new Highlands mansion.

She has taken the political versions of mom, and avoided controversy.

Observers say there is a limit to Macheka’s influence, and some political analysts say voters are not swayed by those who are not on the ticket.

But voters such as Caroline Mutero think differently.

She calls her a "significant first lady since Susan" for her work on charity issues. Susan was the PM's first wife who died in a tragic car accident in 2009.
"Our new mother is amazing," she said. - Gift Phiri

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