THE little-known Barbara Rwodzi, a member of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) of the African Union (AU), left the institution’s latest session with a continental reputation.
The sitting was suspended on 1 June until further notice after delegates from Southern Africa clashed verbally, and in some cases physically, with counterparts from West and East Africa over the election of the parliament’s next speaker.
They are at odds over whether to rotate the leadership of the parliament, which since its birth in 2005 has never been chaired by a southern African national, excluding its current interim speaker from Zimbabwe, Chief Fortune Charumbira.
Julius Malema, the high-profile leader of South Africa’s radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, was the star of the show, with a performance that included death threats against a Malian delegate. Malema was hardly alone, however, with Rwodzi sharing the limelight side by side with him.
The pair did their best to obstruct the voting session with loud pleas, often monopolising the microphones in a clear breach of PAP protocol. The spectacle sent Rwodzi’s popularity soaring across the continent, and particularly in South Africa.
A politician and a businesswoman
Rwodzi’s shock tactics initially caused consternation in Harare. She was one of five Zimbabwean delegates to the PAP and did not have her compatriots’ blessing to go along with Malema’s confrontational strategy.
But her stunt turned out to be a boon for Zanu PF, the party of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. She became an overnight sensation for many young southern Africans, disillusioned with Pan-African institutions.
She also reinvigorated Zanu PF’s status across the continent, providing the party with a new youthful image. She is a Zanu PF member of parliament in Harare and embodies the new generation of a party that has been in power for more than 40 years and is led by a 78-year-old.
Rwodzi is also a successful businesswoman who fits the entrepreneurial model promoted by Zanu PF under Mnangagwa. She has been CEO of House of BarRue Knitwear, a textile export company with over 700 employees, since 2009. She has also since 2013 been CEO of Machine Electrical Distributors (MED), which distributes construction machinery and fuel transport vehicles.
Rwodzi was selected by the US administration in 2012 to take part in a business networking trip to the United States as part of the African Women Empowerment Programme.
Meanwhile, the Zanu PF Chirumanzu District Coordinating Committee held a “surprise welcome party for Hon. Rwodzi for her heroism at the Pan-African Parliament”.