Violet Mariyacha: The Matriarch

After living some 25 years in the U.K. and the U.S., Violet Mariyacha returned to Zimbabwe to form a political party and run for president. Though not well-known in the country of her birth, she promises to use her motherly kindness to lead reforms of the country’s economy, health care and education, as well as to attract the country’s diaspora to invest there.

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Violet Mariyacha: The Matriarch

Illustration by Lily Padula

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HARARE, ZIMBABWE — For Violet Mariyacha, a maternal instinct is key to Zimbabwe’s future, especially for the many Zimbabweans who have left the country in search of economic stability.

“I believe if a mum is running the country, families will start coming back because of the kindness,” she says.

Right now, she says, life for ordinary people in Zimbabwe is depressing. She cites the country’s serious cash shortage as one example: People wait overnight in line at banks to try to get whatever limited cash might be available when the bank opens.

“I thought, if I do not stand up, my grandchildren will one day visit Zimbabwe and sleep in a bank queue,” Mariyacha says.

Mariyacha, 61, lived in the U.K. and the U.S. for about 25 years before she formed her own political party, United Democracy Movement, in 2017 with the intention of running for president.

She says she represents a diaspora with wealth and skills.

“They can be big investors coming back home,” she says.

If she wins the election, she says she’ll work to provide free education (a key promise that longtime President Robert Mugabe made but struggled to keep), affordable health fees, a strong judiciary to provide accountability for the president and a better economy.

Plus, she says, she’ll push for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth, a confederation of nations with the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth as head. Mugabe withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003. (President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also running in the coming election, applied in May to rejoin the Commonwealth.)

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Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe

Violet Mariyacha returned to Zimbabwe after more than two decades living in the U.S. and the U.K. If she’s elected, she says, she’ll encourage other Zimbabweans in the diaspora to return and rebuild the country.

Mariyacha described her occupation as one of “job creation,” providing options for office workers and cleaners. She says she has owned companies abroad. Her four children are based in the United Kingdom and the U.S. She is the only member of her immediate family who chose to return to Zimbabwe.

Her family has mixed feelings about her presidential run, she says. Some didn’t welcome the idea, but, she adds, “I have a dream to serve my country, and no one can take that away from me.”

Still, her long absence from Zimbabwe is a hard sell for some voters.

“I do not know that name. I do not even know what she is known for,” says Jameson Maravanyika, a voter. “I have never heard of anything outstanding that she has done.”

Others who do know Mariyacha question her ability to win the presidency.

“She is new in the game, and I think it would be wise for her to campaign for a member of Parliament seat first, then presidential seat in following elections,” says Tashi Huni, who says he has known Mariyacha for two years.

Mariyacha says the elections will not be free or fair, but she adds that the best way to fight corruption is to engage in politics. She’s convinced she has a chance to win.

“I truly believe that the people of Zimbabwe have been hurting for too long,” she says. “It needs a mum like me.”

Gamuchirai Masiyiwa and Linda Mujuru, both GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona to English.