Ruth Butaumocho 2nd Republic Profiles
Born after independence in 1980, Cde Vangelis Haritatos was never worried about the colour of his skin, but like any other Zimbabwean, he was miffed by racial discrimination. Hailing from a Greek family whose ideology was deeply rooted in the liberation struggle and the ruling Zanu-PF party in fighting racial discrimination by the white minority before independence, Cde Haritatos knew his destiny lay with the black majority.
The narrative from his father, on how his people were discriminated stuck with Cde Haritatos that he became a Zanu-PF party cadre at 16, when most of his friends were still fascinated by beautiful girls and fast cars.
Despite his tender age, Cde Haritatos knew he had a role to serve his community.
Imbued by the passion to serve, alongside his father and political mentor — Peter Haritatos — Cde Haritatos has become the face of development and hope for the future of people in Muzvezve constituency, following his election as the House of Assembly Member.
He is also the Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.
“The support that my father gave to our community made me realise that the only way I could truly make a difference was not only to support the ruling party, but to get involved in politics,” Cde Haritatos revealed in an interview recently.
Cde Haritatos considers himself lucky to have been born in a free Zimbabwe, giving him an impetus to further carry forward the country’s vision of equality for everyone, including previously marginalised non-Europeans like his family.
“Our heritage and history is so important that we too can learn. I was fortunate to have been born in a free Zimbabwe. I grew up not knowing of any colour, but knowing a nationality, something that inspires me up to this day.”
A fluent Shona speaker, Cde Haritatos was born on 8 April, 1986 at Redcliffe Medical Centre.
He did his primary school education at Eiffel Flats Primary School in Muzvezve Constituency and went to Jameson High School in Kadoma before completing his studies at Harare International School.
Cde Haritatos enrolled at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy where he majored in International Affairs and International Economics, whilst doing a joint programme with the University of Wales.
He then moved to Kansas State University where he completed two degrees with honours, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and a Bachelor of Science in Economics.
During that period, Cde Haritatos also studied Business Administration, graduating from that university in 2007, before returning to Zimbabwe.
When he returned home during the economic meltdown of 2008, Cde Haritatos watched in awe as his father almost operated the family’s bakery business at a loss by making sure that bread was affordable to locals.
“I would watch him travel all over Zimbabwe to buy flour so that people could at least afford bread in the harsh economic situation that we experienced in Zimbabwe in 2007 and 2008.
“Often I would remind him that we were making huge losses if we continued baking bread. He would reply and say son, we are extremely fortunate, we have food on our table,” he said.
His father’s benevolence was in contrast to his grandiose idea of running the family’s business profitably and utilise the knowledge acquired from his studies.
“To my father, it was not about being successful or profitable, it was about ensuring that locals could afford to buy one loaf of bread, even if it meant that we would incur losses baking and selling that bread,” recalled Cde Haritatos.
Inspired by his father’s determination to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, Cde Haritatos engaged in active politics in his home area at a tender age.
Having been a party member since 2002, when he was 16, he easily fitted in the party structures soon after arriving back from abroad.
The same year he was elected the district secretary for transport for Ward 13 in Mhondoro constituency, now Muzvezve.
The following year he became the provincial youth member for Mashonaland West Youth League as the deputy secretary for lands.
In 2009, Cde Haritatos was elevated to the post of youth secretary for finance for Mashonaland West province, a position he held until 2013, becoming one of the three members who held different posts in the Youth League for a decade.
While many of his friends did not understand the rationale of his involvement in politics, considering his modest family background and educational achievements, Cde Haritatos knew he had to serve the people.
“My father was my inspiration to join politics actively. As a young child I would join him for Independence Day celebrations as well as Heroes’ Day celebrations in Kadoma and Chakari.
“My father is loved by the people and he genuinely loves people. I knew that I could not just sit back, I had to follow my father’s footsteps. He is my hero and also to many people,” he said.
Though he was not yet born, when his parents experienced all forms of discrimination, including being labelled third class citizens before independence, Cde Haritatos realised that he had a role to play to address the historical imbalances, while being part of the future.
“Before independence, my father was treated like a third class citizen. He was in the same group as Indians and coloureds. This meant their social status was affected and even their quality of education, as they were not allowed to go to Jameson School, which I later attended in 1998.
“People of Greek and Indian descent were not allowed upwards from the railway line. If you come to Kadoma today, you will note that all properties below the railway line belong to people of either Greek or Indian descent, whilst those who were considered European were allowed to stay up from the railway line.”
His father’s appointment to the Senate by former president Robert Mugabe in 2005, did not surprise him as he had diligently served the party and the people for many years.
When Cde Haritatos’ father retired in 2018, after serving two terms in Parliament in the Muzvezve constituency, he urged him to actively participate in politics at national level and serve the people.
“I asked him for his blessing. He told me he would only give me his blessing on two conditions, that if I lose the primaries, I would endorse the candidate who won and work with him wholeheartedly.
“The second condition was, if I win the primaries to represent Zanu-PF and subsequently the general elections, I would continue where he left off and live and work to serve the people of Muzvezve, something that I was happy to do because I had lived my whole life in Muzvezve,” he enthused.
Following his election where he romped to victory with 24 000 votes in the July harmonised elections, Cde Haritatos says he is ready to continue to serve the people.
“Over the last 10 years we have drilled boreholes, built schools, clinics, renovated toilets, repaired water reticulation systems. The list is endless.
“We have a full time coordinator, plumber and water experts that work just for the constituency. We provide free transport to our constituents for inputs and deliveries of their produce to GMB.
“I have also repaired and graded most roads in the constituency, with the major project being the Gweshe main road which entailed not only grading, but resurfacing most of the road,” he said.
Cde Haritatos’ immediate tasks in his constituency is to improve potable water supply in communities, sanitation, improve road networks and increase the number of classrooms at several schools.
Cde Haritatos’ new assignment to the ministry will also not be an easy one.
He joins the ministry at a time it is seized with a lot of challenges that include the ongoing land redistribution and the land audit. “The land audit is underway and the team is doing an exceptional job. We need to give them their space and support in order for them to finally complete and present their comprehensive and independent report to the ministry.
“My hopes are that this report will identify farms that were allocated to multiple land owners so that we can distribute land to those who have not been able to benefit from the land reform,” he said.
With a supportive community and his family, his combined duties would be tenable.
“My family is my pillar of strength. Even my friends — black, white, and coloured — have been extremely supportive. I am ready to hit the ground running.”