Abigail Sauti is 34 years old. She stands hardly a metre and a half tall, with a continuous smile that suggests an innocent young woman. But behind that smile is something less innocent: a burning desire to end President Robert Mugabe's political dominance right in his - and her - home district.
In Zimbabwe' make-or-break elections scheduled for later this year, Sauti is running for a parliamentary seat in Zvimba, a farming region in the country's north-west. This means that Sauti, currently a provincial youth leader in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), will be challenging local government minister Ignatius Chombo. If results from 2008's parliamentary elections are any indication, Sauti doesn't stand even a small chance.
Chombo is a powerful, wealthy Mugabe loyalist with two decades of experience as a top government official. The 60 year old has been accused of using violence and food handouts to entice voters. He has also earned hatred from the premier's party by indiscriminately firing elected MDC local government officials, something his opponents see as an attempt to smuggle losing politicians from Zanu-PF - Mugabe's party - back into their posts. What's more, Zanu-PF has not lost in Zvimba since independence in 1980. Enerst Mudimu, the last MDC candidate to contest him, only got 1,701 votes against Chombo's 6,784.
"People are now enlightened"
But even with all the odds stacked against her, Sauti is adamant she has the arsenal to perform the famous David-Goliath act on who opponents say is Mugabe's hatchet man.
Villagers in the area encouraged her to join the race, she says. "The people like me a lot and I am always on the ground. I have confidence that the structures and the general people in the area have accepted me. I am always with them after every week."
Sauti may have less political muscle, money and experience than her flamboyant rival, but she believes leadership is a natural talent, not the preserve of the educated. She completed just basic education in Zimbabwe, while Chombo holds a PhD from a prestigious US university and used to be a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.
Still she maintains: "I am confident of winning because people in Zvimba North are now tired of Zanu-PF. They are always being intimidated into voting for them. People are now enlightened and l am glad they will go in their numbers to vote MDC."
On men and mines
Sauti may not be the only youth (defined in Zimbabwe as those under 35) joining the excited dash for Parliament. But she is among the few women in an emerging crop of young enthusiasts from across political parties who are challenging for seats in Zimbabwe's male-dominated lower house. If elected, she promises to direct her energies towards fighting for gender equality.
"Women are oppressed. They are looked down upon at workplaces," says Sauti, who is a single mother of two. "When I go to Parliament, I will take a deliberate stance to advance the cause of fellow women. I want to encourage women to stand up and challenge men's dominance. We have noticed in the past that men have chosen to speak on issues that favour them only, leaving women's concerns out."
As for other campaign priorities, Sauti thinks Zvimba North has seen the worst forms of underdevelopment. The region is dominated by mines and surrounded by farmland.
"Mines have since been shut down. Most people in my area depend on menial jobs from neighbouring farms to make ends meet and sometimes go for months unpaid. I have set myself on liberating the people there who have clearly been disadvantaged by decades of Zanu-PF rule," she says.
In the meantime...
Regarding any oppositional aggression, Sauti simply says she will default to her party's official strategy to deal with recurrent violence.
"I have witnessed all the violence that Zanu-PF has directed on the people since 1999," she says, referencing the year the MDC was formed. "Our province had some of the worst forms of political violence leading to many deaths. But this will not hold me back. I have leant to accept this is what these people [Zanu-PF] are."
As for Chombo's alleged food handouts, she has a ready formula.
"I advise my supporters to eat as much of Chombo's donated food as possible, but when it comes to voting, they must vote MDC. They must not be hoodwinked by Zanu-PF politicians who come on the eve of the election to feed them," she says.
Sauti says she draws her decision to run for a parliamentary post from God. Her family, however, is divided on the decision to be in politics because, as she says: "Unouraiwa". That's Shona for: "You risk being killed."