Mujuru: a worm in a fish pond
I have watched with interest the Zanu PF congress which ended with the appointment of Joyce Mujuru as second vice President.
It is seems as though after 24 years Zanu PF has at last realised that women are an important constituency in the Zimbabwean society. So important that they should be elevated to strategic positions of power, for them to be able to articulate the problems of their fellow women, in the hope that our status as women will change.
I wish this were the case here, but unfortunately all is not as it seems.
Mujuru’s appointment was more out of political expediency that any real desire to advance the status of women in Zimbabwe. Mujuru sadly is a beneficiary of everything we have hated about Zanu PF -- dictatorship, tribalism, sexism and lawlessness.
Dictatorship because the whole succession debate was a private property of the party’s leader Robert Mugabe, who was behind Mujuru’s nomination. Those who dared oppose Mujuru's nomination were cast away and thrown into the political scrap heap in the most ruthless fashion. The issue could not even be debated democratically and openly at the congress. Surely, if that party truly believes in the empowerment of women there should be no mafia style politics in advancing their cause.
Tribalism because the whole debate was centred around tribes and not the quality of leadership the different aspirants had to offer. It is amazing how in this day and age tribal politics played itself out in Zanu PF.
Sexism because Zanu PF women then became mere pawns in a big political game. While Zanu PF would want us to believe that the women acted out of their own volition, we know that is not true.
Like the land issue, the women are now a weapon to hoodwink the general populace into believing that the party is reforming and cares for the welfare of women. Beset by a deep leadership crisis, coupled with growing national unpopularity, Mujuru is a window dresser. Zanu PF hopes to use him to turn around that party’s flagging fortunes.
Lawlessness because the ruling party could not even follow its own constitution. In order to avoid an open contest between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Mujuru, Mugabe changed the rules and decreed that only a woman would be able to stand for the position. That does not change Mugabe’s views on women’s lesser status in society. We all remember very well his responses about women owning land in their own right.
How will Mujuru’s appointment benefit us women? She is caught on a high voltage political fence, she can neither jump nor touch it. Patriarchy is at the core of Zanu PF’s power and continued existence.
Many of you will remember the brave fight put up by war veteran and Harare South Member of Parliament Member of Parliament Margaret Dongo. Dongo dared to stand up against the men who controlled that party, she challenged the system and paid for it. Dongo did what many in Zanu PF -- both men and women have never done.
I remember how Dongo’s act of defiance attracted some of us younger women to the world of political activism. We went to Harare South to campaign for her first in Zanu PF as she fought a bitter war against Vivian Mwashita who was being sponsored by the men. They rigged that election, Dongo challenged the result in court, we went back to Harare South to campaign for her as an independent candidate. She won. She continued her fight in parliament as a strong advocate for human rights and democracy.
She did not survive in Zanu PF because the archaic, patriarchal structure there does not allow for independent-minded women. The way Zanu PF runs its internal affairs is the way it has run national politics for the past 24 years -- intolerant, racist, tribalistic, violent and the list goes on. A system that has left us women abused and more marginalised in all spheres of life.
Inspired by Dongo’s brave fight against Zanu PF, some of us became part of the process demanding political change, first in the National Constitutional Assembly and then in the Movement for Democratic Change.
The formation and launch of the MDC created a home for us women, who wanted to belong to a political party different to what Zanu PF was offering. We wanted to be part of a political system where issues of gender equality are not discussed once a year at a congress. They are part of our everyday life!
Everyday we talk, at times some of us scream and shout louder than Dongo. The difference is that we have a space within which to say it, there is space for our activism, individually and collectively. Space for us to analyse our participation and demand more where it is lacking. Our first congress of the MDC interim executive in 1998, adopted a quota system, that at least a third of all decision-making positions from national to ward level should be occupied by women.
Positions that we are in have not been given to us out of the largesse of the men, but because of set party principles and policies to advance our cause as women. Of some of the strategic portfolios in the party for instance, the party’s first secretary for International Affairs, Sekai Holland, was a woman. She has since been replaced by another woman, trade unionist Pauline Mupariwa and Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga is the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. At least a third of all positions of party secretaries and cabinet are occupied by women.
For us it has not been about just occupying certain positions, it has been deeper and wider than that. It has been about the value of our participation in equal partnership with the men.
Mai Mujuru is going to remain just that -- Mai Mujuru. She is not going to move or shake anything of the system she is in. She is going to remain in that fence. Yes, we are going to have the traditional women empowerment talk, sewing machines in this and that project, the usual ululations and dances. That is Mujuru’s mandate to be mother, with Mugabe as the domineering father, and Solomon the all powerful husband.
The woman in Mujuru is going to be put to the test, when she actually stands up to fight within her party for reforms that will see an end to state sponsored political violence, tolerance for others -- even those in the opposition, and rescinding of all the draconian pieces of legislation. This is where women who have suffered under the oppression of Zanu PF will start counting the benefits.
The MDC remains
the only party that will advance the status of women in spirit and on
paper. Fellow women and men, the Zanu PF circus must not divert our
attention from the real business of the day, political change though
the ballot box. Freedom is ours.
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