Above the Parapet Program: Mujuru saga and experiences of women in public life

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I AM the last of 11 children in both my mother and my aunt’s family (My mother’s children and her older sister who raised me) – 8 of who are women and in so many ways which I didn’t realise then, I was exceptionally lucky not because I was intelligent but because I had opportunities and a solid support system that enabled me to thrive from the very moment I was born.
I was very much loved and this gave me a very clear sense of self. My father in particular would always tell us about our history, in particular the significance of our surname. In addition, my parents always wanted the best from us and for us and we all had a fantastic well-rounded education.
My father was incredibly upset when my sister decided to get married before she had a career and to this day, my sister tries to make up for it in various ways. Our older sister was my father’s favourite child and my brothers knew this very well. My sisters are literally the matriarchs of our family and I am everything because of them.
As a result, never was I ever told I was ‘less than’ because I was black, there was nothing I could not do because I was a woman. I realise now that I won the birth lottery and I took so many things for granted because I thought every family was just like mine. I knew I would go to University; there wasn’t even any doubt about that.
However, as I grew older and started to experience life outside my family, I realised that my family was different. In our society it was the women that took great pride in ensuring that the most absurd patriarchal norms were upheld and policed even to the detriment of their own daughters’ futures and I think this has to change.
I have long wanted to write about Julia Gaillard, the first politician who made me pay attention to Canberra political wrangling from my little room as a student in England (Yes in that dreaded Diaspora lol! ) not because I have any desire for political life; I do not and I don’t think I ever will.
However Julia, to me, has become a symbol of why most talented women shy away from public leadership roles. The spew of hate and misogyny that was levelled against her, entrenched my belief in why equality for all should be addressed. Furthermore, there is need to address how we change the perception of leadership (i.e. change the perception that only men can and should lead and that women should only be the leaders of women’s organisations to have some form of legitimacy) and also, how we equalise opportunities for leadership and all this is impacted by government and government policy.Advertisement

The level of debate should be in such a way that political leaders also set a better example on conduct and decorum because ultimately, this impacts national discourse tremendously. In addition, they are the face of you and me to the world even when they discuss domestic issues (This includes both the South African and the Zimbabwean parliament). Essentially, we need to get to a point where men and women are judged equally.
After posting a YouTube link on my Facebook page about how this extraordinarily talented politician and lawyer was vilified for just being a woman, the Mujuru scandal broke out. This week I was reminded of why I wanted to write about Julia.  She was at the LSE last week to talk about women in public life and I could not have been more inspired by this women whom; if she was a man she would not have had to go through half of what she has endured.
After serving as the popular deputy prime minister under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard became the first ever female prime minister of Australia on the 23th of June 2010. The public was pleased and, for women, this was particularly significant and inspiring.  She then called for an election on the 31st of August 2010 to legitimise her position, which she won with an outright majority.
When she formed her cabinet she had to compromise some of her promises in order to secure a deal with the Greens and that’s when the torrents began. This compromise became the focal point for all her opponents. Most politicians who, ‘back flip’ or do ‘a U turn’ aren’t called a Liar. The notion that Julia is a liar became so entrenched in the media and eventually a term ‘Ju-lier’ was coined to describe Ms Gillard. She became Bob Brown’s ‘bitch’ and soon her opponents started to use phrases such as, “ditch that bitch”& “ditch that witch”.
Now, one might argue that, this is just the normal wrangling of politics; everything is fair game but for Ms Gillard – as is the case with most female politicians – it wasn’t so much about her policies (which would have been the case if she was a man) but about the fact that she is a woman. Anne Summers* stated rather more accurately   that, we are experiencing times in politics were there is very little civility; the overall nature of debate has become torrid and too personalised and less about issues. What was striking about the way Julia was attacked was that, her attacks have more to do with her gender rather than her politics.
In one incident, Anne states that, there was a corner were male MP’s would bray whenever a female MP passed by and when an attractive female MP passed by they would call out “here comes the weather girl”. The tragedy of this is that, it then set the tone in which topical issues were discussed and these gendered insults allowed Tony Abort to become Prime minister of Australia. Julia Gillard was criticised for her clothes, her accent, her thighs (which were described as chicken thighs!), her ass! and even her ear-lobs.
The level of contempt for Julia spilled over into the daily lives of ordinary Australians and in one television broadcast she was called a psychopath, menopausal monster. Tony Abbort was encouraged to “Reap and Tear “ (rape analogy) Julia.  She was described as a lying, manipulative incompetent Hyena and one caller even suggested that if the guillotine where still in use, Julia would have been sent to the guillotine. Viral chain emails, some photo shopped Julia in the nude started to circulate and eventually her ratings started to fall. As of last year, according to Anne, there was a Facebook page with the motto “friends don’t let friends like Julia.”
Now I come back to our own “politics dzechibhakera”. MaiMujuru, might not have a constitutional legal case against what happened to her but, she has an employment case against the State who were her employers for discrimination against her, based on gender and certainly for denigration of character and the state is liable (who am I kidding, this is Zimbabwe lol! I had forgotten certain individuals [including their children] are above the law and those that are outside that circle ‘wither and die’ something that ‘they’ in the circle unashamedly take great pride in, despite its devastating impact on the general health of the country).
As a finance major this baffles me (another reason I stick to the rivers and the lakes that I know lol!). Politicks ‘dzechibhakera’ where misogyny, hate, downright abuse and disgusting language, I never imagined would be levelled against anyone let lone women by public figures, is simply dismissed as “banter” – where men are free to openly denigrate women because “they should know their place”; men who still regard women over 40 as children!! As a young woman for the life of me, I do not understand why the people in political power would not want a safer, fairer and economically vibrant future not least for their own children.
Why wouldn’t the First Lady demonstrate that, aside from running orphanages and running one of the few dairy farms still available because the rest are becoming insolvent due to the economic situation in the country; that she is the First Lady of this 21st century and represents a society were young women can feel proud to be women because she actively – both indeed and in character – champions the advancement of women in leadership positions rather than undermining them?
Why doesn’t the First Lady want a society were her own daughter can also become a president, just like Park Geun-hye whose father was the 3rd president of South Korea and not be married of at the age of 24 because that’s just supposedly the norm in Zimbabwe when in actual fact, in the 21st century, young women in her position such as; Ngina Kenyatta, Zuma and even Ange Kagame, are starting foundations, travelling and have careers outside their families’ political spheres?
Why would ‘Dr’ Cde Mommy not want a society where you shouldn’t have to date powerful men (Yes we know all the savoury bits) and then marry into a powerful family to be recognised and be heard? A society where political rallies aren’t about and reduced to idle female tittle-tattle but are about issues and key policy issues such as education, innovation, welfare and security; a society where she ‘the mother of the nation’ doesn’t have to go to Singapore to get treatment for something as minor as appendicitis (if this is indeed true) because she champions the professional woman and that there are so many female specialists in the country. A society where she doesn’t need thugs and gangs to get into political office because her own talents and her own  ideas not  through the ones stolen from other people and then drafted and  crafted  for her.
Why can’t she use her own research to enbetter our society rather than howling at vendors eking out a living through vending; after all she does claim to have a PHD so she should be familiar with the demands required to present one’s research and argument. A society where her OWN REAL efforts and not those drummed up by men around her and those perceived but not actual efforts can get her there (i.e. merit based society).
Lastly, why doesn’t she want a society where she, too, could succeed because the country has fairer, non-gendered institutions that serve all and are well-administered institutions?  Certainly, a society with women who, when our other African brothers and sisters read about them online, we too can blush and beam with pride and not go cowering to hide or find any excuse not to answer questions about one’s home country, not so much because of the economic crisis but because of the behaviour of it’s women in leadership positions.
* Leading Australian journalist and author, Dr Anne Summers AO, delivered her lecture titled “Her Rights At Work? The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister” at the 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture at the University of Newcastle on Friday 31 August.