Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Zimbabwe has a “women” problem

By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

I guess it was fitting that a man who spent a large part of his life fighting injustice should, with his death, help remind us of the rot that is at the heart of our society: women. The way we see and treat women as Zimbabweans is quite simply appalling. And we are not talking here about the obvious things like how people think it is okay to say ‘our women’, but rather institutionalised sexism.

Morgan Tsvangirai seen here with Tino Chinyoka in South Africa last year
Morgan Tsvangirai seen here with Tino Chinyoka in South Africa last year

According to the MDC constitution, when a President dies or otherwise leaves office, ‘the’ Deputy President takes over for not more than a year pending election of a substantive President. Not for 1 year, but for not more than a year. Which means between 1 and 365 days.

We know now that before Morgan had been buried, indeed while he was likely still drawing his last breath, a man appointed to the post of ‘Vice-President’ (which is not in the MDC Constitution) got himself appointed Acting President ‘for a year’. But this is not about that man.

Rather, it is about the vile reactions of a majority of his supporters when anyone dares to point out the number of constitutional difficulties this man’s  appointment raise. “Mbuya yacho yakaitirei kuti give ED a chance,” says one. “That woman needs a husband” offers another. “Chamisa all the way, that woman is rubbish” tweets another.

Dr Thokozani Khupe, Deputy President of the MDC, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 11 February 2009 to August 2013, is reduced to a gender, and in unflattering terms at that. The contest, we are told, is between an electable ‘Advocate’ (a title that means nothing since one just needs to be a lawyer to work as an advocate) and ‘that woman.’

Dr Khupe is ‘mbuya yacho..’, because that role, of being someone’s grandmother, is all she is good for. And what would getting a husband do, pray tell? Of course we know, it comes from the same mentality that thinks that lesbian women require ‘corrective rape.’ Presumably if Dr Khupe had a husband she would be qualified? Or would we hear that she needs to go take care of her husband and leave politics to the ‘Advocate’?

If a political party cannot obey its own constitution, but rather deploys its members to launch sexist and misogynistic attacks on its legitimate leader in favour of a man who has brazenly broken that constitution, why should we trust them with respecting and upholding our national constitution?

If you disagree with Dr Khupe, do. If you think she was wrong to question the Alliance, say so. If you think her views are not good and that Chamisa’s are better, say it. But in doing so, she does not need to become ‘that woman’ or ‘mbuya yacho.’ or, for that matter, to get a husband.

And it is not confined directly to political choices. We have Tsvangirai’s mother declaring that Elizabeth Tsvangirai (for that is her name too) is persona non grata from her own home. And Chamisa is banned too, apparently. And what is the reaction? Tsve kugwira Elizabeth, Chamisa chete chete. “The Tsvangirai family does not own the party,” we are told.

Clearly, it is the banning of Chamisa that rankles, not the perpetuation of a glaring injustice: the treatment of widows at the death of their husbands. This goes beyond the mundane question of whether or not the Tsvangirai family owns the MDC by virtue of that ‘T’.

A party that claims to be ‘the party of excellence’ must lead with excellence. This was an opportunity for members to quickly come out and say they are on the side of widows and would not endorse this unfortunate position.

But, by seeming to be more concerned about the ban on Chamisa (otherwise why talk about the party not belonging to the family – that has nothing to do with Elizabeth), the party shows that it will not stand with widows.

A political party whose members cannot defend their leader’s widow leaves one wondering if they will defend that poor unconnected widow in Uzumba or Chatsworth when it is her turn to be chased away so that the family can inherit what little was left by the deceased.

A few weeks ago, when Justice Chigumba was appointed ZEC Chairperson, some idiot (Susan, forgive my French) posted a sick comment under her photo on social media saying “even if I was ED I too would have appointed her because she is just too beautiful.”

On a Facebook group for lawyers, most of the men and at least one woman thought this was a joke, and that it was okay. They did not get why anyone thought that this was insulting to the Judge (she has worked hard to be where she is and her looks have nothing to do with it) and argued that it did not suggest that she owed her appointment to her looks.

Like, honestly?  I am lucky enough to be the father of very beautiful girls, who I know will achieve greatness in their career lives. I find it revolting that the country l am constantly telling them to come back and live in will judge them by their measurements and not by the measure of their character.

A few weeks back, there was another social media debate on rape. The line of argument was: men are victims of false reports and we needed someone to speak up for the men. ‘Men are victims’, someone actually said. A man participated in the debate, and pointed out that this was in fact belittling the very serious problem of gender based violence in our society.

For some reason, this man was accused of being ‘emotional’, ‘dramatic’ and ‘naive.’ Completely shocked, he sought clarification as to why these characterizations of his arguments were being made, but got no direct reply. Until it became obvious that the men in the conversation had mistakenly assumed that ‘he’ was in fact a ‘ma’am’.

Which brings me to my point. Apparently women are ‘emotional’ and ‘dramatic’, while men are grounded and logical. So, when Dr Khupe informed Chamisa at the funeral that his actions to usurp power while others are paying their respects to Tsvangirai were disrespectful, we are told that she ‘attacked’ him because apparently women cannot do politics without bringing emotions into it. She didn’t ‘reason’ with him, no, but ‘attacked.’

It seems innocuous at times (note the example of a woman who thought the comment on Justice Chigumba was a joke) but only because we have institutionalized sexism and commoditized it into little packages that we deploy as either humour or culture.

That the attack on Elizabeth is done by a woman does not change the fact that it is the product of a patriarchal society which thinks that a widow has no role once her husband dies, because the ‘body’ belongs kuvene. Because of culture.

That Dr Khupe should ‘find a husband’ is not seen as a serious insult because we have been sensitised to think that a woman with no husband is missing something, and is incapable of functioning without whatever is missing.

A society ought to be take pride from how it treats those who have historically been without power. For as long as we think that widows do not matter, for as long as we think that women get promotions based on how they look, for as long as we think that a PhD holder cannot do politics until she gets a husband, we really have very little to be proud of as a people. We are no different from the corrective rape crowd.

And that, is really sad.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a Zimbabwean lawyer based in Gweru. He is also a prominent former student leader from the University of Zimbabwe