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Condoms and sex talk excite Minister Mushonga

By Kennedy Mavhumashava

What is it with MDC-N secretary-general, Mrs Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and sex, sexual metaphors and objects?

Priscilla Mushonga, from a breakaway faction of the MDC and Zanu-PF's Patrick Chinamasa share a laugh off air-
Priscilla Mushonga, from a breakaway faction of the MDC and Zanu-PF's Patrick Chinamasa share a laugh off air-

Misihairabwi-Mushonga, also Minister of Regional Integration and International Co-operation, professes to be a feminist. She has a reputation for speaking her mind and seemingly sees herself as an “Iron Lady” of sorts in MDC-N ranks.

Her record from her days as a pioneer of the feminist lobby in Zimbabwe in the 1990s and thereafter in Parliament as MDC legislator for Glen Norah in Harare, however shows that she can also be a little excitable.

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She enjoys freedom of speech, like all of us, but for a respectable minister and national figure, married until the unfortunate death of her husband in August 2009, she has apparently taken that freedom, particularly sex talk, a bit too far.

Mid last month, a story was written about her addressing a party meeting at Magwegwe Hall in Bulawayo. At the meeting, she called on women to deny their husbands and boyfriends sex to force them to vote in the forthcoming elections. Her remarks made global news.

A few days after the Magwegwe Hall speech, she penned an opinion piece published online, unpacking the concept of sex strikes and what she believes are its successes.

“A sex strike,” she wrote, “can be broadly defined as a method of non-violent resistance in which one or multiple persons refrain from sex with their partner(s) to achieve certain goals. It is a form of temporary sexual abstinence.

“Sex strikes have been used to protest many issues from water resources to employment equity. In 2011 alone, several sex strikes have been undertaken with great success.

“For example, Marleen Temmermann, a Belgian politician and member of Senate, called for a sex strike to break the deadlock in the formation of the Belgian government. She called on the spouses of Belgian politicians to withhold sex until they formed a government.

“In June 2011, in the small Columbian town of Barbacoas, women went on a sex strike demanding the construction of a tarred road for the town of 40 000 inhabitants who previously could only access the rest of the country through a treacherous mountain road. The strike ended when army engineers began construction on the road in late August.”

Focusing on Zimbabwe, she continued:

“The ‘no vote, no sex campaign’ therefore should at the very least be understood by every sexually active female. The legitimate question could be on whether women are sufficiently angry and committed to democratic change or like the risks we have taken before with unprotected sex, will we continue to allow irresponsible men who refuse to take action to effect change? The question that remains is whether we, as women, will choose sex over the vote.”

There is no time to discuss the sweeping statements she makes in her piece but this one begs the question, what proof does she provide that her favourite tactic — the sex strike — resulted in the breaking of the deadlock in Belgium? Just who peeped into all Belgian bedrooms when everyone else was in bed to see that the strike was indeed holding?

About a month later, Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga was at it again, this time getting substantially more vulgar and angering many.

“There is the condom X-factor,” she said at a public debate in Bulawayo on Friday.

“Some of the region’s ministers have been condomised.  Sorry baba (Minister Samuel) Sipepa (Nkomo), we have seen an increasing number of politicians from this region, even Cabinet ministers that have sold out. Whether it is money, power or what, I do not know. The region’s ministers are just doing the condom role.”

Elections are coming soon and campaign machines are on the roll already, including MDC-N’s. But as she goes out seeking the Matabeleland vote for her party, Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga could have tripped herself. It is in bad taste talking about the condom at some places and times in conservative Zimbabwe.

It is worse when you talk about a used one as she did. In her direct quote she did not explicitly mention a used condom but “condomised” implies use of a condom or a person being used as one. This does not sound like politics, but reckless name-calling! And name-calling, particularly the kind that is based on sex, is not good enough in endearing oneself to the electorate.

Or is it in her history?

A profile of her in The Seattle Times in 2004, says she built a political career on a drive to have the female condom registered. “Priscilla launched her political life with a petition drive to register the female condom,” the story reads.

“In 1989-90, a research group had conducted an acceptability trial of the female condom. When the study was over, the condoms went away.

“Women wanted them back. But the product was not registered with the Ministry of Health. So Priscilla criss-crossed the country, educating women about HIV and female condoms and asking them to sign their support. She and others from the Women in Aids Support Network collected  52 000 signatures; the female condom was registered for use in Zimbabwe on December 1, 1998, World Aids Day.”

That was certainly great work in the context of the compelling need for Zimbabwe to empower women as one of the many strategies in the fight against the Aids pandemic.  But Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga is getting carried away by condoms and sex talk.

Using the word condom, whether literally or as a figure of speech, can be revolting, which is why some ministers from Matabeleland are justified in hitting back at the MDC-N secretary general.

“Why of all things would she choose the condom?” wondered Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises and Co-operative Development, Sithembiso Nyoni, also Nkayi North legislator in Matabeleland North.

“Such vulgar language should not be coming from an Honourable Minister like her — a true leader strives to find solutions to challenges instead of just insulting others.”

Minister Sipepa Nkomo attended the public debate at which Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga made her not-so-charitable remarks, but perhaps had his guard down then that he could not promptly respond to the surprise attack.

“That is not talk from a sane person,” he said, two days later. “She could have used other words than to liken people to condoms — she is talking crap, she does not even know Matabeleland.”

In recent months, Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga has arrogated to herself the role of “speaking” for Matabeleland but castigating its leaders at the same time. There is nothing wrong speaking for social justice and the down-trodden but when you do it, as she does, more for political expediency than addressing genuine shortcomings, you run the risk of losing public respect.