Going gets tough for Zimbabwe’s women politicians

Source: Going gets tough for Zimbabwe’s women politicians | The Financial Gazette August 12, 2016

ON the world stage, women are breaking barriers — making indelible marks on history.
In the United States last month, Hillary Clinton secured the ticket to represent the Democratic Party, as its presidential candidate, in elections set for November.
By all accounts, this was a historic and extraordinary nomination.
For the first time, the Democratic Party — arguably the biggest party in the world — has a woman at the very top.
The United States may as well have Clinton as its first woman President come November.
In Britain, Theresa May has taken over from David Cameron as Prime Minister, after the latter resigned when Bretons voted to exit (Brexit) the European Union.
Cameron had campaigned against Brexit.
While the women folk are making history on the world stage, Zimbabwe seems to be debunking the trend.
For Zimbabwe’s women in politics, it never rains but pours.
Not many of them have been able to survive the country’s tortuous political climate that favours the brave and brawny.
The few women who had managed to rise to the top of the political ladder had been heralded for achieving the unthinkable.
But, one-by-one, the odds are now stacked against them.
Last month, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) vice president, Thokozani Khupe, was left facing a perilous future after she became a victim of her long-time boss, Morgan Tsvangirai’s shenanigans.
Without notice, she woke up to the news that the party leader had appointed two more vice presidents without according her the decency of informing her first.
To all intents and purposes, the reasons that were given by Tsvangirai for expanding the MDC-T’s presidium suggest that Khupe is incompetent.
If it’s not, there is definitely a political storm brewing.
Tsvangirai was recently diagnosed with colon cancer.
As such, he is delegating some of his responsibilities to enable him to fight the disease while at the same time giving a fresh impetus to the MDC-T ahead of the 2018 general elections.
Instead of giving those extra responsibilities to Khupe, the MDC-T leader appointed two more vice presidents namely Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri, who will now deputise him along with Khupe.
It’s the first time in Zimbabwe that a political party has had three deputies.
To a lot of observers, this is a slap in the face for not just women in the MDC-T, but for the country as a whole.
Does it mean that Khupe is unable to handle Tsvangirai’s duties?
What exactly is it that Tsvangirai does, which cannot be done by a woman?
In the MDC-T, many thought they had found an epitome of democracy and a champion for equality.
By undermining Khupe, the MDC-T might have led its admirers down the garden path.
Democracy, which the MDC-T claims to uphold, does not discriminate on the basis of gender.
If anything, it advocates for equal representation.
By promoting more males into its top echelons, the MDC-T party has created a huge disequilibrium against women.
It also does not make economic sense to have three deputies for a small economy such as Zimbabwe when the world’s biggest economy, the US, has one deputy president.
President Robert Mugabe, whom the MDC-T frowns upon for his populist policies, has two vice presidents.
It is not just in the MDC-T where women are losing ground.
The trend now cuts across all political parties, making it a national phenomenon as opposed to a party-specific habit.
In 2014, Joice Mujuru was sent packing as vice president on allegations of undermining President Mugabe.
The allegations have since been dismissed as “political banter”, implying that those who authored her demise devoted their time and energy to plotting the downfall of the only woman who had risen to become the first woman vice president of the Republic only to replace her with a man, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Interestingly, women lobby groups have been conspicuous by their silence.
Mujuru’s removal was done in a manner that was meant to inflict maximum embarrassment on her. A whirlwind campaign was initiated against her, starting from September 2014, leading to her ouster in December of the same year.
She was labelled “a witch”, “thief”, and “corrupt”, hence unfit to hold a public office.
In fact, the party had to go to the extent of amending its constitution to remove a clause which stated that one of the co-vice-presidents in ZANU-PF was supposed to be occupied by a female.
Mujuru’s downfall meant that in terms of decision-making in the presidium, the female voice has been silenced.
In ZAPU, women have also lost ground following the resignation of party vice president, Emilia Mukaratirwa.
Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga also relinquished her post as secretary-general of the MDC led by Welshman Ncube.
One is therefore left with a strong feeling that Zimbabwe women politicians are getting a raw deal.
Gender activist, Edinah Masanga, believes that what has happened in the MDC-T was retrogressive. It has eroded the gains achieved so far in the fight for equal representation in decision-making positions for Zimbabwean women.
“The manner in which the appointments were made is appalling and disappointing on so many levels. Appointing two men to outnumber a woman, who has been in that position for a very long time seems like a hidden vote of no confidence to her and women in general,” said Masanga.
“What happened to democracy and obeying the rule of law; democracy, the gospel the MDC-T has preached since time immemorial? I think that Khupe should openly challenge Tsvangirai,” she added.
In African politics, women are fighting patriarchal power structures that are hostile towards their entry into politics.
In general, the political systems in Africa are structured in a way that deters women from winning political positions, despite working hard to assert themselves in the political arena.
Structures of most political parties in Zimbabwe, for example, consists of men as the decision makers, who usually occupy the executive positions, making it extra difficult for women to break the system.
Despite women making up 52 percent of the country’s population, they are the least represented in politics because men have always positioned themselves as the front runners and political leaders.
The levels of participation of women in politics and decision-making positions remain a major concern not only in Zimbabwe, but the world over because women remain under-represented in most parliaments and governments.
Globally, there is increasing recognition of women’s historic exclusion from structures of power, hence the commitments being made to redress gender disparities in politics.
While global efforts are underway to empower women, political parties in Zimbabwe seem to be going in the opposite direction.
Political analyst, Ricky Mukonza, is of the view that what has happened in the MDC-T remains a mystery to many.
He said the most plausible explanation is that Tsvangirai could be attempting to balance power dynamics at the top echelons of his party.
It would appear that the MDC-T leader was losing grip of the party during the time he went for treatment in South Africa and the two appointments could be meant to ensure competition among his top lieutenants, thus allowing him to continue having control of the party.
It would also appear that Tsvangirai copied well from how President Mugabe manages power dynamics in his fractious ZANU-PF party, always playing against each other leading party officials.
“I, however, have reservations on whether these tactics will work in MDC-T; I foresee elected officials like (Obert) Gutu, (Douglas) Mwonzora and Khupe ganging up to resist the move,” observed Mukonza.
“Another possible reason might be that Tsvangirai has no confidence in Khupe taking the party forward, beyond his tenure. Bringing in Chamisa and Mudzuri therefore presents one of the two with a chance to succeed him ahead of Khupe,” he added.
If this is true, Mukonza concludes by saying that it smacks of hypocrisy on the part of the MDC-T, which, among other things, presents itself to voters as a party that champions the interests of women.
“It is a catch 22 situation for Tsvangirai and if it is not handled well it could spell another split for the party,” Mukonza said.