Jeffrey Muvundusi 12 June 2017
HARARE – Our reporter Jeffrey Muvundusi sits down for a chat with Women of
Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) leader Jenni Williams.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: You have relentlessly held anti-government protests, what really
A: I am inspired to demonstrate as I feel it is a way of playing my role
as a citizen and making my voice heard. As a woman and one of colour as
well, many years of my life, I have been classified as a second class
citizen but in my adult life, I will be heard and raise the issues that
are important to me and I will stand by my comrades when they also have
issues to protest about.
Q: What would you classify as your event of the year so far?
A: My event of the year was a recent march to the government complex with
child members. I was so proud of them voicing out their issues about the
state of education – reciting their poems without fear. For me, that was
an inspiring day.
Q: You have been arrested and tortured several times by State security
agents, what keeps you going?
A: If they arrest and torture me, it is because I am saying and doing
something right, something that they don’t want me to say and that makes
me want to say it louder. I believe that it is irresponsible to call
yourself a human being or a citizen and then to fail to do the things that
humans do – they speak, they act so as to improve their situation. I have
rights but I also have a responsibility to play my role so that democracy
can work in Zimbabwe. I think too few of us citizens take out
responsibility to the nation seriously and just concentrate on the next
step without looking beyond the next day. We are also focused on the today
because of this regime’s mismanagement of our economy and the bad
governance being practiced in the corridors of power.
Q: You have been labelled an agent of the West, how do you respond to
A: The words of silly foolish people who seek to suppress the masses
whilst looting the riches of our country.
Q: Some have accused you of using desperate women during your demos for
personal gain from foreign donors, what’s your response?
A: Once again, these are the words of people who don’t even care that
citizens have a duty and an obligation to protest, organise and act to
demand a better life for all in Zimbabwe. There are many desperate women
in Zimbabwe made desperate by a government that does not care for any of
us, made desperate by the lack of jobs, affordable food and the need to
conduct vending for over 10 to 12 hours day just to feed their children.
Q: In your fight for women emancipation, would you say you have achieved
A: I do believe that my work with my Woza comrades has raised the level of
respect for women. As we march in the streets, we have shown Zimbabweans a
new way to make themselves heard and the issues we campaign for are issues
that have affected millions of Zimbabweans. However, the work is not over
– domestic violence continue to increase. Women are still not able to
access the same things that men access due to systems of patriarchy still
practiced by so many. The harsh economic environment has also brought more
suffering on women who feel the effects different to men who can more
easily escape. Woza is also fighting for free primary education – this
campaign started in 2005 and we remain campaigning for it. This work is
not yet done. The right to protest is also still far from being respected
by the police, so we remain doing our work in the streets and in the
African Commission for Human and People’s Rights until this right to
protest is fully recognised and no one has to suffer as we have suffered
at the hands of police.
Q: What other strategies are in place in as far as petitioning government
A: Woza use over 200 methods of protest including engagement meeting
policy dialogue and we send delegations to officials. Mostly you hear of
marches in newspapers but Woza members are very busy everyday in
communities, working, demanding and engaging on this or that issue that
they see in their community.
Q: What do you make of women who are in leadership positions in Zimbabwe?
A: No I do not feel they have represented me well. I am disappointed that
many of quickly forget the issues they used to see when they were ordinary
citizens – it seems power comes with loss of memory. But this is memory
loss does not only happen with women it also happens with men when they
get into power. I am just more disappointed when a woman forgets the
community’s issues because women have a different genetic makeup and
should not forget the concerns and should remember to care for their
constituency more. I personally feel that the women’s movement should not
have only campaigned for a quota system but should have also done more
work to make women `super representatives’ so that they could establish
their leadership well.
Q: We have the First Lady Grace Mugabe, would you say she has really
played well her leadership or motherly role?
A: I do not understand what the first lady is all about and wonder if she
does herself. She is too inconsistent and does not seem to give clear
thought to what she is doing. I also believe she is too money-orientated
and her honesty seems questionable. Because of her apparent love of money,
she will never manage to really make me believe she can play a mother of
the nation role. Has she ever taken the time to really do the things other
first ladies have done?
Q: Turning to politics, where do you see the future of Zimbabwe under Zanu
A: There is no positive future for Zimbabwe under Zanu PF. The party seems
to be unable to allow the government to govern and continue to run the
country as if it is the party. As such, Zimbabwe will never get a chance
under this part suffocation to recover the economy, find new policies that
could kick-start growth. The will only come up with another pack of lies
on which to conduct their next campaign and unfortunately Zimbabweans
quickly forget that this is the party that in 2013 promised jobs which we
have never seen. I really wish Zimbabweans could be wiser this time round
and find a way to change from the dictatorship party into some better
government that we can put on a very short leash and make them deliver
what they promise.
Q: With President (Robert) Mugabe at 93, and his party having already
endorsed him as the candidate for 2018 elections, what’s your take?
A: That is a very short-sighted move and abuse of the elderly. They really
need to let Mugabe go and rest. He has failed us as a nation and them as a
party. It is just another way they are conning us as a nation everyone
knows that the president can no longer perform at the level we need so as
to fix the economic chaos so please Zanu PF let the old man go write his
Q: How, in your view, has the Zanu PF infighting impacted on our economy?
A: It has a very negative effect as it shows that the State has been
captured and that very little work can be done without factional fighting
stopping it. The factionalism is now pronounced in many different parts of
government, security sector and Zanu PF spaces. It is very worrying.
However, I worry if it is purposefully over-reported or sensationalised by
some rascals as a way to preoccupy us so we don’t dwell on our real
issues. Distraction seems to be the current method to keep us from
rebelling. I think we should rather watch TV series than follow this
nonsense and allow Zanu PF to implode and pay attention when something
rises from the ashes.
Q: What do you say about the opposition parties?
A: Their weaknesses are that they have become too focused on positions and
got too comfortable during the GNU. I wish they could be more serious
about formulating real blueprint on what needs to be done with Zimbabwe
and not just copy and paste solutions from elsewhere. I wish they could
challenge themselves to be more creative on how to conduct election
campaigns and how to engage citizens and civics. I wish they could see
constructive criticism when it is given and find ways to correct their
mistakes. I wish they could stop taking us for granted that we will vote
for them because we don’t like Zanu PF. That is disrespecting us and they
will not deserve to win if they do that once again.
Q: Who do you think is going to be Zimbabwe’s next president and why?
A: I could not hazard a guess because I think we are in for a surprise.
Q: Away from activism what else do you do?
A: I am never away from activism, it is in my blood and I take it to all
the spaces I am in. I am a part time road runner chicken breeder and pay
my bills by selling my birds. I find chicken rearing to be a therapy for
me to reduce the effects of the persecution I have suffered from Zanu PF.
I have Makhaya chickens and Boschveld which is a super Makhaya breed. My
new venture is in selling chicken feed which I formulate. I also belong to
a network of farmers and we help each other to grow our flocks and build