Equal Opportunity In Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai-Lead Opposition Dissolves Women’s Assembly

Gender equality is critical to our national development. The MDC, which evolved out of civil society organisations, including women’s groups, is committed to making gender equality a reality. We will eliminate all barriers that prevent women from playing an equal role in society and enjoying equal rights.

The empowerment of women is fundamental to the MDC’s vision of creating a new Zimbabwe in which there is equal opportunity for all.

- Lucia Matibenga, Without gender equality, Zimbabwe on road to nowhere

The Morgan Tsvangirai-lead MDC leadership has recently forsaken this fundamental component of its equal opportunity vision, as eloquently outlined by Matibenga. Lance Guma reports that “[t]he MDC…has dissolved the 24 member Women’s Assembly executive led by trade unionist Lucia Matibenga.” The suprise move may have come as a result of more internal power struggles within the MDC:

Those displeased with the decision say it’s an over-reaction to minor disagreements that are being fanned by people plotting to overthrow Matibenga. It has already been suggested that Theresa Makone, the wife of Ian Makone, is being lined up to replace Matibenga. Her husband Ian recently spent over 4 months in remand prison over cooked up terror charges before a judge freed him accusing the police of manufacturing evidence. Another point raised is that the standing committee has no power to dissolve the women’s assembly executive and was only supposed to make recommendations to the National or Executive Council.

More from Zim Daily:

Impeccable sources say the dissolution of the women’s assembly was preceded by a vote of no confidence passed by provincial chairpersons of the women’s assemblies of the MDC’s 12 provinces at a meeting held at the MDC headquarters at No. 44 Nelson Mandela Avenue in Harare two weeks ago.

Women’s assembly chairperson for Chitungwiza Province Lilian Chinyerere-Mashumba confirmed that provincial chairladies had passed a vote of no confidence in the national assembly led by Matibenga in a move likely to fuel factionalism and worsen emerging divisions in the party.

“We passed a vote of no confidence in the national executive because as provinces we are not happy with way things are going on between the chairperson and the secretary.

“We are convinced now that their personal differences will take us backwards instead of taking the struggle forward”, said Chinyerere-Mashumba who added that 8 out of 12 provinces had voted for the dissolution of the national assembly.

Harare Province women’s assembly chairperson Rorina Dandajena said the Matibenga led assembly was being accused of non-performance, factionalism, and abuse of party funds among other allegations.

[...]

A veteran trade unionist who fought in from the same corner with Tsvangirai during the ugly row and final split of the MDC in 2005 Matibenga said provincial chairpersons had no power to pass a vote of no confidence in the national assembly on their own as they did not constitute the required quorum.

[...]

Those sympathetic to Mativenga suggest that the fact that members of the dissolved executive will be allowed to contest for re-election means the move is not meant to deal with the differences between Mativenga and Masaiti or their non-performance.

They claim it a strategic ploy by a powerful clique in the MDC to reshuffle the women’s assembly and replace Matibenga at the helm with Makone or [women’s assembly secretary general Evelyn] Masaiti who are closer to the top leadership.

A modest politician Matibenga who is popular with the grassroots structures is not known to have powerful allies in the top leadership of the MDC.

As intimated by Zim Daily, the MDC has a contentious history, most famously evidenced by a 2005 post-election schism that split the party into two independent factions–a move that, at the time, some said “undermined its challenge to President Robert Mugabe’s 26-year rule” and has since made Mugabe “stronger than ever.” Earlier this year, both factions (represented by Tsvangirai, who founded the MDC, and Arthur Mutambara respectively)established an uneasy working relationship with the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, voting together to pass a constitutional amendment over strident objections from civil society and co-drafting a new constitution.” (More on Constitutional Amendment 18 from Zimbabwe Journalists.)

Perhaps to mitigate what could further dilute the Zimbabwean opposition, the Tsvangirai faction is convening “a special congress of the women’s assembly on October 28.”

Via LabourStart, in preparation for the October 28th congress, a solidarity campaign in support of Matibenga has been undertaken:

Dear Friends of Lucia,
An injustice to one is an injustice to all of us.
You strike a woman. You strike a rock.

‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is, I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.’ Rebecca West, Suffragist, 1913.

What has Lucia not been through? She has survived several March 11ths. She has survived the horrors of Zanu PF’s tyranny and brutality. She has been a source of our inspiration our leader, the voice of reason that has refused to be cowed out of the peoples struggle. She has remained consistent and steadfast that people and especially marginalised women are who this struggle is all about and for. Lucia is also the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, first Vice President and the regional President of the Southern African Trade Union Council.

As part of the ongoing campaign by many of us who understand the unfortunate removal of Lucia Matibenga from the national chairpersonship of the MDC Women’s Assembly, we have formed the ‘Friends of Lucia Campaign.’ If you believe in fairness and justice you can be one of us.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has set the date for the illegal women’s congress to be held on the 28th of October. While Mai Mati or Lucy has received nominations and overwhelming support from the grassroots in the party, going into that election without her support base firstly knowing how flawed the process of removing her was, and secondly why she is constantly attacked by MDC patriarchs, would be a gross omission on our part.

Why are they so frightened of Lucia?

Lucia will not benefit from silent support, those who claim to be her friends have to say, enough is enough. Democracy in the MDC will not benefit from silent solidarity. The assault on the Women’s Assembly chair should be viewed within the broader context of women’s liberation and emancipation.

Comrades in South Africa have started to write in support of the MDC women’s struggle, well done to Philile the South African daughter of the slain anti-apartheid activist Siphethelo Mbokazi. Others have sent in heart warming e-mails and text messages. We know we are not alone.

How can you help?

We believe if everyone is encouraged to use the tools and resources within their means, we can run a very effective campaign. To demand the respect for women like Mai Mati. Your solidarity costs nothing just be principled.
What are the objectives of this campaign:

  • Put the women’s agenda back on the agenda.
  • Link up, nationally, regionally and internationally, with other activists, feminists, politicians who share the same aspirations as the female politicians in Zimbabwe.
  • Campaign that women in politics be recognised as grown adults.
    Demand their rightful place in leadership not as a favour but a right.
    Invigorate activists who have endured the backlash from both the patriarchy in their midst and the Robert Mugabe dictatorship.
  • Campaign for an end to all forms of violence against women in politics and Zimbabwe at large. Especially the attack on female politician’s sexuality.
  • Build solidarity with like minded men who are not threatened by what Zimbabwean female politicians stand for.

Grace Kwinjeh, deputy secretary for international relations in the MDC, puts the controversy–and the role of women in the struggle against Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF government–in perspective:

Even before the MDC was formed eight years ago, Zimbabwean women made great strides in fighting for their emancipation. We took on Mugabe before the boys even woke up to their own oppression.

The women’s struggle was led by women like Everjoice Win, Shereen Essof, Priscilla Misihairabwi, Nancy Kachingwe, Yvonne Mahlunge, Isabella Matambanadzo, Thoko Matshe, Janah Ncube, Lydia Zigomo, Rudo Kwaramba, and Sekai Holland, fellow torture survivor and head of the Association of Women’s Clubs. Our first fight was for recognition as equal human beings to our male counterparts.

The Legal Age of Majority Act now recognises us as adults, we can vote, open bank accounts and even marry should we choose to – none of which were possible without the consent of a male connection, be it brother father or uncle. We were perpetual minors.

The Matrimonial Causes Act now recognises our right to own property, independent of our husbands or fathers. After we challenged physical abuse, Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act. This background made some of us suitable candidates for leadership in the MDC.

At what point, then, did we women become minors once again, answerable to male authority, becoming subjects of agendas that have nothing to do with our empowerment or liberation for that matter?

With the MDC’s attack on its Women’s League, we are relegated once again to second class citizen position. The first contact women like Lucia Matibenga (former head of the MDC women’s league), Sekai Holland and myself have with our bodies each morning after we wake up and take a bath, is the scarring inflicted by Mugabe’s police.

These scars are deep, physical and psychological, but their political significance is that they can be the source of our liberation. They are our badges of honour, marking us as comrades who have been on the frontline facing the enemy head on.

To quote Brownfemipower, “Follow the women. They know the way.”

Flashback: the Mail & Guardian and the AFL-CIO with background on the brutal September 2006 assault on and torture of peaceful ZCTU demonstrators (including Lucia Matibenga) by Zimbabwe security officials; more on the immediate aftermath of the March 11th police crackdown from the NY Times and Human Rights Watch.

2 Responses to “Equal Opportunity In Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai-Lead Opposition Dissolves Women’s Assembly”

  1. donna darko says:

    “Follow the women. They know the way.”

    Isn’t that the truth, though.

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