Former MDC-T deputy president Thokozani Khupe in February spent most of Morgan Tsvangirai’s funeral holed up in a hut, fearing for her life, as party youths threatened her with violence.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
That same month, Zanu PF’s Zalerah Makari, the Epworth National Assembly member, escaped death by a whisker when thugs pelted her with stones while campaigning.
While the two female politicians are on different sides politically, they and other female politicians like National People’s Party leader and People’s Rainbow Coalition presidential candidate, Joice Mujuru have been victims of political violence, intimidation, harassment, social media attacks and physical violence during campaigns for the 2018 elections.
An investigation by NewsDay supported by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) investigative reporting on elections programme revealed that this year’s campaigns were violent towards female candidates. As a result, more women decided to go it alone as independent candidates.
Women in Politics Support Unit executive director Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma said electoral violence and intimidation on female candidates threatens to reduce female representation in Parliament.
Female representation in Parliament
In the 2013 elections, representation of females in Parliament increased to 35%, but Sifelani-Ngoma said in this year’s elections she observed a trend where political parties did not respect their rules to field more female candidates.
She said they were contravening Chapter 2 of the constitution which stipulates that there should be gender parity in every sector.
“The problem with political parties is lack of adherence to their rules. There is insufficient political oversight and the disadvantage is that it is felt by those that are weaker in political party structures like the women,” Sifelani-Ngoma said.
“There is need for political parties to be accountable to the rules that they have set up to curb violence and to ensure there is gender parity in the candidates that they field for the elections.”
Sifelani-Ngoma said WiPSU statistics of November 2017 showed that a majority of decision making bodies in political parties in Zimbabwe had less than 15% representation of women. She said as the country headed towards the 2018 elections, even leadership of political parties was heavily dominated by men.
“So the violence against women candidates during the 2018 elections was not only physical, but also structural. Structural violence can be described as failure by political parties to have rules that are inclusive of everyone plus women. Other forms of violence on female candidates observed were physical violence, and even verbal and cyber violence,” she said.
Negative messages directed at female candidates
The WiPSU director said there were a lot of negative social media messages (cyber violence) directed at female candidates by their male opponents. An example, she said, was the case of Khupe who suffered a lot of social media insults when she broke away from the MDC-T faction led by Nelson Chamisa.
“This is because of misogyny (hatred of women). The 2018 general elections will be the most digitised elections, and that is why we are seeing even citizens on social media posting negative comments about female candidates,” she said.
How violence affect female legislators
In a 2016 survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Union where they sampled 55 female legislators from 39 countries to find out how violence affected them, they reported that 82% of them said they were subjected to psychological violence.
The report also said 44% reported cases of death threats, rape, kidnapping, or beatings to them or their children. They said 26% had directly experienced physical violence; and 22% had been subjected to sexual violence.
MDC-T chief whip in the National Assembly Dorcas Sibanda said due to intimidation of female politicians, there is now a very big possibility that there will be fewer females in the Zimbabwean Parliament than the previous 35% representation record.
“As a party, we had agreed that men will not compete for constituencies being contested by female candidates. But, we were surprised to see them contesting those constituencies and several sitting female MPs have lost the primary elections to men. The tactics used to remove women included the use of money. Most women have no money and men used it to crush their female opponents out of the elections,” Sibanda said.
The two female Presidential aspirants, Mujuru and Khupe suffered the worst forms of violence on female candidates. This prompted the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) to issue a statement in April expressing concern over the attacks on female candidates.
“These attacks are worrisome particularly with the looming general elections, as they will inevitably escalate to outbreaks of political violence during and after the elections, if left unchecked. These heinous acts of political violence are aimed at intimidating the democratic contestation of ideas and silencing the voices of women in politics,” ZGC chairperson Margaret Sangarwe said.
The violence would exacerbate the disparity between men and women in politics and decision making positions she said. Sangarwe said it flies in the face of gender equality and peaceful, free and credible elections.
The ZGC urged political parties to take a strong public stance against the use of electoral and political violence against women and to improve their status within political parties.
Sangarwe called for creation of a gender responsive intra-and inter-party dispute resolution mechanism, and that political parties should withhold the gender equality provisions in the constitution.
Violent attacks on female candidates
The ugly face of political violence began to manifest itself on Khupe when she announced her wish to lead the MDC-T after Tsvangirai’s death. Her ambition attracted violent attacks and threats were made on her life.
The violence worsened during Tsvangirai’s funeral proceedings at his rural home in Buhera.
Khupe’s personal assistant Witness Dube said she could have been killed simply because of her ambition.
“Tsvangirai’s funeral turned out to be the worst nightmare for Khupe because rowdy youths affiliated to the Chamisa faction threatened to burn her and her vehicle. The bigger context of their fury was her wish to be on the late Tsvangirai’s throne. It was clear misogyny (hatred for women) and people even chanted that the MDC-T cannot be led by a woman,” Dube said.
“For the better part of the funeral proceedings, she was holed up in a hut as the rowdy youths threatened to burn the hut and shouted that she was a ‘dissident’. She managed to escape after the intervention of diplomats and Red Cross International officials who rescued her. They threatened to burn her vehicle, and she had to return to Bulawayo even before Tsvangirai’s body was lowered,” he said.
A few weeks later Khupe decided to wrest the Bulawayo MDC-T offices and make them her faction base, but there were fierce fights between her supporters and those backing Chamisa, who pelted her group with stones, injuring some of her supporters.
One of the MDC-T legislators who were present during the Bulawayo violence was Nomvula Mguni (Bulawayo proportional representation MP) who has since crossed over to the MDC-T faction affiliated to Khupe.
Mguni said she also suffered violent attacks and insults after she chose to side with Khupe.
“I have been victimised mostly by men in our party MDC-T for supporting my fellow woman Khupe’s faction. Some of them even ordered me to go and kneel and beg Chamisa for forgiveness so that I do not get recalled from Parliament like what happened to Khupe,” Mguni said.
Women should have be able to support any party without being victimised
Khupe was recalled from the National Assembly where she was the leader of the opposition in April when she chose to go it alone.
“I feel that a woman of my age should be able to make choices of who to support without being victimised and I do not care if I am recalled from my Parliamentary seat. I was targeted in Buhera when violence was meted on Khupe, but I escaped it because as I travelled to the funeral from Bulawayo, Khupe phoned me and warned that I should not proceed because our lives were in danger,” Mguni said.
“I also managed to escape the Bulawayo violence unscathed when Chamisa’s supporters threw stones at us. I could have been severely hurt, but I am used to war situations. When I was in Form 4, I was force marched by guerrillas to Botswana and we travelled on foot and so I am not scared of anything or anyone.”
Lwazi Sibanda, MDC-T proportional representation MP, suffered facial injuries in Buhera during Tsvangirai’s funeral. Her blouse was torn and her face bruised, but she fiercely fought back during the fracas.
“When Khupe was victimised and captured by some rowdy youth in Buhera, they shouted insults at her, labelling her Ndebele and they threatened to torch the hut. I rushed to defend her and the youths in question shouted at me also calling me a Matabele person. I stood my ground, but when I turned my back on them trying to walk away, one of the youth, a lady, hit me. I then lost my temper and fought back, while the rest of the youth beat me up with stones and bottles,” Sibanda said.
“I am not scared of fights and I could not watch while Khupe’s life was under threat. She was crying inside the hut and was very scared. She was also beaten up and one of the youth lit a fire to try to burn her inside the hut, but luckily the rains doused it.”
Another ordeal was before the Buhera incident. It was in October 2017 when gun-totting police officers raided a kitchen tea party held by MDC-T females to discuss political issues. The women had to run for their lives as they were teargassed.
Later in February, another female top politician Mujuru also suffered violent attacks during a rally in Harare’s Glen Norah suburb. Several of her supporters were injured after being pelted with stones. She also sustained a swollen cheek after she was hit during the attack. Mujuru said these were suspected Zanu PF supporters trying to disrupt her campaign.
During the same month, Zalera Makari (Zanu PF candidate) escaped death by a whisker while campaigning. One of her rivals in the contest for the Epworth seat, Kudakwashe Damson, allegedly sponsored thugs to attack her.
“Stones were thrown at me during a campaign meeting and while I was dealing with issues of illegal parcelling out of land in Epworth. One land baron, Damson, sponsored the attacks,” Makari said.
“I ran for my life and managed to escape, but I suffered a lot of verbal and physical attacks attempts to force me to give up the seat.”
Goromonzi West National Assembly candidate Biata Nyamupinga also suffered a lot of violent scares from her competitor Energy Mutodi.
“Whenever I travelled around the constituency to do campaigns, Mutodi’s supporters barricaded the roads with stones or logs,” Nyamupinga said.
Although she was not exactly beaten up, she said the tactic was a stern warning to her that if she continued campaigning it would end up very rough for her.
Another female parliamentary aspirant Sarah Mahoka (National Patriotic Front) said she was being threatened by Central Intelligence organisation operatives based in Karoi.
Mahoka is contesting the Hurungwe East seat under the NPF party. She was fired from Parliament by Zanu PF.
“I am receiving violence threats from people from the President’s office, and it is so bad that recently they burnt my campaign T-shirts. This was a move to instil fear in my supporters to ensure they don’t vote for me. They also targeted to burn my fertiliser and maize which I used to assist people in the constituency. My cattle were also targeted,” Mahoka said.
Notwithstanding the threats, Mahoha said she was not scared. She said she has the advantage of financial clout as a successful farmer, and was not scared to contest men.
Most of the female victims of physical violence contested the primary elections. Makari and Nyamupinga lost.