BY VENERANDA LANGA
ELDERS Graca Machel and former Irish President Mary Robinson were almost in tears on Friday last week as they listened to heart-breaking stories of women in Zimbabwe at the Zimbabwe Council of Churches Women’s National Luncheon and Dialogue Conference.
Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, the African Union goodwill ambassador on ending early child marriages narrated how human rights defenders, including young females feared to do their duties due to nasty experiences.
“I live in Murehwa and things are bad there —but Zimbabwe is filthy rich and it really pains us to see poverty where people end up marrying off young girls,” Gumbonzvanda narrated.
“My daughter (Farirai Gumbonzvanda) was arrested under charges of alleged subversion and what I experienced in those 21 days of her arrest was hell. We are so afraid — my inbox is full of solidarity messages, but people are so afraid, especially human rights defenders — there is fear.”
Gumbonzvanda said Farirai was even abused in prison, which was just a tip of an iceberg on issues of violence against women.
“My daughter was abused while she was in prison and we cannot talk about that outside the spectrum of violence against women that are in prisons. I am a (United Nations) UN ambassador, but my daughter is under arrest and so re-engagement is undermined. When we talk about national dialogue — I feel that it should be inclusive of all other stakeholders and should not be limited to political parties only.”
She said Zimbabwe is not in a violent conflict, but there was need to look at some of the arrests as a peace resolution issue and not as a human rights issue.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum chairperson Jestina Mukoko said there was hope after the coming in of the new dispensation in November 2017.
“A lot of things that we thought were going to happen are still missing and we remember the period of August 1, 2018 where Zimbabweans were shot, and recently looking at the August 16, 2019 incident, we continue to see violation of people’s rights yet we have a progressive Constitution with an expanded bill of rights.
Mukoko said there was intolerance in Zimbabwe and fear to express oneself, especially after the spate of abductions.
MDC-T president Thokozani Khupe said the main problem in the country was failure to disengage from the election mode.
“The main problem is that we are not talking to each other as a nation. The result is that government then fails to provide for the needs of the people like food, water, education and health. Let us dialogue as women and bring solutions for the nation,” Khupe said.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches chairperson Vimbai Nyemba pointed out that it was imperative to look at what has really caused pain and hardships to Zimbabweans.
“Our many challenges can only be solved by Zimbabweans engaging in broad-based national dialogue,” Nyemba said.
Youth representative Namatai Rukweza noted that there was a lot of political polarisation in the country.
“We are facing problems of unemployment, unaffordable education, scarcity of houses and the abductions of people — and this creates an atmosphere of fear. As civic society, we no longer know what to do or say,” Rukweza said.
Getrude Chimange of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace said as a woman working at the grassroots she noted the pain and agony felt by females due to the prevailing economic hardships.
“My plea would be to the military and uniformed forces that their role is to protect us the vulnerable citizens, and not to cause pain, torture and harassment,” Chimange said.
Reverend Pamela Simari of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe said people were suffering from trauma, while others were experiencing mental breakdown due to problems in the country.
“There is a lot of bitterness and unstable family relationships, and pain because of issues like Gukurahundi. Our children end up going out of the country because of failure to find economic solutions,” Simari said.
Senator representing people with disabilities (PWDs) Rejoice Timire said women with disabilities were the worst affected because they were looked at as social welfare cases.
“We PWDs are not included in decision making processes, and even when information is being disseminated, PWDs are left out because it is not translated into Braille or sign language. Even during public hearings on the Marriages Bill, issues to do with PWDs were left out.
There is need to fight the stigma and discrimination of PWDs,” Timire implored.
In her solidarity message Robinson said Zimbabwe’s Constitution is very strong in terms of the bill of rights, including the rights of women, but what was needed now is to ensure that it is adhered to and all laws aligned to the Constitution.
“We want to bring hope to the women of Zimbabwe and say that you must not give up because women play a serious role in the peace process. Even when there was conflict in Northern Ireland, it was the women who came out bravely and started the peace process.
“I had tears in my eyes as I listened to issues of pain experienced by women in the informal sector, abductions, political polarisation and issues of unemployment. I had tears in my eyes as Gumbonzvanda was talking about her imprisoned daughter. However, there is great strength in numbers and women in this country need to sustain this dialogue platform and move your country forward,” Robinson said.
Machel said the major problem in Zimbabwe is that dialogue is fragmented and weak, adding it needed to be strengthened. She said she had become unpopular for fighting for human rights and the manner she was outspoken over the issue of Mukoko’s abduction years ago.
“As sisters you need to interact and question the system, and you need to be clear of what it is in the system which you want changed,” Machel said.
“There is fear of regime change — but what we are talking about today is not regime change — it is regime transformation and women must have courage to say what it is they want transformed. Women need to be the ones to lead,” she said.
Machel expressed disappointment in how Zimbabwe had deteriorated, taking away the dreams of women to prosper.
“I was here in August 1980 with the late Mozambican President Samora Machel, and I remember very well how this country was vibrant and so full of energy. It is still in Zimbabwean women to go back and recapture this, but you have to be a united people who can dream.
“If it is someone who has taken that dream away from you, then they have no right to do so. Use your power as Zimbabweans to say this nation belongs to you as women and you claim it,” Machel said.