STRUGGLES during her early stages as a girl child did not deter proportional representation legislator Joyce Jaja (MDC Alliance) from fulfilling her dream of becoming one of the country’s lawmakers.
Jaja opened up to NewsDay on her struggles as she grew up in a polygamous family in the rural areas where one had to work in order to live and pay own school fees.
She says by opening up on her life experiences, it should encourage other Zimbabwean girls who are struggling that despite one’s disadvantaged background, it is possible to work hard and achieve leadership positions.
The following are excerpts of an interview between NewsDay (ND) senior parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa and Jaja (JJ) on different issues regarding her role as PR legislator.
ND: Who is Joyce Jaja?
JJ: I was born in the Kondo area of Chipinge in 1973 and I grew up in a polygamous family, where my father had 12 wives. My mother was the eldest wife, but she passed away when I was still a toddler doing Grade 1.
As a girl child, I suffered a lot and survived on the benevolence of well-wishers who assisted me to attain an education. It was difficult growing up in a large family like that.
To attain primary school education, the then headmaster of Kondo Primary School, the late Charles Mayahle and his wife Miriam, paid school fees for me up to Grade Seven.
After that, my brother Samuel Matsviyo then brought me to Harare, where I was to later complete high school. It was difficult because he did not own a house and was a lodger, but he paid for my secondary school education up to Form 4 level at Warren Park High School.
Since my brother was a lodger, I used to sleep at Amai Tinashe Kadye’s house, a neighbour who took care of me even though we were not relatives.
ND: It seems you had a very difficult life as a young girl, but what did these experiences teach you?
JJ: My difficult childhood experiences assisted me to be able to become a responsible and more organised person. This later assisted me in my political career.
I had to fend for myself at primary school by working at people’s fields for a fee (maricho) in order to survive in the difficult circumstances.
Since my father was a polygamist, he was unable to adequately cater for all of us. Soon after completing my “O” Level studies, I did several courses that included security training, and typing courses.
I then got a job as a saleslady at Nyore Nyore Zimbabwe Furniture. That was in 1994. I got married in 1995. Despite my earlier suffering, I did not lose confidence and I decided to join politics in 1999. It cost me my job, but this did not deter me from my ambition to become a female legislator.
ND: What really triggered you to join politics?
JJ: The country’s economy was deteriorating and people were suffering due to unemployment and inflation. I then decided to join the Movement for Democratic Change then led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
This was a very bold decision for me as it taught me to be a strong, fearless and outspoken person. Since I was a hard worker, I became interim chairlady of Harare North.
In 2001, I rose through the ranks and became the deputy organiser for the Harare province women’s assembly, a position I held for 17 years. I am now secretary for transport in the women’s assembly.
ND: How did you come to become Harare province PR legislator?
JJ: I became an MP through the 2018 elections. In order to garner a PR seat, the party gave us numbers in terms of preference. I was number four in the PR list because I was a hard worker and I managed to get into the National Assembly through the PR quota system.
ND: So far, how have your experiences been like in Parliament?
JJ: Parliament needs very strong-hearted women because there is a lot of heckling, sexist comments and body shaming. It scares women away from contributing to debates in the House.
But I have managed to thwart fierce interjections by not responding to heckling. The best way to combat this is to address your issues to the Speaker.
When I was new in Parliament, I was very scared, but as I gained experience, I became brave and decided to be strong and contribute without paying attention to the hecklers.
Terrible things are said in Parliament to instil fear in other MPs. Once one decides to become a female MP, they need to be strong hearted.
ND: What exactly is your role as PR MP, especially given that you do not have a constituency?
JJ: I work together with MPs that have constituencies. For example, I have worked a lot with Harare West MP Joanah Mamombe. As a PR legislator, I can also hold meetings with people in Harare, but I consult the constituency MPs first.
Our party constitution allows MPs with constituencies to include PR legislators in their activities, and to meet the people with them including assisting in projects.
However, PR legislators do not get constituency development fund (CDF), but we do assist those MPs with CDF to implement projects. I have also worked well with Kuwadzana MP Miriam Mushayi and several other MPs.
ND: How do you feel now that the PR quota is coming to an end in 2023?
JJ: I support that there should be a constitutional amendment to extend the PR quota system. It is pivotal that females should be in Parliament because they can easily articulate issues that affect women than men.
These include issues of access to sanitary wear to girls and women, gender-based violence, maternal health issues and several other women issues.
Women are the ones that take care of the family in terms of provision of food and other basic necessities.
As a result, I feel that socio-economic issues affecting the nation can best be articulated by female MPs.
ND: What is your advice to young women that may want to join politics?
JJ: I do admit that violence and lack of finances for campaigns hinder women from joining politics.
However, my experiences as a girl child who faced a lot of challenges prove that everything is possible.
My advice would be that young women that wish to join politics must first join a political party where they will be groomed in politics.
Some of the problems that women in politics face is that they are labelled as women of loose morals. It is not true. It is just a way of detering women from joining politics.
ND: In 2023, if you cannot get into Parliament through the PR quota system, what will be your next move?
JJ: I will not be afraid to contest at any constituency, even in the rural areas. I feel I still have a duty to represent the people of Zimbabwe in Parliament because there is a lot of suffering in the country due to the ailing economy.