Silence in the face of injustice is complicity 

pork chops

I LOVE me a good pork grill and I have discovered a butchery at Specimen in Glen Norah that sells the most delicious pork chops that bring a certain level of glory.

It was during one of my pork purchasing escapades that I met a group of sisters selling their wares while talking about conflicts that the world faces. The image of two women sitting on a potholed pavement discussing the military merits of Asian and European superpowers.

Theirs were the struggles of how to make ends meet as they could not understand what was happening in Zimbabwe and its position on the global front.

They kept referring to the good old days and some were pointing fingers at those who supported the liberation struggle for independence. This got me thinking about Zimbabwe’s narratives around the ongoing Russo-Ukraine war and the history of this once bread basket of the Southern Africa nation.

Militarisation of women’s  realities

Women often bear the brunt of war. In Africa, where poverty levels can be exaggerated during times of conflict, women are left in an absolute mess as most times their gender roles expose them to the harsh realities of fending for themselves and their families.

Moreover, the narrative around women’s roles in times of conflict is intertwined with those of men, who most times are at the centre of conflicts. This leaves a lot to be desired.

Bénédicte Santoire, a Ph.D candidate in political science at the University of Ottawa argues that in every war, the resulting humanitarian crisis deepens and aggravates the inequities of the patriarchal system.

Men decide on their conflicts and define how they want to resolve them, without consulting women. Meanwhile, women suffer from such decisions.

In the case of Russia deciding to invade Ukraine in February 2022, women’s narratives are often overlooked. Dr Katharine A. M. Wright, a senior lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University adds that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has been demonstrating how the war is not only political but international too.

This means that even though the war is not on the African continent, its effects are being felt by women in Africa.

Zimbabwe is not an exception. Zimbabwe’s relations with Russia began in the early 1960’s with the latter supporting the late revolutionaryJoshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu).

It was not until the 1980s that the late nationalist and then president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe signed a conditional agreement sealing Russia and Zimbabwe’s diplomatic ties at many levels.

This began a journey with Russia that was solidified in the 2000’s when Mugabe was under pressure from the Western powers around human rights violations and he developed the “Look East” policy that strengthened his diplomatic ties with not only Moscow but Beijing and other Eastern superpowers.

This history of Zimbabwe and Russia has also seen Zimbabwe fail to take a stand against Russia during voting processes at the United Nations after the invasion of Ukraine.

A source close to the writer mentioned that this comes with no surprise as countries like Zimbabwe who belong to regional bodies like Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union (AU) tend to front territorial integrity and sovereignty.

This, however, means that Zimbabwe has fallen victim to being supported by Russia and now that there is this invasion of Ukraine, it is clear that the country is mum at the expense of stating the obvious that the invasion is in clear violation of international territorial integrity narratives.

This kind of behaviour by a country like Zimbabwe seems to be ignorant of the fact that even in the face of silence; a wrong is not made right.

What is being exuded by Russia is a mere coalition of attitude against the Western powers, which is part of a broader geopolitical narrative of the influence of the Western nations against what they deem as human rights violators.

 Zimbabwe is joining a struggle it will not win at the expense of its citizens and women to be precise. As is strongly alluded to by Ginetta Sagan, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor”.

A friend of mine argued that Zimbabwe does not have the necessary power, influence and agency to effect change to the Russia and Ukraine war as they,too, are being threatened by sanctions.

 It may be a good point but what is urgent at the moment is that true sovereignty is about ensuring that countries that deem themselves powerful such as Russia do not invade countries they deem smaller – that is a bullying tactic that causes grief, loss of lives and poverty especially with women citizens.

Zimbabwe can speak out against the violence and displacement women are facing in Ukraine but again, how does a dog bark with a bone in its mouth

Women keep the hope alive

As the war in Ukraine rages on, a Russophobia has swept the world including Zimbabwe. Feminist leaders like Irina Zherebkinaare arguing that violence remains unremovable in a patriarchal society, women also need to learn to use it, and not to refuse it…non-violence and imagination arefantasies that distract Ukraine from the decolonial struggle for independence against the Putin regime.

Silence in the face of such a reality fuels a country like Zimbabwe as complicit to broader women’s human rights violations.

According to Tereza Hendl, “insistence on holding onto the unrealistic in response to imperial violence reads as unstructured, irresponsible and harmful. No matter how well intended, the focus on utopia conceals the material impact of Russia’s violence, the real and imminent threat to Ukraine”.

Now is the time for women in Zimbabwe to go beyond our rhetoric of analysis and aim to hold our leaders accountable for the many agreements they sign at the expense of the citizens of Zimbabwe.

This was such a profound reflection stimulated by a mere visit to a butcher to buy a piece of pork. I overheard women debating about their lives and how they had been affected by the Russo-Ukraine war.

It may have seemed so far removed and yet the lives of women are feeling the pinch. As women, we continue to explore our lives, push for what we believe in and ensure our roles as mothers of the nation are respected.

Until then, we live, laugh and love to show the world that we were here, becoming better, making our mark, and leaving our footprint as we make the world a better place!

Chirenje writes in her personal capacity as a citizen of Zimbabwe. Twitter: @graceruvimbo; Facebook: Grace Chirenje; Instagram: @graceruvimbo

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