'When the chips are down, you are nothing but mere women'

2013-07-30 10:00

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Following Robert Mugabe’s vitriolic attack on Lindiwe Zulu, the SA government not only dismally failed her, but all women, by not defending her

When I read that our neighbouring octogenarian (soon-to-be nonagenarian) head of state had been ranting about Lindiwe Zulu, calling her “a little street woman” and a “stupid, idiotic woman” at a political rally in Harare, I thought that senility had finally overtaken Robert Mugabe.

I could not believe that he would publicly issue sexist insults to the adviser and envoy of the South African president. I am one among many who waited for a response from the South African government, some kind of rebuke, even if couched in the most diplomatic terms.

To my dismay, the rebuke was instead issued to Zulu, with the presidency noting “with great concern, recent unfortunate statements made on the situation in Zimbabwe, which have been attributed to a member of the technical team supporting the facilitator, President Jacob Zuma”.

On the same day, July 22, the Zimbabwe government propaganda rag, the Herald, published a vitriolic and derogatory article “Debunking Loudmouth Lindiwe” which stated that Zulu has “too loud a mouth for decent African diplomacy” and that she is loving the publicity she is getting through her association with Zimbabwe “much in the manner that street women love drawing attention to themselves”.

Zulu has been under sustained attack by Zanu-PF for some time. As far back as May 2011, an article in Zimbabwe’s state-owned and controlled Sunday Mail claimed that, according to highly placed sources in the ANC, “many complaints have been raised in the party not only about Zulu’s apparent abuse of her position as an official in the facilitation team but also her compromised objectivity following widespread whispers in the party about her very close friendship and political links with Eleanor Sisulu (sic).”

According to these sources, I was alleged to have joined Lindiwe Zulu in “countless strategy meetings with Morgan Tsvangirai”.

These meetings were supposed to have taken place ahead of key Southern African Development Community (SADC) summits on Zimbabwe.

I have never been a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activist and fundraiser, as the article claimed. Beyond a greeting in passing at public events, I had never had a conversation with Zulu, let alone joined her in meetings with Tsvangirai. I knew nothing about her beyond what was public knowledge: that she is respected as a competent and accomplished diplomat.

The next time I saw her at a reception, I introduced myself as her long-lost friend. We laughed about it and marvelled at the complete and utter fabrications of the Sunday Mail article.

We agreed that since we were accused of being friends we should make it a reality, but our paths have not crossed again.

I have simply admired from afar the professional manner in which she has gone about her business and stood up to Zanu-PF abuse and bullying.

It was a sad day for this region when a diplomatic envoy was subjected to a misogynistic outpouring by a head of state whose violent words at public rallies are all too often followed by violent actions perpetrated on a hapless populace by a ruthless security establishment.

It was an even sadder day when the government that sent her into the lion’s den not only failed to defend her, but castigated her instead.

When asked how the ANC will respond to Mugabe’s reference to Zulu as a street woman, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe responded that the ANC’s long historical relationship with Zanu-PF dictates that “the matter will be dealt with in private”.

But then why did Mugabe not respect this special relationship and deal with his unhappiness by contacting President Zuma in private? Why use a political rally to issue sexist insults to insult the president’s adviser and, by implication, Zuma himself?

I realise now that Mugabe has not lost his marbles. He has made a shrewd calculation, and sent out a clear message. To the women of Zimbabwe, the message is that he is powerful enough to insult in public the envoy of the South African president in degrading and sexualised terms – and get away with it. This means that he can crush them too – just as he has done in past elections – and get away with that too.

Following Mugabe’s violent words, and as I was writing this article, I received an SOS about a new police operation dubbed Zvanyanya (it’s too much) that has the aim of clearing Zimbabwe’s streets of sex workers.

Zimbabwean activist Judith Chiyangwa witnessed a number of young women at Court No 12 at the Court complex in Rotten Row, who had been indiscriminately arrested for “loitering”. Bemoaning the fate of these young women who were taken to Chikurubi Prison, she has made an impassioned appeal (see  below).

Reading Chiyangwa’s appeal, I recalled “Operation Clean Up” in 1983, when hundreds of women throughout Zimbabwe were accused of prostitution and were rounded up and carted to distant rural camps.

I was a part of a group of activists who organised a series of protest actions and formed the Women’s Action Group in response. It pains me that, decades later, a new generation of women continue to face the same kind of abuse.

Mugabe’s message to South African women is equally clear: You may have the highest representation of women in politics and the diplomatic service in Africa, perhaps even the world; you may have made history by having the first woman to head the African Union Commission.

But when the chips are down, you are nothing but mere women. And when your womanhood is attacked just because you are doing your job, do not expect your government to defend you.

An activist’s fight against Zimbabwe’s clampdown on sex workers

Dear Sisters,

A new police operation dubbed Zvanyanya (“it’s too much”) aims to clear the streets of sex workers, but it only targets females and is a travesty of justice while hiding behind a so-called moral motivation. How is it possible for such a repressive and discriminatory law to exist in present-day Zimbabwe in 2013?

Below is an account by Zimbabwean female activist, Judith Chiyangwa, who is voicing her outrage at her experience of this law.

“I walked into Court no 12 today. There, on one small bench, the girls were dressed in green dresses and striped white and red jerseys. Their crime: ”loitering”. When is walking out of your house and buying airtime at 3pm regarded as “loitering”? On this small bench were 14 accused, all girls. Among them were two girls who came to Harare from Bulawayo to play rugby.

“Honestly, it’s sad. You need to see it with your own eyes, to see that this country and its laws, despite the “new Constitution” still treat women as second-, third- or even fourth-class citizens, if there can be such.

“Before I went to Rotten Row, I parked in front of Ximex Mall for a good 30 minutes. I did not see a single man being picked up for loitering. There are hordes of men there just loitering or selling cellphones and iPads.

“My fellow sisters, it’s time to revolt. We can’t have this happening to us and just watch. The crime is, as far as I can see, the fact that we have a vagina. I can’t see any other explanation. In five days we are going to be voting. For what? Can someone tell me?

“As we sit in our homes now, with heaters and fires this winter, they are at Chikurubi Prison because someone thought they had power to abuse these girls’ right to exist. I know when a big person is arrested we all write on our walls: “Free whoever”, because it’s a political issue.

“I am asking you, my fellow Zimbabweans, to join hands and end this madness. Maybe today it’s not you, your sister, your niece or your daughter, but we are sisters and sisterhood calls for us to protect each other. Especially when a nation has turned its back on its people.”

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