The unforeseen expulsions from ZANU-PF, and government, of powerful and influential politicians left many unclear and uncertain on what the future of the ruling party holds for its members, and Zimbabwe as a whole.
By the end of last year, former Vice President Joice Mujuru and fifteen cabinet ministers had been relieved of their duties and some new appointments made. But while most of the ministries were filled at the time with a new portfolio – the Ministry of Welfare Services for War Veterans, War Collaborators, Former Political Detainees and Restrictees – even being created, the position of Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development was left vacant, and still remains as such. Its former minister, Oppah Muchinguri has since been re-assigned to the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology and no official communication has been made about who might fill her previous position.
A vacant position and an occupied rumour mill
Speculation that the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, might fill the post made sense since her new position as Secretary for the ZANU-PF Women’s League is a position Muchinguri formerly held in her capacity as Women Affairs’ Minister. But, it has now been two months since the reshuffle and such speculation is not generally being fuelled anymore. In fact, soon after the new cabinet appointments were made, there were media reports that the First Lady had rejected the Women’s Affairs ministerial post, requesting a more ‘powerful’ and ‘influential’ ministry.
Such conjecture leads one to believe that the Women’s Affairs ministry may not be as influential as our government claims it to be. Firstly, if speculation is accurate that the First Lady scoffed at the thought of taking this position up, does this mean that the ministry’s perceived strength and commitment to the advancement of women and their rights in this country is then just a fallacy? Secondly, if the position still not being filled is a delaying tactic to try to convince the First Lady to take it up, would this then mean that she is the only candidate currently deemed suitable for the post?
An acting male minister of Women’s Affairs: patriarchy at play?
At the moment, the ministry is being headed by the Minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, Chris Mushowe in an acting capacity; an appointment which has raised some controversy. Besides the fact that a pre-occupied minister has been tasked to lead this ministry, many have raised issue with a male politician taking over a ministry that has women’s affairs as one of its core mandates.
This disapproval was evident in reactions on social media during the official local launch of Orange Day, a campaign to end violence against women with many expressing alarm and disapproval. Even if the First Lady had refused to take up the position, the ministry and its causes are surely too vast to be managed by a pre-occupied minister who can only dedicate a fraction of his time to them. Moreover, while gender may refer to both men and women’s social relations, this ministry has an explicit mandate to cater to ‘women’s affairs’. How well positioned is Mushowe to fully embrace this mandate?
Furthermore, President Mugabe’s utterances at the height of the factionalism scandal within ZANU-PF painted the perceived faults for which Dr Mujuru was removed to be a result of the fact of her being, among other things, a woman. What we may not be able to tell from the statements made is whether he also believes that no other woman can ever be good enough to be a leader for Zimbabwe. But one would assume that he believes not.
The President’s statements, combined with his handling of the cabinet appointments in the post-2013 election period and the current status of the Women’s Affairs’ Ministry, have left many wondering if there is any opportunity for women to prove their worth in leadership positions. At the same time, it has brought the system of appointments of female members of parliament by quotas – as per the country’s new constitution – into disrepute as the numbers seem fixed to not translate to offices of higher authority.
The purpose of the quota system, as well as the various pushes to get women into positions of authority, has been painted as an effort to encourage women to enter into various spaces of influence and augment their numbers, in line with calls for gender equality in leadership as per the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, among other instruments which Zimbabwe is a signatory to. But with such occurences, this mandate becomes questionable.
Women have nowhere to turn to
Towards the end of last year the incident of a young woman who was stripped by touts at a commuter omnibus terminus attracted the attention of civil society, the general public, as well the international media.
During a press conference convened by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe at that time, women’s rights activists stated that they were not aware of who to approach within the Women’s Affairs’ Ministry because no appointment of a new minister had yet been announced.
While the government of Zimbabwe continues to pledge it’s unwavering support to the causes of women and girls, recent developments prove otherwise. Already, the state of affairs in national politics looks discouraging to many, including women who have the potential to become great leaders. At the same time, the systematic reduction of female politicians in cabinet, leave many more in doubt that women matter beyond the votes they can render male-led parties when elections come around.
As the major constituent of this country’s population, this all says a lot about how far off the mark in the struggle for recognition Zimbabwe’s politics remains.