On Sunday 21 August 2016, the Sunday Mail published an article titled “Dr Mujuru unmasked” and in 1,418 words the writer launched a scathing attack on the former vice president. The writer attempted to invalidate her liberation war credentials citing that they were achieved through “romantic liaisons”. The reporter crassly denigrated her accusing her of “kuda varume” (loving men) and attributed her survival and success during the Chimurenga war to “kunyengwa nemashefu” (being courted by the bosses). To say the least, the article was outrageous. However the Sunday Mail succeeded in one thing: staring a conversation!
Sexual exploitation of women
Up until now, the liberation war had been described as a gallant fight and those who fought in the war celebrated as heroes. The ill treatment of female guerrillas was counted as a silent cost of the struggle; swept under the rug. Discourse on it was hushed, suppressed and sometimes dismissed. In the little known book, Re-Living The Second Chimurenga: Memoirs of Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle, former minister, Fay Chung, described the exploitation of female fighters by male superiors. They were expected to act as “warm blankets” for male commanders. Chung wrote that commanders such as Tongogara “demanded the sexual services of some of the young women”. When Ingrid Sinclair in the movie Flame in 1996, showed how a ZANLA political commissar raped and impregnated a female guerrilla fighter, members of the Veterans Association of Zimbabwe were angered and the film was confiscated for being “subversive and pornographic.” Richard Chirongwe of Zanu PF came out to say “The rape scene detracts from the lofty goals of the struggle for independence.” Yes! Discussing the rape of young women detracted from the lofty appearance of the struggle for independence. Sunday Mail, however, in finding new lows, also has achieved strides. The editorial team has sparked a conversation on women’s sexual rights. They have brought attention to how in 36 years after independence our mentalities and our views of women and their sexual autonomy still needs changing.
Pre independence Zimbabwe
Joyce Mujuru was probably 16 or 17 at the time when the Sunday Mail reports she was in a relationship with senior war officials. The Sunday Mail expressly confirmed that young women, “chimbwidos”, had been used by men in powerful positions for sexual favours. The great thing about this is that up until that article, of all the injustices that took place during the Chimurenga war, like the sexual exploitation of women, none was ever really fully acknowledged. 36 years later, they still haven’t been sufficiently counted as one of our tragedies. These were frequently excluded from our narrative as a nation. Every August on Heroes Day, we are asked to remember those who fought for the country. Only those who fought on the battle front! But what about the players in the background? The young women, for example, who cooked for the fighters, and were in turn violated and exploited ruthlessly? What bells did we ring for them?
Patriarchy is still a problem
Sexual abuse of women is deeply anchored in patriarchy and subjugation of women’s rights. You see, the fact that we have omitted sexual abuse from our narrative of the war indicates that women’s rights had not been taken as seriously as they should have been. Therefore as a nation, our narrative never progressed and overall mentalities towards women’s autonomy did not change as much as they should have. That is why 36 years from independence, there is a reporter and an entire publication out there that believes it is appropriate to bring a woman’s sexual history as an argument for assessing her competencies as a leader. Not her qualifications. Not her political decisions. No substantial arguments against her work whatsoever but a sexual history based on hearsay.
Mentalities must change
The sexual abuse of women is at least being brought up now. Finally! But look at how it is being framed; the young girl is to blame for what happened to her and the death of those she had intercourse with. “She must respect those who died, including those vaakaurayisa” (those whose death she caused). The chauvinism in the Sunday Mail’s article is a reflection of how we still have a long way to go to change mind-sets. If we continue to treat women like this and judge them on such absurd standards, we inhibit their growth, discourage them from making meaningful differences to society.
Patriarchy needs to fall!
Sunday Mail has demonstrated how deeply rooted the problem is. One would think the article is meant to be satire, but it’s not. It’s a reflection of how patriarchy still determines how and when a woman rises and falls. Patriarchy told us of Mujuru’s bravery of downing a helicopter during the war when they wanted to justify making her vice president. Now it’s back telling us the story was bogus in hope of discrediting her current oppositional politics. Isn’t it just interesting how this story is convenient now considering all characters in the tale are deceased, well except Mujuru herself. Our role as a society is to change that. Anyone regardless of gender should be appraised as per capabilities and incapabilities, nothing else. Women make up 51% of the Zimbabwean population. Imagine how many great leaders, innovators and wealth creators we are crushing if we allow sentiments such as those expressed by the Sunday Mail prosper. Nevertheless, thank you to the Sunday Mail for starting the conversation. A conversation way overdue!
Main Image, Joice Mujuru. Imagine taken from www.telegraph.co.uk