By Chipo Gudhe
Zimbabwe has experienced a fair share of political violence since the 1970’s liberation struggle to the Gukurahundi state sanctioned atrocities in Midlands and Matabeleland provinces soon after 1980 independence. This has scarred many women and have left them terrified to participate in politics.
Political massacres, beatings, torture and killings have become synonymous with Zimbabwe national politics. In all this politics, women are the majority of the victims and still remain a target.
The Emmerson Mnangagwa ‘new dispensation’ born out of the November 2017 coup promised new politics of tolerance of divergence – bringing a new ray of hope to the citizens. It promised healing, reconciliation and unity
However, the promise has turned into a false dawn for most women in politics who are still victims of violence and torture as their collective wounds continue to be septic with no action from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
MDC Alliance Midlands Youth Chairperson Sekai Marashe is one such woman who is living in a country which has failed to ditch a history of violence.
To Marashe, living in Kwekwe which is a political hotbed of terror gangs equates to living in a war-torn region where one has to dodge bombs and bullets everyday.
Marashe, who joined politics to bring change in her community has been a victim of the predatory politics and gendered notions of conquest aimed at keeping women out of politics.
The outspoken politician became a news spectacle on 27 August 2019 when pictures and videos of her walking half-naked in Kwekwe’s Central Business District to Kwekwe Central Police Station in broad day light went viral, after she was attacked and assaulted by Zanu PF youths at the party’s headquarters.
Marashe was forced to take “a walk of shame” according to her attackers who stripped her naked after assaulting her for supporting an opposition party.
The youth leader said she was dehumanized by the attack which was a direct infringement on her right to participate in politics and to support a party of her choice.
“27 August 2019 remains forever etched in my mind. I was attacked and treated like a dog by Zanu PF youths that are engaged in “extra legal” violence. Up to now, I have scars and health complications owing to the attack. To me, the attack was meant to push me out of the political arena. This was not just an attack on me but the effects had to extend to other young women with ambitions to join the political fray,” she said.
She said the attack did not end there as the state took it upon itself to haul several criminal charges against her. Marashe said she has been charged more than five times for politically related crimes.
In December last year, Marashe was sentenced to four months in prison with an option of paying a $20 000 fine when she appeared before a Kwekwe Court facing charges of participating in an unsanctioned demonstration that denounced Mnangagwa’s rule. Last week, she appeared in court facing allegations of assaulting MDC T members in a hostile takeover of party offices.
“I know that if they do not attack me in the streets, they will accuse me of one crime or another. So far, I have attended more than five court cases and now I am a common figure at the courts,” she said.
She added that the court cases were disrupting her life to some extent.
Marashe’s case is not an isolated case as violence against female politicians has become systematic. Her case is a microcosm of what is happening nationally to women.
The victimization and intimidation are now prevalent on social media spaces where female politicians are trolled and cyber-bullied, making them subjects of ridicule and shame. When Marashe’s half-naked pictures showing her injuries sustained from the attack went viral on social media, the Deputy Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Energy Mutodi took to twitter insinuating that she was a prostitute who had been attacked by drunkards.
Marashe said the incident gave room to fellow politicians to make sexual advances towards her.
A Kwekwe City Ward 2 councillor, Future Titora, suffered the same fate as she was attacked and manhandled by MDC Alliance members at a funeral after she defected to MDC T last year.
Obscenities were publicly hauled at her at the funeral, where several onlookers took videos which went viral.
“I was humiliated by MDC Alliance members who did not want me to exercise my right to support a party of my choice. They attacked me and left me traumatized. I have a nagging fear of the unknown and this has impacted negatively on my work,” she said.
The National General Secretary of Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) Muchanyara Mukamuri said stereotypes were relegating women onto the sidelines of politics. She said violence was a way of instilling fear into women to make them lose interest in participating in politics.
“Stereotypes are affecting our women in politics. Our culture does not see a real respected woman venturing into politics. According to our culture, politics is meant for women who are loose or who do not respect marriage. That alone, plays a part in women’s mindset where they then fear to venture into politics because of the backlash expected from society,” she said.
According to Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) 79% of women fear political violence or intimidation and over two thirds (65%) fear violence in their neighbourhoods.