POLITICALLY MOTIVATED VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN (PMV) in ZIMBABWE
On 29 May 2011 Cynthia Manjoro and 23 others, amongst them four other women, were arrested in Glenview following the murder of a police officer. Cynthia is a recent graduate of Information Technologies at a local university. She is also a human rights activist and mother to a 2 year old. Evidence abounds that she has done nothing connected to the murder, and was not in the Glenview vicinity when the murder occurred. The police officer investigating this case testifies that she is innocent, but is being used as bait to lure and arrest her alleged ‘boyfriend’ whom the police suspect of being connected to the murder. Cynthia has given the police all the details of the ‘boyfriend’, but they continue detaining her. She has been suddenly separated from her 2 year old son, now in the custody of her old and troubled mother. She sustained a growth on the left knee during the violent arrests, and her need for an urgent biopsy has been delayed by a month. Yvonne Musarurwa, one of the women arrested together with Cynthia sustained a fracture on the left hand and blood keeps oozing out of another wound on her right leg. Both women have been denied access to a doctor. They face violence, torture and hard labour. They have recently been transferred to the male section of Chikurubi prison, a holding centre for the most vile and dangerous criminals. Each time they come for a court hearing, the women can hardly walk. They continuously receive slashes under their feet, to force them confess to a murder they are not guilty of. Cynthia and her fellow women have been denied bail 5 times, and their next hearing is set for 29 July, two month after their arrest. What is happening to them is tantamount to serving a prison sentence for a crime they have not yet been proven guilty of:
The story above is a microcosm of the violence being currently meted out to women human rights defenders and political activists in Zimbabwe. Arbitrary arrests, physical abuse, torture and hate speech characterise a relentless campaign by President Mugabe’s disciples in the top echelons of the security organs ; namely the army, police, intelligence and militia to intimidate and instil fear in the masses ahead of the anticipated elections.
The call for security sector reforms in Zimbabwe is long overdue. Security sector reforms are the basis for sustainable peace, and will ensure a clear-cut separation of powers between state and ruling party, and between state organs and ruling party organs. In current Zimbabwe the state is coterminous with the government, and the government with the ruling party. All security organs pay homage and total allegiance to the president and the ruling ZANU PF. This confusion of roles is not out of ignorance but a decided strategy to maintain patriarchal hegemony. Unless these continuously blurring lines are highlighted, there is much cause for fear that the party orchestrated violence of the 2008 elections will continue unabated; given the assumption that ‘….ultimately the shots are called by whomever has the authority to hire and fire,” and also given the fears the ruling regime already exhibits for being voted out of power. Security sector reforms will also aid in the transformation of gendered relations that currently characterise Zimbabwean security institutions and systems, addressing questions of hierarchy and masculinities which are the major basis for violence against women.
Whilst it is true that the majority of perpetrators of gender-based violence are men, gender analysts conclude that identifying perpetrators of gender-based violence as unequivocally male is inadequate and simplistic. There is need to critically assess the socio-historical, political and economic conditions of any given space, so as to unearth the underlying power dynamics which account for gendered relations between women and men in patriarchal societies.
Colonial capitalism left a legacy of gendered relations in already patriarchal Zimbabwe. Gender division of labour accounts for masculine and feminine identities of power and powerlessness respectively; and gender is a significant determinant of violence in institutions where perceptions of women and men are more pronounced and hierarchically organized to privilege men against women. Gender-based violence is borne out of a sense of men’s entitlement to enjoy superiority and to control women. It is aggravated by cultural norms around constructions of masculine and feminine identities. As a result gender affects the way the particular abuse happens – who gets hurt, who does the injury, what forms of weapons are used, and what kinds of rationalizations allow the abuse to exist.
Feminist analysis has gone beyond the colonial patriarchy discourse to further interrogate the persistent normalisation of gender violence in Africa. In her interrogation of ‘post-colonial gender politics’, Mama argues that Africa’s new leaders, who happen to be primarily men, have not included transformation of oppressive gender politics in their political ideologies. In their ‘masculinist memories and nostalgia’ they have re-created and maintained the sexual and economic conditions of gender disparities that facilitate the abuse of women. Such hetero-normative ideals reinforce the structures of mainstream opinion and representation. Out of fear and socialisation women are forced to accept their oppression as natural and unavoidable, and they become totally silent about it. This silence is less of a problem than the deafness that is deliberately adopted by the perpetrators of violence themselves, the men, who often pretend that gender violence is not a problem, thereby placing culture and tradition as barriers through which women often fail to penetrate for their liberation. Women’s ‘silences’ and men’s deliberate ‘deafness’ all combine to produce favourable breeding spaces for more violence against women, and gender violence has become one of the most difficult problems to deal with in our African societies. Patriarchy and militarism work in ways that are ‘normal,’ ‘natural’ and in the crevices of everyday routine, in the process creating a culture of fear for enforcing political hegemony.
Feminist analysis also asserts that politically motivated sexual violence or violence against women cannot be seen solely as an assault on the body, but constitutes major political acts. They are an attack on the ‘body politic’ aimed at controlling an entire socio-political process by crippling the enemy group.
Nordstrom argues that rape and violence in the context of war are not sexual but aggressive acts that have nothing to do with natural sexual impulses. Rape is rather “… an act of aggression and violence through sexual means rather than an aggressive manifestation of sexuality. ‘ Honwana also argues that violence against women in times of conflict touches on ‘the core constructions of identity and ontological security,” and is a strategy for maintaining patriarchal and militaristic hegemony.
This being said, one can safely argue that violence against women in Zimbabwe is not a regrettable side effect but an overall military strategy to instill fear and perpetuate dictatorial rule. Likewise politics in Zimbabwe is not about liberating women. It is about further entrenching oppression and silencing them. Evidence on the ground affirms that Zimbabwean women remain excluded in the current political discourse. A look at the country’s recent history under the Government of National Unity (GNU) evidences how the Zimbabwean women’s agenda to assert their rights has remained elusive and on the fringes of democratic discourse. Recent SADC resolutions do not contain any clause that even tacitly mentions the peace and security of Zimbabwe’s women. JOMIC is controlled and dominated by men, and women remain window dressers, devoid of making any decisions or inputs that benefit their constituency.
SOME INCIDENCES OF VIOLENCE
On 19 February, 11 HIV positive women were arrested alongside Munyaradzi Gwisai and 32 other ISO activists in Harare while holding a meeting to discuss events in Egypt and Tunisia. They were detained beyond the 48 hours prescribed by law and were charged with treason, a crime deserving death penalty. The activists were denied access to their lawyers, to medical check-ups and to ARVs. One of the women had a lactating baby who spent the night in cells and was released into the custody of her father the following day, leaving the mother behind. The women were tortured and harassed, receiving ‘assaults all over (their) bodies, under their feet and buttocks through the use of broomsticks, metal rods, pieces of timber, open palms and some blunt objects.
President Mugabe’s character as an instigator and patron of politically motivated violence can also be discerned in his recent outbursts against Zwambila. Commenting on the MDC’s refusal to forced elections in 2011, Mugabe suddenly switches to unwarranted bodily remarks about Zwambila, a female MDC ambassador to Australia, “Maybe because having elections will see them (MDC) ousted by the people who now see that they are naked, naked as Zwambila in Australia.” In the same week, and following Mugabe’s style, Jabulani Sibanda uses the same sexist and misogynistic language against a woman MDC Minister, Theressa Makone. “Who and what is Makone? Is it a girl or a boy? The problem is that most of these in MDC-T (women) are so ugly that it is difficult to recognise them.” Makone is MDC’s Chairperson of the women’s assembly and Minister of Home Affairs.
Both speeches above constitute sexual harassment, which can be defined as unlawfully subjecting one to pressure, insults or threats with intent to cause him/her to suffer anxiety, discomfort and or feelings of insecurity as a result of sexual differences. The two cannot be coincidental given the recurring patterns and the thread of hate speech running through them. They were said by men belonging to one political party, and were said against two women, also belonging to the same opposition political party. The sexism running through them is also cause for concern.
Of the 91 media articles recorded by Sokwanele’s edition of the Zimbabwe Inclusive Government Watch for June only, 89% were articles about violence. Violations in the form of legal harassment of perceived opposition politicians and supporters featured most prominently in the media articles logged this month, with 28 articles. This was closely followed by cases of violence, intimidation, hate speech, threats, abductions and brutality with 27 articles. Cases of violations denying or abusing freedom of speech were in third place, with 11 articles, while economic destabilisation, or efforts to entrench corrupt practices, came in fourth with only 10 articles. Of concern are not only the constantly rising cases of violence, but the degree of such violence as already highlighted in incidences above.
The effects of violence in Zimbabwe have been to instil fear in women and stop them from exercising their democratic right to participate in the political process. Most of those who have been abused have kept quiet for fear that there will be future reprisals. Also, the police who are supposed to be protecting them are part of their abusers. Women’s bodies become the battlefield and the violence suffered has lifelong physical and psychological effects.
Experiences of Zimbabwean women should however not be viewed as miserable tales of passive victims. They are nuanced tales signifying high levels of brevity and courage, and are fraught with political significance, as Grace Kwinje correctly notes when commenting on the scars of violence inflicted by Mugabe’s police, that all she sees each morning as she wakes up to take a bath “ … is the scarring inflicted by Mugabe's police. These scars are deep, physical and psychological, but their political significance is that they can be the source of our liberation. They are our badges of honour, marking us as comrades who have been on the frontline facing the enemy head on.”
Their stories shall remain glaring evidence upon which the misogynists and militarists shall be tried one day.