Margaret Dongo is a trailblazing Zimbabwean politician, social commentator, human rights activist, former Member of Parliament and former freedom fighter.
Dongo served as an MP in the Parliament of Zimbabwe from 1990 to 2000. In 1998, she founded the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats (ZUD).
Dongo holds a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. She lives in Harare with her family and supports various grassroots initiatives.
In 1975, at the age of 15, Dongo skipped secondary school and journeyed on foot to neighboring Mozambique to join guerrillas fighting to liberate Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), from British colonial rule. She received her military training as a medical assistant at Chimoio training camp. After the training, adopted the Chimurenga (liberation war) nom de guerre Tichaona Muhondo (“The Battle will Decide”). Dongo served at Doroi camp and ran the camp’s hospital. From 1977 to 1978, she served in the Tete province of Mozambique, receiving and treating guerrilla fighters injured on the frontlines.
Independence and Politics:
After Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, Dongo worked in various capacities for the new majority government.
She served as a receptionist with the Zimbabwe Inter-Africa News Agency (ZIANA) from 1980 to 1982. From 1982 to 1983, she worked as a Hansard proof reader for Jongwe Printers. Dongo served in the President’s Office as an intelligence field officer from 1983 to 1990. In 1990, she co-founded the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association, a national organization dedicated to promoting the rights of marginalised veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
Parliament of Zimbabwe:
Dongo served as an elected Member of the Parliament of Zimbabwe from 1990 to 2000. She was first elected on a ruling Zanu PF ticket in 1990. As a rookie MP, Dongo distinguished herself by fearlessly challenging the Zanu PF leadership on corruption, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. As a result, she had a fallout with the leadership. The party sought to silence her. During the 1995 parliamentary election, the party dropped her as a candidate for the Harare South parliamentary seat.
Dongo refused to be silenced. She contested as an Independent against an official Zanu PF candidate. The election was rigged and she lost. But successfully challenged the results in the High Court of Zimbabwe, forcing a re-run. Dongo won the re-run, becoming the first Independent MP in post-independence Zimbabwe. She served until 2000.
Throughout her service as an MP, Dongo unreservedly spoke for marginalized Zimbabweans. She served in key parliamentary committees, including the Public Accounts Committee, Indigenization Committee, Library Select Committee, Parliamentary Reform Committee, Government Assurances Committee and Standing Rules and Orders Committee. Dongo authored or supported various pieces of legislation.
In the early 1990s, the Zimbabwean government purchased some farms from white commercial farmers on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis. In parliament, Dongo requested a list of the purchased farms and the use to which they were put. The list she received, which the media and activists later christened the Margaret Dongo List, revealed that the government had given the farms to Zanu PF officials, instead of landless people. The revelation highlighted the corruption which marred the initial stages of Zimbabwe’s land reform program.
Rights Activism & Community Development:
After earning her masters degree from Harvard in 2002, Dongo returned to Zimbabwe where she continues to advocate for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. From 2003 to 2011, Dongo coordinated the Women Development Projects, HIV/AIDS, Manicaland, funded by the UN Association of Sweden.
In 2006, Dongo challenged Zimbabwe’s Guardianship of Minors Act in the Supreme Court after the Registrar General had barred her from assisting her son to apply for a passport. The Act deemed the father of marital children is their only legal guardian. Dongo teamed up with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) and argued that Zimbabwe wrongly and unlawfully denied married women the right to help their minor children acquire passports. They argued that Guardianship of Minors Act discriminated against women on the basis of their gender, and violated provisions of Zimbabwe’s constitution. In a landmark decision in 2010, the court ruled that both men and women who are custodians of minor children can assist those children to obtain a passport. Women can now assist their children to apply for passports.
International Work and Affiliations:
Throughout her career as a politician and rights advocate, Dongo has worked with numerous international organizations concerned with democracy, human rights and governance. She’s a current member of the Global Coalition Committee for Africa (GCA), Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and the World Movement for Democracy (WAD).
From 1995 to 2000, Dongo served as a committee member of the African Democracy Forum (ADF), an Africa regional network of WAD, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) Parliamentary Forum.
Below is a snap-shot of Dongo’s international involvement
- Presentation: ‘The Zimbabwe 2005 Election: Implications on Gender“, UCLA International Institute, Los Angeles, USA (April, 2005)
- Attended the Third Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held on February 1-4, 2004, in Durban, South Africa.
- Delivered a lecture on the situation Zimbabwe to a seminar in Lundi, Sweden (2003)
- Attended the Second Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held on November 12-15, 2000, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
- Speaker: World Movement for Democracy’s Inaugural World Assembly, New Delhi, India, February 14-17, 1999.
- Presentation: Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, (USA), sponsored by the Boothby Memorial Lecture Series (1999)
- Keynote Speaker: Camden Conference on “South of the Sahara”, Camden, Maine, USA (1999). Presentation: “Change in Africa: From the Eyes of a Participant”
- Presented at the Parliamentarians and the Sustenance of Political Liberalisation in Africa meeting, organized jointly by the African Leadership Forum and UN Economic Commission for Africa, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 5-7 April, 1996.
Dongo’s work has been recognized and celebrated by numerous individuals and organizations. In August, 2010, the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) hosted a “Margaret Dongo Celebration Dinner” to celebrate Dongo’s Supreme Court victory.