Political violence in Zimbabwe is systematic and gendered. Gendered notions of conquest aimed at keeping women out of politics and intimidating political opponents malign the comprehensive rights – including women’s rights to participate in politics – in Zimbabwe’s constitution. Indeed, Zimbabwe’s ruling party is the prime agent of their destruction.
The case of Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marova
The mid-May abduction, assaults, and arrests of the three opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-A) members illustrate the above assertion. The three women claimed they were abducted at a police road-block while coming from a flash demonstration by the opposition party’s youths during the lockdown; they were then assaulted and sexually violated before being dumped in a rural area close to the capital Harare where they were only rescued 48 hours after the abduction. The ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU (PF)) dismissed and then recrafted their narrative. ZANU (PF)’s propagandists claimed the women staged it all. The ruling party’s more coercive elements continued their persecution through re-arrests and even the subjection of Mamombe to psychiatric examination. This surfaced the gendered nuances of Zimbabwe’s politically motivated violence. It has two goals. First, ZANU (PF) is reinforcing stereotypical notions of politics as a male domain. Women disrupting patriarchy by joining a political movement that resists the men who run the state are severely punished. ZANU (PF)’s second goal, settling scores with the MDC and putting it in a losing place, is in this case meted through women.
ZANU (PF) has a history of abducting dissenting voices in civil society, opposition parties, the media, and educational institutions. In December 2008, Jestina Mukoko, Director of the Zimbabwe Peace project, was abducted by state security agents from her home before being held incommunicado and tortured before being brought to the courts. In March 2015, Itai Dzamara of the Occupy Africa Unity Square campaign was abducted and remains unaccounted for to this day. More recently, a student activist Tawanda Muchehiwa was abducted and tortured by people who were looking for his journalist uncle considered a critic of the state. Feminist theory can add to an understanding of how the violence is framed and instigated politically: it brings the actual meaning and implication of the violence to the surface. ZANU (PF)’s obsession with the three young women leaders demonstrates that such violence is far from spontaneous. It is systematically gendered. Its gendered nature carries deep meaning in the context of political rivalry.