Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Grace, Joice and the Ordinary Zimbabwean Woman Without and Caught In-between

By Takura Zhangazha*

Last Friday two of Zimbabwe’s arguably most powerful women, Vice President Joice Mujuru and First Lady Grace Mugabe, received doctor of philosophy (PhD) degrees from the University of Zimbabwe.   It was an occasion that was both as celebrated as it was controversial. 

Not least because of the current public and private debates concerning Zanu Pf’s  electoral congress and its attendant succession politics. But also because over the last month or so, the First Lady’s almost given ascendancy to the post of  Zanu Pf Secretary for Women's Affairs  has been touted as a key move to stop Mujuru either retaining her current post or preventing her from succeeding the incumbent. 

So perhaps these doctorates are being acquired in pursuit of perceived (or even real) academic competition/ ascendancy between the two and on behalf of their alleged factions.  And in positioning either of the two as fully if not over qualified to either retain or take over national leadership positions in Zanu PF.

The awarding of the PhD's to the two ladies has also courted controversies in its own right.   A number of media reports have queried the unusually short period the First Lady took to register and graduate for a degree programme that usually lasts at least three official academic years.  Or alternatively,  but far less controversially, the timing of the qualification of the Vice President to coincide with an electoral congress year.

All of these issues as they have emerged over the last week are symptomatic of a number of key issues that are demonstrating the true character of their leadership bids, their party’s internal dynamics as well as the status of women in our society.

To begin with, their leadership bids, which they are since their party has an elective congress, have had to be structured within a highly male dominated political framework.  This is both because of the history of the liberation struggle as well as the significance of being in proximity to the incumbent leader, President Mugabe. 

Vice President Mujuru’s narrative has been carefully tailored to demonstrate not only liberation war credentials but a post independence capacity to not only to be a longstanding cabinet minister but an educated and commitment one too.  Just like those who dominated leadership in the liberation struggle, Zanu Pf and government.  

The First Lady on the other hand  has also had to link her ambitions to her proximity to her party’s leader who incidentally is also her spouse.  She has however also sought to demonstrate her intellectual capacity and acumen not only through her recent PhD acquisition but by trying to develop a persona of being ‘Mother of the nation’.  The latter point only within the ambit (and permission) of a male dominated framework. 

That they operate within such a misogynist environment is no fault of their own.  It is something that perhaps can be blamed on the historical genesis of many a liberation struggle on our subcontinent. The sad truth is that they are most likely to be successful if they do not seek to revolutionize such a status quo Sankara style.

The much more interesting question and issue therefore becomes, what exactly do these two women stand for.  One ostensibly representing herself while the other alleging representing a rival faction to the other as led by a male.   The answer to this might reside in the reality that they do not so much represent any potential shifts in Zanu Pf policies or intentions.  Neither are they keen on proposing anything different to what obtains.  Especially where and when it comes to women. 

In their many years of influence, one as First Vice President and the other as First Lady, they have never claimed to be progenitors of any overall new policies that have benefited women in Zimbabwe.  Where one checks with what Zanu Pf has claimed as its most successful policy in the last decade, the fast track land reform programme, it has turned out that women felt short changed.  Even in their own party. 

This is an important point to make because it must be remembered  that in all of these political manoeuvres, there has rarely been  a moment where these two highly influential women so close to power in their own party have demonstrated an organic linkage with the plight of ordinary women across the country.  Nor have they been brought to direct account on that score.

 It is not as if they would divide the country by doing so. They would only stand to not only gain better leverage to relieve women of the myriad social and economic challenges affecting them but also be in a position to demonstrate that leadership should essentially be un-gendered.  And that everyone’s interests, including those of women, matter.

So in the midst of the PhD graduations, the factional fights and shifting allegiances in their party as well as in government, they would do better to take into account the fact that perhaps, only perhaps the ordinary Zimbabwean girl, woman, mother and grandmother are not too sure as to what is really going on up there where power is kept or allegedly being fought for. Hence the narrative of who women support is neither popular beyond party structures nor in the hearts and minds of a majority of our population (women).

After all, they as ordinary women are still faced with unaffordable maternal care, poor health infrastructure, lack of land tenure/security, domestic /gender based violence and unequal access to education (unless their parents are well to do and alive).  

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)