Feminst Chronicles: Diary 28: Rebecca Chisamba


As a Zimbabwean I do not need to look very far to identify our very own Oprah Winfrey. Rebecca Chisamba hosts her own talk show known as the Mai Chisamba show and from that she is also popularly known as Mai Chisamba. She addresses a wide range of topical issues affecting Zimbabweans in their daily lives. Her topics range from abortion, witchcraft, lobola, homosexuality, early marriage, small houses, to child abuse. She tackles difficult issues that society is afraid to discuss and drags issues that society usually sweeps under the carpet into the limelight and forces society to confront these issues and device solutions to the many challenges and problems arising.

Amai Chisamba, the talk show hostess doing her thing

 Mai Chisamba raises questions that make people challenge their notions of morality in relation to gender equality. For instance she hosted shows discussing the important question of infidelity amongst men and women. Her bone of contention with the men was in understanding why men cheat so much, why it is common cause that they cheat, why they expect women to stay put and stick it out after they find out their infidelity yet on the other hand when a man catches a woman cheating 99% of the time he does not want anything to do with her after that.

Mai Chisamba is a strong advocate against the spread of HIV and Aids, child abuse and domestic violence. In 2007 she was arrested together with the founder of the Girl Child Network Betty Makoni for allegedly contravening the Child Protection and Adoption Act. Betty Makoni t had brought women and girls survivors of sexual abuse to the Amai Chisamba show as part of her campaign to end sexual abuse as a prerequisite to ensure national development. The police argued that in broadcasting the show where these girls confessed to have been raped, Mai Chisamba and Betty Makoni circumvented the law and wrongfully paraded suspected rape victims whose cases were still pending in the courts. It is quite surprising to hear that the same police in 2011 were parading ‘suspected’ female rapists when their case had not even been lodged before a court of law.

Although the faces of the minors were obscured on the show the state insisted that bringing them on the show was a violation of the Child Protection Act, a hypocritical statement from the state which had failed to protect these children from abuse in the first place. The campaign by Girl Child Network  came in the face of increased reportage of the abuse of young girls by men infected with HIV/AIDS driven by the myth that  raping a virgin (the younger the better), would cure AIDS.

 Girl Child Network had previously exposed Madzibaba Nzira a ZANU-PF affiliated false prophet who raped women as part of his ‘prayers; to ensure they got what they were ‘praying for.’ It had also exposed Pastor Obadiah Musindo another ZANU-PF affiliated pastor who raped his housekeeper. Girl Child Network had also exposed Chris Mushowe a ZANU PF member of parliament who fondled, sexually harassed, and forced girls to masturbate in front of him. These girls were supposed to be beneficiaries of the Presidential Fort Hare Scholarship. Hence when Mai Chisamba associated herself with Girl Child Network she faced the consequences.

 In 2009 she was part of a campaign led by Practical Action Southern Africa, entitled Energising the Millennium Development Goals – Setting an Enabling Environment for Southern Africa (E-MINDSET), in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. The objectives of the campaign were to demonstrate the importance of mainstreaming energy needs in development plans so as to facilitate smooth achievement of Millennium Development Goals. The programme sought to empower communities by giving them the necessary skills to develop their own development plans at ward level, recognising their energy needs and priorities. Episodes of the Mai Chisamba show were recorded with communities to collect the views of these communities.

 Mai Chisamba also tackled the very important question of beauty and how it has disempowered women in Zimbabwe. Some women believe being light-skinned is synonymous with being beautiful (as most men are attracted to light skinned women). In the end these women use skin lightening creams to bleach their dark skins, placing themselves at risk of developing skin cancers. Others take vagina tightening creams and hip, bum and breast enhancement pills to become voluptuous and hence “attractive” to men.  This degrading behaviour which makes women prisoners in their own bodies is still problematic, with women disfiguring themselves just to ensure that they have a man in their lives. It speaks to the deeply entrenched societal perception and patriarchal notion that a woman is not complete without a man and hence she should do everything in her power to get one, even through destructive behaviour to her own well being. In addressing such issues publicly, Mai Chisamba gave women a chance to analyse their behaviour, question the effects of this behaviour and make informed decisions about whether they want to continue doing these destructive acts that demean their persona.

 In 2009 she was also involved with Musasa Project, an organisation fighting to end and address the consequences of domestic violence and Padare/ Enkundleni a men’s gender forum in leading discussions on the practice of lobola. Lobola/Roora/Bride Price remains one of the most contentious cultural practices that has largely compromised the dialogue on gender equality in Zimbabwe. In the olden days lobola was paid by the groom to the bride’s family as a means of setting ties between the groom’s and the bride’s families. Nowadays it has been turned into a moneymaking venture which gives men an excuse for battering their wives, making unreasonable demands including sexual demands from their wives, arguing that they PAID for the services they demand.

 Although the Mai Chisamba show has not resolved the question or resulted in a decision whether to continue or discontinue the practice, it has facilitated dialogue which has raised awareness on the dangers of overcharging on the part of the fathers and has also cautioned some men to respect the essence of the practice and not to abuse it for their own selfish ends.

 Mai Chisamba is one of the women who have advocated the beauty and brains element of beauty pageants, arguing that without the brains the pageants are demeaning as they only an exhibition of the women’s bodies and could encourage young girls not to pursue a proper education but take the shortcut to riches and fame using their bodies. She was also one of the first people to profile the issue of male prostitution, drawing the population into discussions of why men prostitute themselves and the consequences thereof.

 In 2010 she was instrumental in highlighting the importance of women’s participation in the ongoing constitution making process in Zimbabwe. The campaign entitled “Stand up and Draft your Constitution” raised much awareness on women and the constitution. It improved the visibility of the women’s movement and hence increased women’s informed participation in the processes.

Although some critics have dismissed the show as lacking in structure, sustainability and philosophical base, it remains one of the most popular educating programmes on local television. In 2009, when it was suspended unceremoniously from broadcasting, a huge outcry against this suspension led to the show being reinstated.

Mai Chisamba is a role model of how sheer determination can lead to much success. Although she started off her career as a teacher, she found her passion and moved  to being a talk show host later on. Despite her numerous roles as wife, mother of five and pursuing her career goals, she also managed to complete her Master of Arts Degree from the Women’s University in 2010.

 She was voted the Communicator of the Year in 2003, Best Television Woman Presenter in 2007 and Best Television Presenter in the 2008 Njama Awards. She also won the award for the ‘Long standing talk show’ in the Victory Awards in 2011.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 27: Catherine Makoni


One of the words I have decided to make part of my permanent vocabulary is ubuntu. This word which refers to the same thing though spoken to in many cultures and languages across the African continent is about our humanity, the notion that as human beings we should relate to each other with dignity and respect. One of the first things that drew me to Catherine is her conclusion that Zimbabweans have lost their UBUNTU. I agree with her.

 I know fellow Zimbabweans that I look at and frown upon. No I am not being judgemental or maybe I am but here is what I see in them and if after you have read this you do not frown upon their behaviour too then I guess you are not judgemental. They think every commercial sex worker is a prostitute and that they do it because they are possessed by a demonic spirit of prostitution or because they just want it. What about the victims of trafficking? What about the woman who had no choice? Of course because we always have a choice we always assume every individual has a choice, right? I frown upon Zimbabweans who make fun of the women’s movement and how the quest for gender equality is un-African and ungodly. How would they feel if they had to live in an environment in which they were considered incapable because they are women, in which they did not have choices about where they live, where they work and what they do because they are women, an environment in which they had to work twice as hard to prove their capabilities, where they are used and discarded because that is how society is structured. I frown upon people who think simply because their life is perfect then they need not worry about other people’s welfare. In Ndebele they say Indoda iyazibonela, in Shona Nhamo yeumwe hairambirwi sadza, and in English Each man for himself and God for us all. Is that our humanity?

Catherine speaks to these issues in a much more articulate manner than I am doing here. Speaking to the strife and trouble that wrecked Zimbabweans’ lives in the article We have lost our ubuntu  she said,

“We all know what’s wrong and what’s right but no one is willing to do what it takes for the common good. The shelves are empty, but as long as I am managing to put food on my family’s table, who cares that my neighbour’s children are going to bed hungry? As long as I can access cash through various means, who cares that someone has been spending days and nights outside the bank waiting to withdraw their paltry money. We look at them, we feel sorry, we despair but we are relieved that it is not us standing in the baking sun as we go about our business. We do not intervene. We do not speak out when we should. Hatisisina hunhu. We have lost our ubuntu; that which makes us members of the human family.”

Cover to the Book in which Catherine's story: Letters to my cousin was published.

She is a champion for women’s rights.  One of the most interesting articles written by her is Women as vectors of disease: The problem with ill-thought campaigns . In this article, she criticises the reference to and lumping together of divorced women, single women, commercial sex workers, mistresses (known as small houses in Zimbabwe) as mahure (whores). She also frowns upon HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns that depict women as the problem, with a woman portrayed as the jar of honey into which many men want to dip their fingers but instead they get out of it infected. She criticises the portrayal of women as the problem and asserts that the spread of HIV/AIDS is a problem perpetuated by the societal expectation of what women can do and can’t do which men can do such as engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners what she terms ‘toxic masculinities.’  She makes the apt point that the spread of HIV/AIDS is not the fault of women who do not conform to the cultural practise that is perceived to be acceptable and ‘normal.’ I agree with Catherine completely when she states that blaming women for men’s immorality only stigmatises women whose lifestyles differ from the promoted cultural and religious hegemonic norm. Indeed the expectation for women to remain virgins while single and remain faithful after marriages will only work if men do the same, otherwise as things stand where men are expected to dally in all sorts of sexual adventures while single and comfortably boast of a small house after marriage is a recipe for the continuation of the spread of the disease.

 She has written on how women are abused in a bid to silence them and silence their voices in the political arena. In her article If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will look like nails  she describes Rutendo  a woman who, “knows the pain of displacement only too well. At 64, she had to suffer the pain and humiliation of being gang-raped by boys young enough to be her grandsons. The trauma of that experience lives with her still. None of her close relatives know about her ordeal. She never went back home after that night. Now she goes from relative to relative, living from day to day, wondering when she will die. She wonders if she could be infected but she has not been able to go for tests. It’s a lot for her just to wake up and go about the business of living. Rape is not an event. It lasts a lifetime.”

She has also addressed the question of why Zimbabwe had to enact a Domestic violence Act,  which she says was necessary to address violence in the private sphere which before 2006 no other act regulated yet it contributed to the death, injury and maiming of many women. In that article she challenged the notion that the dressing of some women invites upon their selves attacks from men. Catherine’s challenge of the notion of decency struck me as one of the most well argued positions about African women’s dressing, a point that I have always made but never had the authority to quote (which I now do).

She says “Notions of decency are notoriously difficult to define. Who gets the privilege of setting the standards for decency for society? Allow me to explain. During Victorian England, the exposure of a woman’s legs was considered indecent exposure in much of the western world. Around about that time, in Africa, most of us were still in our animal skins. Exposure of women’s legs was par for the course. There was nothing indecent about it. The settlers who came to Africa were coming from Victorian England and they imposed Victorian notions of decency. Gone were the animal skins, in came the voluminous dresses and skirts (totally inappropriate for the weather, one might add!) So successful was this process of inculturation that a lot of people (Mr Namate included it seems) are still advocating for this mode of dressing, long after its chief proponents have realised its folly and moved on!!”

She is a critic of the high levels of corruption within the government in Zimbabwe and has boldly challenged the source of the President’s vast wealth collections in Zimbabwe and around the world. Following the announcement of the increase in the President’s salary from $400 to $1750 in 2010 she boldly stated in her article Now we know his salary, perhaps he can disclose the full extent of his wealth,

Good to know the president got a salary increase from $400 to $1750. Good percentage increase for himself there. Wonder how many people would get an increase of +400% in this environment? Not many l would wager. Anyway now that we know how much he earns officially perhaps we can have another front page disclosure of how much he earns from other perhaps “unofficial sources of income”? It would be interesting to know how the family could afford to send the first daughter to school in Hong Kong on a $400 salary.  Maybe she benefited from the Presidential Scholarship Fund?

I also fell in love with her analysis of how the Constitution and matters of the Constitution impact women. Her point that most of the women in the women’s movement think once matters of personal are addressed in Section 23 of the Constitution then women’s issues are fully addressed and all is well in our little newly created paradise on earth. Indeed that is a falsehood because the lives of Zimbabwean women are more than just about abuse, inheritance, maintenance, custody, divorce and division of matrimonial property. The women in industry and commerce, business, agriculture, mining, politics, tourism, aviation, medicine and many other fields are affected in some ways similar to the men in those fields but in some instances in unique ways too hence a holistic approach to their constitutional rights must go beyond the personal issues to address the public day to day life as well.

Catherine has previously worked with the Women in Politics Support Unit and now is  Regional Programme Officer : Justice and Peace for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). A lawyer by profession, a civil society actor and a writer Catherine has published many articles. In her story : Letters to my cousin which was published in the collection African Women Writing Resistance An Anthology of Contemporary Voices and published under the section on Young Women on Sexuality. The short story is presented in the form of letters in which an older and mature cousin advises her younger cousin Jane who is in a relationship with a man 10 years older than her to be wary and make informed decision about where she takes her relationship. Jane is advised to be careful not to let the older man use his financial and emotional maturity to influence her into doing things she does not want and to insist on using a condom should she want to have sex with him.

Here are some tidibits from that story. The rest you can read for yourself:

“That eleven year age gap has implications Jane. You will always be unequal”

“When I asked if he was married you said you did not know. You didn’t think to ask because you assumed he wasn’t, otherwise he would not be asking you out. Sometimes I forget your naiveté and the sheltered upbringing that you have had”

 “Not everyone is nice and honest. Thee are men who will prey on young girls.”

The story of my car


Have you ever thought you were in a dream, living someone else’s life.  You pinch yourself repeatedly and yet still you dont wake up. Yes it really happened, yes the tragedy struck but then again you are alive and so have a lot to be grateful for.

Often I have heard tales of people who bought their car and lost it on the same day. “It was a complete write off,” those who would have gone to the site of the accident will narrate. I would distantly take note of the details and feel sorry for the person, then move on with my life. What a shame, how could something so terrible happen to this person, I would think. But I never really comprehended the enormity of the pain and shock the owner goes through, losing something so new and which they were excited to have acquired. The convenience of a car in a country like mine, where using public transport is a night mare is a privilege that everyone wants to enjoy.

So today there will be no Chronicles. Instead there is just me and the hollow feeling in my stomach because today I am one of those people I always used to hear people talking about. Yesterday I bought a car. Today I was involved in an accident. Ok I  may be lucky it did not become a complete write off but it was damaged. I thank God I am safe, but now I understand what it feels like to lose something before you had it in your grasp.

Life teaches us to be thankful for each day but it also teaches us not to wallow in our miseries in times of distress. So tomorrow I shall continue the journey of my Chronicles but today let me be sad for the damage that happened to my car.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 26: Joice Mujuru

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

I was sitting talking to one of the members of parliament, (whose name I shall not publish because the conversation was off the record) but something he said struck me as really important. I was quizzing him about how useful the inclusive government has been to the people of Zimbabwe and along the course of our conversation I asked him about the relationships between the people in the inclusive government. Of all the things he said one thing stood out, he said of Joyce Mujuru, “that woman is the most genuine individual that anyone can work with, she is truly motherly and what you see is what you get.”

Vice President of Zimbabwe: Joice Mujuru

 No in saying this I am not portraying her as a saint, because she definitely isn’t (no one is!!!) but I have often wondered if the qualities of integrity, honesty and strength I see in her when she presents herself to the nation make up who she really is.  I have also always wondered if, given a real choice this woman would chose to identify with a group of people whose reputation is limited to that of liberators of the nation from colonial rule who subsequently subjected the nation to an equally terrible reign of terror. If that choice were available to her or to any other person and were it not tantamount to ‘betraying the struggle” as the mantra goes, would she pack her bags and leave? After all, perceived insidious behaviour could result in widowhood!

 Born in 1955 and named Runaida Mugari she was raised in Mt Darwin, in the Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe. Faced with a bleak future, under repressive colonial rule, she decided to leave school after completing only two years of secondary school and at 18 years of age she joined the liberation struggle where she came to be known as Teurai Ropa (spill the blood). One of the things for which she is greatly revered is how in 1974 in the heat of the liberation struggle she refused to flee approaching helicopters as her (male) counterparts did and gunned down the helicopter. This bravery earned her the promotion to become one of the first female commanders of the Zimbabwe National Liberation Armed Forces (ZANLA).

 She adopted the name Joice from the struggle where she met her boyfriend who then became her husband in 1977, General Solomon Mujuru and came to be known as Joice Mujuru. After Zimbabwe gained its independence, she was elected into parliament at 24 years of age making her the youngest parliamentarian and female parliamentarian to grace Zimbabwe’s august house. She was then appointed Minister of Sports, Culture and Recreation in the new government again making her the youngest female minister and minister that Zimbabwe has ever seen. And there begins the part of her history that inspires me. Valuing the importance of education, she went back to school and alongside her demanding work as a government minister she completed her secondary school and completed her degree.

 I remember how some people would mock her and the quality of her English when she appeared on T.V but little did they know that she was aware of her deficiency and was taking cogent steps to make it right. Many of us do not have this kind of strength and focus and determination. If one were to listen to her today, they would never think that when she began her political career she did not understand half the concepts she speaks to with so much eloquence today. So a word for the youngsters, especially the rural girls, it is so possible to achieve one’s dreams as long as you dedicate your time and strength to be who you want to be.

 She then served in many capacities in the government as Minister of Community Development and Women’s Affairs between 1980 and 1985, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister 1985-88, Minister of Community Development, Cooperatives and Women’ Affairs 1988-92, Resident Minister and Governor of Mashonaland Central 1992-96, Minister of Information, Post and Telecommunication Since 1996-97, Minister of Rural Resources and Water Development 1997 and Acting Minister of Defence in 2001.

 In 2004 she became the first female vice President of Zimbabwe. Her appointment has been challenged as a dictatorial decree which was only made possible by the fact that her husband was an influential person within the ruling party and some have argued that her appointment flies in the face of the empowerment of women because she is a beneficiary of a government characterised by ‘dictatorship, tribalism, sexism and lawlessness.’ Some of these allegations have a ring of truth and yes it would have been a sweeter victory had she been ‘elected’ rather than ‘selected.’ However I believe in her own right, she deserved the appointment. There are many things that ZANU-PF is but it is not a foolish party. They knew the choice would have to be:

  1. an educated individual (something that VP Mujuru prioritised upon her return from the bush and fought hard to achieve on her own).
  2. a liberation cadre in line with the party’s ‘revolutionary’ appeal (VP Mujuru walked on her own two feet willingly to the bush to fight for her country’s independence. She only met her husband there and her choice had nothing to do with him and so her war credentials are her own not those of her husband)
  3. a woman (at the time that her appointment came, the Zimbabwean government was besieged with accusations of disrespect for human rights and so they needed to prove their willingness to respect some rights. Gender equality was top on their agenda and so here was a woman who fit all the other credentials and fit the bill)

 Besides the party dynamics, her appointment remains important because it set a wonderful precedent which I believe has forced all political parties to emulate. Frankly, I believe Thokozani Khupe would not be Deputy Prime Minister if VP Mujuru was not Vice President, given the increasing tendencies towards gender-insensitivity that the MDC as a party is revealing. So yes, however controversial her appointment may have been, it was a necessary and long overdue development in the recognition of women politicians in top decision making positions. In 2008 VP Mujuru was listed in ClickAfrique magazine as one of Africa’s ten most powerful women.

 The one disturbing allegation levelled against VP Mujuru for me is that she is antagonistic to the struggle for gender equality and is on record for saying,

“There is nothing like equality, (between men and women). Those who call for equality are failures in life”?” (NewZimbabwe.com).

The veracity of this statement is something I am yet to ascertain but if it is true, then we sit faced with a powerful woman in a position of influence who does not believe in gender equality. What do we do? Do we wish she had never been elected? Do we discredit her appointment completely and wish we had an all males presidium? Do we rubbish her tenure despite some great work that she has done for women in her capacity as vice-president?

 I choose to celebrate the fact that her presence sets an example and makes the rest of womenfolk know that it is possible to reach that level. That does not stop me though from wishing that all women in positions of power and decision making would be pioneers and cadres for gender equality. It also brings me to the point that if all women in power were true ambassadors of their womenfolk, beyond party loyalism and partisanship, fighting for equal representation then this country would not be struggling with a paltry 30% representation of women in decision making positions.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 25: Rudo Gaidzanwa

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

If there is one thing that I am proud of and one thing that makes me proudly identify myself as a Zimbabwean, it is the value we place on education. According to the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report, Zimbabwe is rated as the country with the second highest literacy rate in Africa (not just Sub- Saharan Africa but the whole of Africa) at 91.2% behind Seychelles with 91.8.  Considering that Seychelles is a little island with a population of less than a 100 000 and Zimbabwe has more than 14million citizens, it therefore means we have made so much progress in educating the masses in our country. Despite the many challenges that our education sector has faced especially in the past 12 years since 2000, we have surpassed Tunisia and continue to do better than the rest of Africa and for that I am very proud.

 Indeed the right to education should be prioritised as it is one of life’s most basic rights. Education promotes autonomy, self esteem and respect, enabling people (especially women) to develop their personality and capabilities, and to choose how they will live their lives. It strengthens individuals’ cultural identity and commitment to community values, expands their understanding of and respect for other people’s cultures and provides the knowledge and skills necessary to be independent and contributing members of society.

 I am moved when I find women educators, whose pre-occupation in life is to educate other women. Rudo Gaidzanwa is one such woman. Her passion in fostering the empowerment of girls and women is evident in the role she has played towards ensuring girls’ and women’s education. She is one of the founders and a trustee of the Women’s University in Africa, the first of its kind in Africa. She has also been vocal in criticising limited budgetary allocations to the education sector, suggesting that this not only kills the quality of education but also defeats the many strides taken to achieve gender parity in education as girls are highly likely to drop out than boys where the education system becomes defunct.

Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa

 She is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe where she teaches social policy. She has also published in many fora. In one of her many articles Gender and Canon Formation: Women, Men and Literary Art in Africa, she explores how the introduction of new religions such as Christianity influenced women’s disempowerment in African societies. She argues that the separation between religion, politics and the economy, disempowered women substantially in the way it domesticated women, restructured labour and re-distributed the means of production leaving women poor and wholly dependant on their male counterparts for survival.

 In another one of her publications Images of Women in Zimbabwean Literature (1985) she argues that the negative portrayal of women in colonial and post colonial Zimbabwean literature, predominantly by male authors, delegitimises their struggle for basic human rights like education and health. She then advocates rewriting women’s place in Zimbabwe and carving gender sensitive literature that promotes and portrays women’s access to their most basic rights as the fundamental thing that it actually is.

She is also a feminist and gender activist. She has written on women’s access to land, focusing on how women’s inability to access land impacts their economic limitations. She has argued vehemently that until the land tenure system is changed giving women, who make up the majority of subsistence farmers, equal access to land then the women of Zimbabwe shall continue to be disadvantaged.

She has explored the concept of African Feminism, exploring whether it is possible to talk of feminism within the African context given that the concepts of “African’ and “feminism” have been debated and no conclusion reached as  different scholars of different theoretical and ideological persuasions and of different classes, races, cultures and experiences have conceptualised them differently.

She has challenged the practice of virginity testing of girls arguing that that practice is degrading, unnecessary and only worked in the olden days when villagers would marry amongst themselves. Now that people are not confined to little villages, the chances of them contracting the disease after marriage are even higher than before.

Besides her academic work, Dr Gaidzanwa has also been involved in politics. In the March 2008 Parliamentary election, she ran as an independent candidate. For such an intelligent person who understands the nature of the polity in Zimbabwe, characterised by polarisation along party lines, I am sure she knew her chances of winning while running as an independent candidate were limited but yet she still went ahead with it. In running for elections she sent a very strong message that if political parties will not give women the representation they require within the party structures, then women will do it themselves. Women will stand independent of party structures and pitch their own election campaign strategies which they feel comfortable delivering to the electorate.

 Indeed, the path of designing good policy foundations for the nation has been a big part of her life. Dr Gaidzanwa was one of the instrumental individuals in the drafting of the Constitution that was then rejected in a referendum in 2000. She was a Constitution Commissioner between 1999 and 2000.

 Her achievements are many  and could fill a whole thesis but the one thing that inspires me is how she will not let anything and anyone stop her from achieving what she wants. Hers is the story of a woman to whom young girls can look up and emulate.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 24: Justice Rita Makarau

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

I must confess, having had the privilege to interact personally with a former judge of the South African Constitutional Court, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro as she shared her experiences as a judge but also as an advocate for human rights, I was inspired to believe that I could serve on the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe Bench, someday. To bring it closer to home, I am even more inspired by the strides that one particular woman has made as a justice of the law. Her name is Justice Rita Makarau. I never had the privilege of being taught by her at the University of Zimbabwe where she taught Conveyancing for legal practitioners for a long time but I did have the privilege of presenting in a Moot Court competition in which she was one of the judges while I was still a student. I remember how she commended my colleagues and I for the fine presentation that we made, a complement that warms me up to date.

Justice Makarau became Zimbabwe’s first female Judge President in 2006. Now she sits on the Supreme Court Bench and judges do not come finer than she is. Though not perfect as all human beings are prone to err, her interpretation of the law has been impressive in a number of cases.

Rita Makarau- as Secretary of Judicial Services Commmission inspecting a police display-photo credit The Herald Zimbabwe

As the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission she fights for justice to be accessible to all, in all parts of the country. Justice Makarau is and has been very vocal about the under appreciation of the fact that the judiciary must be an integral but independent part of the state with the Executive (President and Cabinet) and the Legislature (House of Assembly-parliament and Senate) being the other two important branches in the trio. In her speech opening the 2007 legal year, Justice Makarau is on record to have said,

Judging from the paltry funds that are allocated to it [the judiciary], it is my view that the place and role of the judiciary in this country is under-appreciated. Phrases that it is the third pillar of state or that it is an integral part of a democratic state are often used as appropriated fora by politicians and social scientists and have become clichés whose real meaning is not sought after or given effect to.”

 She has over the years identified the under-resourcing of the judiciary as one of the crucial factors undermining the delivery of justice with limited funds for witness upkeep, for the court to hold its hearings known as circuits in provincial towns, for the remuneration of judges and for the support staff which has led to increased corruption in the judicial service.

It is largely believed that her removal from the High Court where she was the leading authority, to the Supreme Court where she is just another Justice of Appeal headed by a Chief Justice whose independence has always been known to be non existent but whose partisanship is his trademark, was actually a demotion. During her tenure as Judge President of the High Court, Justice Makarau stood her ground in maintaining the independence of the High Court. In fact, under her leadership the High Court had made great strides in rebuilding its immunity from partisanship, external influence and political arm-twisting.

The list of her achievements could fill a book but her most celebrated decisions include her ruling in Muswere vs Makanza, where the law provided was skewed towards the exclusion of women from owning property upon the dissolution of marriage. In her judgement Justice Makarau unequivocally stated that;

“… it presents itself clearly to me that as the position at law that a wife in the position of Mrs Makanza (defendant) has no real right in immovable property that is registered in her husband’s sole name even if she directly and indirectly contributed towards the acquisition of that property. Her rights in relation to that property are limited [and] subservient to the real rights of her husband as owner of the property.”

She declared the law “unsatisfactory and unpalpably unjust”but given that the judiciary’s role is limited to the interpretation of existing laws and not the creation of new ones she could go no further than this. Her decision however challenged the legislature to implement reforms to the law and address this unjust law that perpetuated the discrimination of women within marriages.

Justice Makarau (left) in her court regalia

Justice Makarau also made a bold statement in the case of the two fighting factions of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe in which she ordered them to share the properties of the church in the country. This decision came following the barring of other church members by the faction of ex-communicated Bishop Nolbert Kunonga from the Church of England. Kunonga had decided to unilaterally withdraw himself from the Church of England protesting the acceptance by the church of gay pastors. Kunonga’s decision was strongly supported by the homophobic Zimbabwean government leading to them giving him human support in the form of police and other armed guards to bar the newly appointed Bishop Bakare and his followers from using the church premises. Although Justice Makarau’s decision ordering the two factions to share the premises was later overturned by the Supreme Court, she made a bold statement about the importance of freedom of religion and how the state should not interfere in the practise of that right.

Although her appointment has been questioned in some fora and her independence queried because she used to be  a non-constituency Member of Parliament for ZANU PF and was a member of the Government’s Constitutional Commission in 1998/9 a number of her decision have shown her willingness to serve justice outside partisan interests. Of note is her decision in 2002 in which she ordered the Registrar-General, to draw up a common voters’ roll allowing voters to cast their votes anywhere in the country in the Presidential election and not in their constituency as is required in parliamentary elections. She also ordered the restoration of all those who had lost their citizenship due to changes in citizenship laws onto the voters roll. Her decision was celebrated as a reinforcement of the fundamental right to vote as it allowed those who had been displaced from their constituencies by political violence to vote in their new areas of residence and also enabled those who had become victims of citizenship laws targeted at disenfranchising white Zimbabweans and farm workers who were descendants of Malawian, Zambian or Mozambican origin and perceived to be loyal to the evicted white farmers to vote. All those who had renounced their Zimbabwean citizenship as required by the new law and all those who had not done so were enabled to vote by Justice Makarau’s decision.

In one of the most protracted legal cases on press freedom, the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe fought the Media and Information Commission which refused it registration.  The Media Commission was refusing the Association registration, refusing to even give them a hearing arguing that their previous existence violated the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Justice Makarau stood out for making one of the most celebrated decisions in the course of this case when on 8 February 2006 she set aside the Board of the Media Commission’s decision not to register the Association and declared the entire board disabled from dealing with the case because of the outstanding bias of one of the Commissioners on the Board whom she perceived to be influencing the decisions of all the other Commissioners in this particular case. Justice Makarau’s decision defended and upheld freedoms of the press and expression. The decision was disregarded by the government of course but she had a made a clear decision upholding fundamental freedoms to which the government then acted in contempt.

The list is quite endless but one thing stands out clear, she is a woman, she is a judge and she has made some ‘fine’ decisions. As young women we aspire to step into her shoes and indeed she is one of the role models that we can emulate.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 23: Dr Rudo Makunike-Mutasa

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

As a society we often cry foul when certain things are not the way we want them to be yet we would be able to change things if we only gave more thought to the whys of the state of things. For instance, as Zimbabweans we often wonder why women are underrepresented in certain spheres yet we (especially other women as mothers) contribute to women’s absence in those fields. For instance when children are growing up, it is perceived acceptable for the girl to sit inside the house, sit in the kitchen and watch mum (or the maid) do the cooking while the boy is allowed to go outside and play in the mud and bring a bug into the house to scare his ‘light hearted’ sister who will scream her lungs out and rush to report this little rogue of a brother to the mother.

Girls are expected to play with dolls while boys play with cars and so when the toys are brought into the home, the boy knows the dolls are out of bounds and the girl won’t touch that toy car, even if both of them want the other. And so from a very tender age, society gives children limitations and forces them to conform to societal expectations of who they can be and what they should do. So, how then can we have more girls who are curious to know how bacteria grows and festers? How can we have more girls that are curious to see the mechanics of a car and from then develop a desire to design their own version of a car?

I wonder what Dr Rudo Makunike’s life was like when she was growing up? I would like to believe she was one of those girls that were curious about what makes mushroom grow and what causes meat to go bad if not dried or refrigerated. As the first female pathologist, Dr Rudo was drawn to spend her life dedicated to pathology, which is the scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences. Educated at the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Sheffield, she is an outstanding woman. A 1995/96 Fellow of the Gordon Signy Foreign Fellowship of the World Pathology Foundations, Dr Rudo is also a member of the Society for Paediatric pathology. In 2002 she was one of only five pathologists in Zimbabwe. She is also Chairperson of the Department of Histopathology at the University of Zimbabwe.

Dr Rudo Makunike (right-of course) at a meeting of the Society for Paediatric pathology

Her work sounds very technical and complex, but I guess being unfamiliar with the terminology they use in pathology I would find it complicated. What she does is study what causes the disease (etiology), how the disease develops (pathogenesis), what happens when there are structural alterations of cells (morphologic transformations), and the consequences of those changes (clinical manifestations). So it is the work of people like Dr Rudo that helps us to know that AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus which is passed on through sex or sharing of infected blood cells (the etiology of AIDS). It is through her kind of work that we know how the HIV spreads itself through the blood of the individual and attacks the white blood cells and once attacked the CD4 cell count decreases hence weakening the immune system of an individual (the pathogenesis and morphologic transformations). And it is also through the work that Dr Rudo does that we know that once an HIV infected person’s immune system fails they fall pray to all sorts of diseases; (mapundu) skin rashes, (chikosoro) coughs and flu, (maronda) sores, (mamota) abscess, the thinning of hair, the change in skin quality and the colour of the lips among other symptoms (these are the clinical manifestations that will enable doctors to say please get tested and let’s see if you are not infected.)

The diagnosis of cancerous cells and explanations of how they affect the body are done by pathologists like Dr Rudo. Autopsies; medical examinations that reveal the cause of death are also done by pathologists. The diagnosis and treatment, the admission into hospital, the prescribed medication and the discharge of patients from hospital depends on the result of tests done by pathologists. So you are now well aware of how important and vital Dr Rudo’s job is and how privileged the nation would be to have more women engaged in the work that she does.

She has published works on research she conducted on the nature of xerodema pigmentosum in Zimbabwe, a disease that results from genetic disorder where the body fails to repair the damage caused by ultraviolet rays and results in individuals getting sunburnt, getting freckles or displaying abnormal features on their skin when exposed to very little light. She has also done research on oral malignant melanoma, a cancerous tissue growth or tumour that is usually located in the oral cavity. She was also part of a team that conducted a clinical study on the effect of providing women with latex diaphragm, lubricant gel, and male condoms as compared to using male condoms only and how that impacts women’s chances of getting a human papillomavirus infection which causes cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva and anus in women.

I really wish our society would encourage girls to grow fungi in their bedrooms, maybe then we would have more Dr Rudos in our midst.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 22: Madeline Nyamwanza-Makonese

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

A few days ago, I discovered something very interesting. I discovered that GOOGLE is not so gender sensitive. I was browsing on google images conducting two different searches. I typed nurse on one page and doctor on the other. Where I typed nurse 99% of the pictures were of women. Where I typed doctor 13 out of the first 50 pictures were of women meaning that 74% were men. Apparently, google is still presenting the gender stereotype that doctors are men while nurses are women. This is quite a disturbing discovery given that many people depend on google for information.  The perception that these pictures are feeding to young minds is inappropriate and perpetuates gender biases.

Where has google been, when there are so many female doctors and male nurses around

However I thank google because after that discovery I was inspired to write this post. Many a times, especially when I was a teenager, I used to wonder how women managed to let a male doctor, who could be a family friend, a member of the same church,  a neighbour or at times a complete stranger examine them in the most private parts of their anatomy. I felt as if the examination by male doctors was an invasion of women’s privacy, but what choice did they have. Back then in Zimbabwe nurses (who were predominantly females) were not trained in medical surgical nursing, so their skills were far beyond those of a doctor and if any woman needed a doctor’s attention they had to do with what was available, comfort or no comfort. Of course to placate women, they were told that doctors were acting purely in a professional manner and so women needed not be shy. But this era was soon to come to an end and women would be able to choose who they wanted to touch their bodies, even so they could receive medical attention..

Just before I was due to travel to Egypt, as a safety precaution, given that I was going to a completely different part of the continent, with a different climate, different cuisine and different water, I had a full body check-up. I needed to make sure I was as healthy as possible before travelling across the African continent. I was attended to at Well Woman Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe by an interesting group of doctors. I had my blood tests carried out by a female pathologist, my scans and x-rays done by female radiologists, my breasts were checked for cancer by a woman doctor, checked for diabetes by a female endocrinologist, I mean every little thing was done by women, doctors of course and I was comfortable to discuss my medical history with these women. I am fortunate to live in that era when I have a choice, because it wasn’t always this way.

One woman pioneered this route. She became the first female African medical doctor to qualify from the then University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, now the University of Zimbabwe. He name is Dr Madeline Nyamwanza-Makonese. The announcement in the Afro-American Washington Paper back then in 1971 was very brief and clear;

“Salisbury, Rhodesia –Dr Madeline Nyamwanza has become the first black woman graduate of the University of Rhodesia medical school.”

 It was a proud moment then and it remains a proud moment today, to see how women have made remarkable progress in establishing themselves, performing tasks and holding positions which were previously the preserve of males. Where the title nurse was associated with a she and the word doctor with a he, today reference to ‘Dr Dube’  or ‘Dr Odumang’ invites the question, is the doctor male or female because it is never obvious!

Any one of them could be my doctor: Picture Credit Andy Nortnik

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 21: Lutanga Shaba

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Luta Shaba: Picture Credit BBC News

The insurmountable strength that some women display in their lives is inexplicable. Every time I would look at Lutanga Shaba in the past, my thoughts would assume that she was such a lucky woman for having the life she does at such a tender age. I also used to find her a tad bit aggressive and too outspoken, and yes that was before I knew where she has been and how far she came to be where she is. Commonly known as Luta Shaba, she is the current Executive Director of the Women’s Trust.

 When I got to know the person behind the image represented by the human body that I saw, I began to understand why she has made it to where she is at her age. She got there for no other reason than sheer determination, a determination borne out of a really strong spirit given that life dished out terrible things into her life yet she refused to drown under it all. I do not know how many people would have managed to become who she is today, if they had been given the same circumstances she was given to grow up in and face in adulthood as well.

Hers is a typical from rags to riches story. Luta Shaba, grew up in a situation of poverty, the kind of poverty that forced her to engage in transactional sex with an older man when she was only sixteen to pay her way though her high school and get food to eat. She tested HIV positive in 2002 after her mother died of an AIDS-related illness and she had discovered that the man she had been involved with had also been involved with her mother.

Out of this seemingly irreversible situation, Luta raised herself up from a nobody to become someone. She now holds a law degree and a Masters in Policy Studies. The Luta Shaba that people know today is a lawyer, policy analyst and respected women’s rights campaigner, who sits on the National Executive of the MDC one of the biggest political parties in Zimbabwe, a position she was appointed to in 2011.

Luta has been fighting for gender parity and women’s representation in decision making for a long time. She has accused the tendency of political parties to use women candidates as ‘pawns in a political game’, allocating them seats in areas that each party is very much aware not to be its stronghold. She has also advocated the financing of female candidates to ensure the smooth running of their campaigns.  She has also been criticising the lack of political will and commitment by the new Inclusive government to ensure that the gender parity provided for in the Global Political Agreement is realised on the ground.

She has pointed out and rightly too that without full recognition of women’s rights in the democratisation process, without equality and favorable electoral laws, without the proper regulation of political parties to ensure gender parity at the party level, without bringing an end to  election violence, and without addressing the continued perpetration of such violence with impunity and without concerted efforts for the mass mobilisation of women then women shall continue to be underrepresented in the political sphere.

Being HIV positive herself, Luta in 2006 opened a dating agency, ‘Hapana’ for HIV positive people with the aim to address the stigmatisation  and marginalisation of HIV positive people. She was driven by her belief that HIV people too ought to lead a happy and unrestricted life with a life companion or bed partner of their choice something that they are usually denied the moment they disclose their status to most people. Her initiative challenged the general perception that HIV positive individuals should become celibate, she challenges the idea that they should be denied choices about their sexuality or live in shame. This initiative has been challenged as being discriminatory in itself simply because it is exclusively for HIV positive people, but when one knows how conservative and narrow-minded certain sectors of Zimbabwean society can be then one will surely understand why this group was created. HIV positive people are sometimes viewed as the other while the negative are considered superior beings. In reality it is extremely difficult for an HIV positive person to marry or be involved in a relationship with an HIV negative person with full knowledge of all relatives and parents, unless the HIV positive person does not disclose his/her status.

Luta has published a couple of books, one a novel based on her own life story entitled Secrets of a Woman’s Soul (2006) in which she portrays the life of a mother who fights to shape a better future for her child and does so at her own expense where she becomes a commercial sex worker ad contracts HIV. The other; Power Stepping is a handbook giving life skills on sexuality, teenage hood, peer pressure and how girls should be the owners of their bodies.

Her life story captured in a novel

Luta also founded the Mama Milazi, a programme that she named after her grandmother which offers scholarships to academically gifted and ambitious young women who are unable to pay for their higher education. Luta has also supported with technical expertise the setting up of the Doors of Hope Development Trust, a support group of women victims of rape, some of whom are HIV positive.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 20: Delta Milayo Ndou

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Delta Milayo Ndou: Picture Credit Story Times

Yet another young person, very inspiring and set to make Zimbabwe a very proud nation, or should I say prouder since she has already started making strides in achieving that. One of the most inspiring articles I have read written by this remarkable young woman explains who she is, or rather who she isn’t. Entitled kicking out paternalism, in that article Delta Ndou introduces the subject matter by saying;

“I have never been too fond of radical feminism or any form of extremism for that matter; finding it to be an aggressive, usually narrow and unhelpful approach to conflict resolution.

Delta went on to explain how  despite her misgivings towards radical feminism, she supports certain radical steps that women take in countering paternalism. She bemoaned or rather emphatically discredited the underepresentation of women in the constitution making process in Zimbabwe, declaring unapologetically that the men of Zimbabwe, especially those in parliament are quite misguided if they think that in this day and age they can still purpot to speak on behalf of the women.  In her own words Delta said’

“The transition from theoretical gender policy frameworks to the implementation and practice of the same has yet to manifest; and while one can appreciate that it is not easy to reverse the thinking of years and that gender equity will be a process – one expects to see a degree of commitment towards living up to the words enshrined in the treaties, legislative instruments and laws which Zimbabwe has signed, ratified and enacted.”

What I see in her is a young inspiring Zimbabwean woman who knows who she is, what she wants out of her life and where she wants to go. But she wasn’t always this determined and she wasn’t always this focused. She met serious personal struggles in her life, the kind that almost drove her over the precipice. But what makes her remarkable is how she did not let her trials determine her fate. She rose above them and changed the course of her history. She surpassed her own personal struggles and has proved that, as empowered as she is, nothing can stop her from achieving what she wills in her heart and mind.

The one phrase I can use to describe Delta is that when you see her, or read one of her articles, or see another one of her updates on facebook, they speak of a personality that screams  ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ This roaring tigress is not afraid to challenge patriarchy and male domination that permits men to view women as objects that can be used and discarded.

On her profile on www.worldpulse.com she describes herself as ‘a wordsmith’…one who is ‘preoccupied by the need to challenge the status quo, to de-construct the stereotypes and the myths about what womanhood entails, particularly in patriarchal Africa.’ That is exactly who and what she is!

 Delta has gone past that stage of self discovery, a step that we all need to make in determining who we are and charting the way to becoming who we want to be. She states boldly “ I am a member of the human species, an African by race, a Zimbabwean by nationality, black (perhaps brown is more accurate) by color, a woman by sex, a Venda by tribe, a Christian by religion, a feminist by choice, a journalist by profession, a writer by design and an activist by default.”

 Delta is a journalist, a writer, a blogger and a gender activist. She is not scared to put her thoughts into words, unminced, uncensored and what you see on paper is what you get when you meet her face to face.

 In the Echo of silence  a captivating story of a woman who commits suicide after she finds her abusive husband of many years having sex with his own daughter, Delta speak to three issues. First, how women are expected to stay in marriage no matter how bad things get. Second, how relatives and society in general do not spare their precious time nor lend a listening ear to women who are suffering from abuse yet when these women die they all find the time to attend the funeral. Third, Delta speaks to the inhumanity in some men, to not only be so evil as to abuse their wives but also their own daughters. This problem has increasingly become a menace in Zimbabwean society with cases of fathers raping their own daughters appearing more and more in the courts, despite harsh sentences. The Echo of Silence story was published in the “ African Roar 2011” series by a South African publishing house “StoryTime Publishing.”

 On her blog , Delta explores many issues and is not scared to challenge the perceived normal and ordinary. In June 2011, because of her role as a blogger who advocates social and political transformation, Delta toured Washington DC and Minneapolis after she was chosen by the Washington Foreign Press Center as on of the world’s top 20 emerging Global New Media Leaders.

 Not only is she a fierce feminist but a patriotic individual who values her nation and defends its name against unjustified vilification. In her article ‘I met a Zimbabwean’, Delta addresses one of the issues that many of us have a problem with, especially when we travel outside the country. That problem is of defining oneself as an individual with their own views juxtaposed to the role we assume as ambassadors of our countries. We are challenged by individuals who have never been to our countries, have never met a national from our country but claim to know what the country is about, even claiming to know more than we do because they have access to some classified information gathered by lone researchers or stashed in some secret place by their intelligence bureau.  As Delta aptly says  it is  annoying when you have to constantly defend your country “in the face of half-truths, gross misrepresentation of facts and the supercilious know-it-all attitudes” by people that you meet wherever you go.

 Delta also blogs on Genderlinks where among other things she comes to the conclusion that any woman in an abusive relationship should ‘flee’ . In 2010 she was part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, Red Light Campaign which was fighting human trafficking in light of the world cup games that took place in South Africa. In that campaign Delta castigated the role that women play in facilitating the trafficking of other women.

She is an Alumnus of the Moremi Leadership Initiative, no wonder  she displays such strong leadership skills.