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.”
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:
- an educated individual (something that VP Mujuru prioritised upon her return from the bush and fought hard to achieve on her own).
- 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)
- 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.