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Will Zanu PF women deliver?

By Ray Matikinye

THE March general election featuring an increased number of women contestants as the ruling Zanu PF party bids to fulfil a 30% quota to assuage a restive female constituency, is set for an e

xciting race.

Even so, public scepticism is beginning to mount whether most of the women nominees are not out of kilter with the rigours of election campaigning, unprepared as most were before the male-dominated Zanu PF presidium delivered the political benevolence that awarded them 36 constituencies on a silver platter.

Women themselves have begun to doubt the sincerity of their male colleagues in Zanu PF and have welcomed the decision with apprehension. Zanu PF Bulawayo Metropolitan provincial Women’s League

vice-chairperson, Sihle Thebe, said the quota system was ill-timed though the decision is most appreciated.

“We have serious internal fighting in Zanu PF,” said Thebe. “That alone is a major setback but there is nothing women can do because the situation is untenable in the ruling party.”

Only a few of the women nominees had campaigned for the coming election and the onus to win was thrust on them. “Women could not refuse because men would turn back and say: ‘Look, they don’t know what they want,’ and wash their hands,” Thebe said.

But others have displayed confidence.

“I can stand on my own and have done it before and won,” says Stars Mathe, the only female councillor in the Bulawayo city council. Mathe says women nominated should show their mettle and acumen as serious politicians and not as mere protégés content with fulfilling the role of cheerleaders.

Mathe disapproves of handpicking unprepared women saying such women would fail to acquit themselves in tasks expected by the electorate.

Former Zanu PF Matabeleland North provincial secretary for information and publicity, Sikhumbuzo Ndiweni, says most of the women were unprepared for this year’s general election and will face a daunting task trying to convince the electorate to accept them. “Men started campaigning almost two years ago thereby increasing their visibility among the electorate unlike the female candidates, who only have less than two months to mount serious campaigns before the election,” he says.

It also takes a lot of resources to launch an effective election campaign.

Ndiweni says Zanu PF could have implemented the quota system in the past when its candidates faced nominal challenges from fragmented opposition parties and won without breaking sweat.

“The coming into mainstream politics of a stronger opposition Movement for Democratic Change does not guarantee Zanu PF victory even in what was considered safe constituencies,” he adds.

A more passionate concern among the electorate is the calibre of those women who will make it to parliament. Some observers argue that the simple gesture of reserving seats for women in itself is poignant admission that women cannot make it on their own without male patronage.

Former minister Chen Chimutengwende disagrees. “There are male candidates who are bad representatives just as there are some who are good. There are also female candidates who are excellent and others who are hopeless. So people cannot judge capability on the basis of gender.”

This week’s Zanu PF primary election served to illustrate women’s apprehension. Some women candidates stepped down to clear the deck for male contestants to sail through unopposed in the primaries. For instance, in Manyame constituency, Bybit Tsomondo stood down in favour of Patrick Zhuwawo.

Beside, if women form the bulwark of Zanu PF’s support as is always touted, how come that save for Enita Maziriri who beat Industry and International Trade minister Samuel Mumbengegwi and three other male contestants by a wide margin, other women candidates fared dismally against male contestants?

In primaries held over the past weekend Edna Madzongwe and Mavis Chidzonga lost to male contestants in Mhondoro and Chegutu while Irene Dube and Rita Makwambeni lost to Enock Porusingazi and Freddy Kazama in Mutare and Chipinge South respectively.

Since Independence, two women have left an indelible mark on the Zimbabwean political scene with their contributions in parliament symbolising women’s capabilities.

The late heroine, Ruth China-mano, a veteran, gutsy nationalist and Margaret Dongo, a combative, non-conformist former guerilla fighter proved outstanding in being able to throw challenges in the faces of the male-dominatedchamber with incisive contributions.

Even when men schemed to oust her through unorthodox means by pitting her against Vivian Mwashita, Dongo fought back tenaciously and recovered a constituency she had been robbed of by a female candidate who had “won” it through male connivance. She went on to lead the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats, breaking new ground by becoming the first ever woman in post-Independent Zimbabwe to lead a political party.

Both Chinamano and Dongo were firebrand orators, fearless and confident in articulating their concerns as well and expressing their ideas. Both too were rewarded by being ostracised, stigmatised and forsaken by their male compatriots for their candour.

The two stand in stark contrast to Murehwa North former MP Rudo Mungwashu, a former police constable and provincial Zanu PF chairperson for the Women’s League who spent her entire five-year term in parliament without a single meaningful contribution.

Makokoba member of parliament Thokozile Khupe says it does not bother her much whether one is dull or uneducated as long as that person is a woman standing in the forthcoming March election.

“I advocate for more women coming to parliament. Over the years, women have been used as campaigning tools by their male counterparts in every election. Now is the time for women to be in parliament as well. I totally support the 30% quota for women in parliament because women work very hard,” said Khupe.

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