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Khupe proves politics is not a man’s world

Munyaradzi Wasosa

SHE has managed to weather the storm of Zimbabwean politics, seen until recently as the preserve of men. <

What started as a mere secretarial job in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) turned out to be the beginning of Makokoba Member of Parliament Thokozani Khupe’s political career that is yet to reach its full potential.

Born on November 18 1963, Khupe attended Mpumelelo Primary School in Bulawayo, after which she enrolled at St Bernard’s Mission in 1979 for her secondary education.

After completing her O-levels in 1982, Khupe studied for a secretarial course and a diploma in project planning and management.

She joined the National Railways of Zimbabwe in 1987 as a clerk typist and remained there until 2000. She became a trade union member during that time.

The fire-breathing MDC legislator was at one time the ZCTU secretary for the women’s advisory council as well as a general council member.

Khupe furthered her education by studying industrial relations and teaching methodology. She later obtained a diploma in information technology and has just completed an undergraduate degree in media studies.

But who inspired Khupe?

“Winnie Mandela, the South African politician, inspired me because of her legendary endurance during Nelson Mandela’s 27 years of incarceration,” Khupe says.

Khupe says the plight of workers made her enter mainstream politics during her tenure at the ZCTU.

“In the ZCTU we felt that workers’ incomes had deteriorated sharply, especially after the advent of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme in 1990,” she said.

“We began a serious advocacy campaign for the elevation of the worker’s status because we saw that there existed a system that was obviously reluctant to recognise the worker.”

Khupe also says her campaign for women’s rights began in the 90s, after coming face to face with gender discrimination.

“I also started to campaign vigorously for working women’s rights after finding out the harsh realities of discrimination against women especially in the workplace,” she said.

“Women in Zimbabwe, despite constituting the majority of the population, are still being discriminated against by men who feel threatened by having a woman at the same level with them.”

Khupe places blame on women who refuse to exercise their right to vote.

“While we may blame our political leaders for failing to fully empower women, I place the greatest blame on those women who fail to see the importance of participating in every election, be it ward, district or national,” she said.

“It is the same men we elect who sideline us while retaining influential positions for themselves.”

Khupe bemoaned the general relegation of women to the periphery of political, social and economic discourse in Zimbabwe’s patriarchal society where men are the main breadwinners.

“Our parliament is still male-dominated, and this will continue as long as women remain divided over issues pertinent to their future prospects,” she said.

Men conti-nue to domi-nate positionsfrom the bottom level right up to the top, so there has to be a law in parliament that allows for equal participation in all decision-making positions.”

Khupe is a national executive member of the opposition MDC, the party’s secretary responsible for transport, logistics and welfare at national level.

She is also the deputy chairperson of the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus and the MDC’s deputy chief whip in the House.

Khupe says she has so far managed to fulfil her mandate as an MP in her constituency through the introduction of social services that have benefited her electorate.

“I can’t afford to neglect the people who elected me to represent and serve them,” she said.

“I introduced a programme in which I pay school fees for 42 children in Makokoba, whose parents or guardians find it difficult to raise the required fees.”

She has also set up burial societies in light of the HIV/Aids pandemic that continues to wreak havoc in the country.

Khupe, who is also a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, berated top politicians who fail to tackle HIV/Aids issues objectively.

“It makes no sense for a senior politician to unashamedly say in public that women in another politician’s constituency are ridden with the disease,” Khupe said in reference to President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe allegedly told a Zanu PF youth congress in Harare three weeks ago to avoid visiting Khupe’s constituency, which he said was infested with HIV- positive women.

“Our leaders need to tackle the issue with a positive mind rather than denigrate our women the way they are doing,” she said.

“I am demanding an apology from the head of state on behalf of all concerned women.”

Khupe said women needed to take up their role of motherhood religiously if the HIV/Aids pandemic was to be brought under control.

A single mother, Khupe says she has twin sons living and studying in Britain.

“I am a proud parent because I am managing to bring up my children within the conventional family atmosphere,” she says.

“One is studying law and the other accounts, while my young daughter who is in grade six is doing well in school.”

Khupe runs a flourishing restaurant in Bulawayo and says women need to engage in income-generating projects.

Says Khupe: “This is important because it reduces the level of vulnerability of women to unscrupulous men and politicians whose sole goal is the exploitation of women.”

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