On July 15, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai announced the appointment of Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as vice-presidents of the party in addition to Thokozane Khupe who has held the position for a number of years.
Effectively, the MDC-T has a presidency consisting of four people. This announcement came as a surprise to me for various reasons as stated below:
What is the rationale for this appointment?
Is it within the president’s rights to do this; is it in the party’s constitution?
How is this move beneficial to the party?
What does it mean for/to Khupe who was elected as vice-president within the party’s internal elections?
Was ethnicity a factor at all in the decision?
What does this say about the party’s adherence to gender equality and the advancement of women in politics?
I am not going to discuss all of these as Alex Magaisa has done justice in his Big Saturday Read, my focus will mainly be on the gender issue. As I am not privy to the reasons behind the appointments, I am writing this based on what I see and I will admit that when I read the headline the first thing that came to mind was patriarchy is at play here again in it’s usual insidious manner.
Tsvangarai is facing serious health problems after disclosing a few weeks ago that he was diagnosed with colon cancer and therefore I assume will not be able to handle the demands of his position as president, particularly now when the political environment is so tense, the MDC-T has to up its game and take advantage of the largely youthful citizen and lead protests and stay-aways. The party has to come up with a plan; how is it going to remain relevant?
Khupe is backing the #beatthepots campaign, bringing in a constituency that has yet to raise its voice against the socio-economic and political crisis in a meaningful manner — the women who have the burden of domestic responsibilities. Increasing women’s participation, women-to-women, has been proven to be effective and could have been used to galvanise the party. In my view, undermining Khupe at this point is not a wise decision and could further undo the MDC-T.
These appointments, however well-meaning, show that there is a lack of confidence in Khupe’s ability to lead the party in Tsvangirai’s absence. Would the same decision have been taken if the vice-president had been one of the two new appointees, I wonder? I doubt it. It is well and good to have a female vice-president when the president is in full control of the party, but when there is a chance that she may take over, changes are made. Khupe hit the glass ceiling, she is not going anywhere beyond the vice-presidency. Being made co vice-president with Chamisa and Mudzuri clearly sidelines her as these are two strong party members that I am pretty sure have presidential ambitions of their own and this paves a way for them to ascend to the presidency of the party.
The patriarchal nature of Zimbabwean culture and society has shaped and perpetuated gender inequality to the extent of allowing male domination and female subordination at all levels. Patriarchy is considered to be part of the culture and acceptable and therefore women are not equal to men. Zimbabwean feminists have said repeatedly that women in politics have no real power and are there at the mercy of men because of patriarchy and male privilege.
When you are in a position of privilege, it is very difficult to see how all your decisions are based on this privilege unless someone points it out to you. And patriarchy is so embedded that even women concede that men make better leaders and frequently undermine females with aspirations to leadership.
The thing with patriarchy is that it is so deeply rooted and the decision to make the appointment may not have been made consciously. To say Khupe is not competent: she was never considered to be competent in the first place! She is there just to window dress and, while Tsvangirai was healthy and at the helm, it was fine to have her there as she was not a threat and in no position to take over or make any meaningful decisions. Political decisions are not made to promote women’s interests, it is always piecemeal and this is yet another strong evidence of this.
This move comes at a time when there is a strong indication that women in positions of power will increase in the next few months with Theresa May in the UK, Hilary Clinton in the US, and there has been a call for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations to be a woman. The MDC is going in the opposite direction and needs to be called out for this: it doesn’t matter which way you look at it this decision undermines Khupe as a female political leader with clout to take the helm of the party.
Chitsike is the director of the Research and Advocacy Unit with 14 years of experience working on human rights, democracy and governance issues in Zimbabwe, having worked with organisations such as Hivos, Idasa and Transparency International (Zimbabwe). She holds an LLM in International Public Law from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, and has written extensively on transitional justice, democracy and governance with special emphasis on women’s issues.