AT first glance, the recent conviction of Hollywood film mogul, Harvey Weinstein, may seem detached from Zimbabwe. It is a story of how rich and powerful men like Weinstein abuse and treat women like toys.
First, abuse can be sexual, physical or emotional. The resultant effect on the victim is always the same — humiliation, shame and trauma, from which most of the victims never recover.
On our doorsteps we have an example of one type of abuse unleashed on former First Lady Grace Mugabe. She was once hailed as the “mother of the nation” by adoring fans, who have now largely disappeared from her life. These people used to clamour for her attention in the days when she was perceived as being powerful as her husband – the late president Robert Mugabe.
After having been accorded such kind of accolades, Grace should now, in reality, be enjoying the status of a former first lady, with all the dignity and respect that goes with that title. But that has not happened.
It is not about the perceived rights or wrongs of what Grace did or did not do. It is about the way society, especially men, exploited her position for personal gains. They pretended to respect her when it conveniently suited them, and then subsequently dumped her after realising their ambitions.
Seeing a once celebrated man like Weinstein in handcuffs shook the world. It was a strong message to the so-called “untouchables” in society.
We know there are highly esteemed Zimbabweans, including religious figures, engaged in the same naughty business as Weinstein. No one seems to have ever been brought to book and they probably never will. We know the reasons why.
Undermining women is a bad habit we experience in our lives and it is difficult to bring to an end, even among the enlightened ones, like journalists, who consider themselves champions of fair play.
In a WhatsApp group of Zimbabwean journalists, women tend to have an uphill battle to make their views acceptable. Knowing this, a member of the group posted a video of the sentencing of Weinstein with the wry remark “I know this does not raise much interest among the men in the group. . .”
How can that not be relevant when a recent survey by Transparency International Zimbabwe showed that 57% of local women surveyed said they had been forced to offer sexual services for jobs, medical services and even places for their children in schools?
Women inevitably get the short end of the stick in any drama that surrounds gender inequality. There is the case of Mandi Chimene, a close associate of Grace, who fled Zimbabwe after the coup in 2017. Word has it that the exiled Chimene even missed her daughter’s funeral because she has gone underground.
Meanwhile, the exiled men of the same political order or allegiance as Chimene have appeared in various poses on social media engaged in fun and entertainment that suggest they are enjoying the high life from wherever they are now based in foreign lands.
How annoying it is that men tend to have softer landings when things fall apart in their lives. Nevertheless, another truth is that Grace and Chimene, during their glorious days in power, became as ruthless as men in Zanu PF. As can be expected, the men eventually “cut them down to size” because they dared to be manly. That is the position of the two women to date, according to opinions.
Playing on the mind can be more painful than other forms of abuse. The above mentioned women will never forget how they were duped into a false sense of security. Former tourism minister, Prisca Mupfumira, currently facing corruption charges, must be feeling the pinch too. The women all believed they were part of an invincible team of the ruling class.
And so MDC-T leader Thokozani Khupe presses on knowing full well that her political career, through the party she leads, is unlikely to make the slightest dent for change in Zimbabwe’s landscape. She has been pushed, sidelined and abandoned by men within her realm of command, but carries on regardless, probably thinking that things will change.
That “things will change” is the bane of all the types of abuse. It has been found that women hang on for years being beaten day and night before the truth finally hits “it will never end.”
So what should women do in a patriarchal society like ours? To some, fighting it will merely be adding misery to their already burdened life. This country is so broken that for the vast majority, finding the means of getting daily bread, even through unscrupulous means, is something they have been reduced to.
Surely there must be lessons to be learnt from all this. First, if you are desperate to enter the political fray, go in with your eyes wide open.
If you are a socialite, the following advice may seem like it is hinging on your rights, but it will alleviate some stress: Keep a low profile.
Public scrutiny is part of the package if you are in the spotlight for one reason or another. But one cannot help feeling compassion for women who are damned to excess by the public, compared to men caught up in similar situations. The marital break-up of Marry Mubaiwa and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, was more compelling because the country’s citizens were intrigued by her outgoing personality. There were murmurings of she is “too free”, insinuating that she got what she deserved because of this. Since when has it been a sin to be an extrovert?
Let us be counted among the #MeToo crowd, the worldwide group that sought to highlight the prevalence of abuse that came about because of Weinstein. The ruling system, whether one is part of it or not, does not have the capacity to help us. But at least we are not alone.
We are starting with male journalists in spreading the word on the pushing for women’s emancipation. Begin by stopping the posting of scantily dressed women on social media and expecting some of us to find it extremely amusing.