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Zimbabwe: Grassroots Feminism Vs Corporate NGO Feminism

A response to the Feminist Political Education Project

by Grace Kwinjeh, 17 April 2008

I was just sent a copy of this statement by the Feminist Political Education Project [pasted in below] and must admit to being more than a little bewildered and shocked by what is suggested in light of recent events in Zimbabwe, by sisters whom I know very well – who are part of the Feminist Political Education Project.

Sisters dare I say, I have worked with you over the years – some of you have mentored me to be the woman I am. I hope that in the interest of fostering a robust debate amongst ourselves as sisters, feminists, comrades in the struggle you will read and understand my response to the positions you have put forward, with a view to promoting holistic transformative politics in our country, not a duplication or reconstruction of the status quo under a different order, in which as women especially are forever held at ransom by elitist, patriarchal notions of what constitutes our liberation.

I hold no brief for Morgan Tsvangirai, neither can I even be classified as some-one who belongs to his ‘inner’ circle. I respond to fellow sisters on matters of principle as a comrade with a track record and history in the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation, firstly and as a Feminist who has stood up against male ‘bigotry’, within the MDC and the broader democratic movement.

Based on these ‘credentials’ I have no fears or guilt in taking on fellow sisters on -especially when they advance or propagate reactionary views as a way to resolving a crisis that has left us not only scarred but deeply traumatised. What they suggest is a preservation of the status quo! Particularly if those views are then misconstrued as representing the broader Feminist movement in Zimbabwe – I beg to differ.

I will not at this stage go into an intellectual or theoretical discussion on Feminism and its various components and articulations, especially in our Zimbabwean case – that is a subject those of us who claim to be Feminists have to debate at some stage. Of concern for me at the moment is the ‘Position Paper.’ And wonder whose ‘Position’, we are debating here while asserting that this ‘Position’ has nothing to do with us women.

Indeed, it appears from the views put forward to be an implicit acceptance that the democratic will of the people is not paramount, and infers that a group of men (as this is who makes up the political ‘leadership’) are going to sit around a table and work together in a Transitional Authority for the common good of all Zimbabweans - and this promoted by a group of self-proclaimed feminists, nogal!

How many of our female comrades in the labour, student, constitutional movements or even the church were consulted before such a paper was presented to the world? Do the opinions of these women matter? Or by virtue of belonging to the lower classes in our society they remain excluded and marginalised even in discourse by senior Feminists who purport to be pushing their cause? Not taking into account the fact that the bulk of these women are at the front-line of our struggle as they take Mugabe on daily- they pay with their lives, their homes and their loved ones. The continued refusal by my sisters to acknowledge the existence of these women as leaders in their own right is a cause for concern.

I have argued elsewhere in the MDC Teresa Makone debacle that as women we are not a homogenous group – but there are certain sisters who know better than to be agents of replicating the same patriarchal notions in terms of our participation in the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis in a way that normalises our second class citizen status. We refuse to be under-dogs in perpetuity!

Can we therefore locate the ‘Position –Paper’ by fellow Feminists within the context of them using Feminism to fight certain male agenda’s? That has nothing to do with us as female comrades, including our sisters, mothers and grand-mothers who continue to suffer under the yoke of Mugabe’s dictatorship.

What is suggested also presupposes that Zanu-PF has the capacity to act honestly as a coalition partner - something of which there is absolutely no evidence. This is almost similar to Trevor Ncube’s commentary through Ferial Hafferjee’s editorial 10 days ago in the Mail & Guardian that suggested a coalition must include ‘moderate’ Zanu-PF people such as Mnangagwa, Gono and Murerwa! And that there must be a blanket indemnity for Mugabe and his security chiefs – whilst some sort of amnesty may well be negotiated, South Africa’s experience as elsewhere shows that immunities from prosecution can, and I would argue must be bolstered by some form of accountability (especially if a line is to be drawn in the sand to avert a repeat performance at a later stage). This need not always mean prosecution, but this potential stick must always be present!

The equating of Tsvangirai with Mugabe in the FePEP statement is, to put it mildly, obscene. Certainly, there is much to be concerned about in terms of internal issues within the MDC, although one could hardly argue that they have operated in normal circumstances. The conflation of concerns and grievances has clouded many people’s vision. Certainly, Tsvangirai should look for coalition partners and should draw on expertise within fellow opposition ranks and maybe even ZANU-PF, but it must be on collective acceptable terms - NOT as part of a negotiated settlement, or in this case something that is suggested for imposition as in this statement! The assumption that he will not adopt a constructive conciliatory route unless this is imposed on him is arrogant, patronising and fundamentally undemocratic.

It should also be noted that Tsvangirai is not the MDC and that the MDC is a political movement with structures from ward to national level, to whom Tsvangirai, Khupe and the rest of the top leadership have to account. We have fought and resisted ‘Mugabeism’, in the MDC – some battles we have lost others we have won. It is the principles around the formation of the party, collective leadership, accountability, transparency and its ultimate goal for total liberation – political and economic justice that puts us in the awkward position always of resisting attempts at subverting the will of the people through the back door.

That will which expressed itself so strongly on March 29 – a will for change some will selectively ignore in pursuit of unpopular agenda’s that appease certain elites within ZANU-PF and the ANC Mbeki camp.

It seems to me that those who have promoted a ‘third way’ to date have fundamentally misread the situation as it stands at the moment in Zimbabwe. I see that some are now promoting the argument that the failure of the ZANU_PF rank and file to come out in their large numbers is largely due to Makoni. I’m struggling to find any empirical basis for this assertion. Are the FePEP promoters suggesting Makoni must be the national leader?

My reading of the arguments put forward by comrades on the ground and Zimbabweans in general in not supporting the Makoni project are as follows – he is the only leader with an apparent national profile who does not have a registered political party; a man with less than 8% of the vote? People did not vote for Makoni because they did not trust him, because he comes from Zanu-PF, because his track record in government is nothing to shout home about, and because of his enduring silence regarding human rights violations that have characterised Zanu-PF rule. Those marketing Makoni should have addressed the above concerns as a matter of strategy to appeal to the electorate other than seem to be imposing him through the back-door.

Are these the credentials of a man ‘fit to govern’? He may have jumped ship – although he still claims loyalty to the party, but that the current leadership has lost its way. The reality is that Zanu-PF is a ruling party that is dying – at least as a ruling party formation (as UNIP did in Zambia, the MCP in Malawi and KANU in Kenya) - it can limp along for the foreseeable future with an ever decreasing capacity to service its extensive and mutating patronage networks, but it has fundamentally lost its ability to control the support of the people - even though they tried hard to manipulate and buy it in this last election.

What was different this time was the acutely lower levels of violence and intimidation (although it was certainly present) and the small spaces that were opened up for the limited campaigning season. Mbeki has been praised for helping provide the space – but he has disingenuously argued that the only differences outstanding in terms of the mediation process between the MDC and Zanu were procedural. The differences were much more fundamental than that, but once again it was the MDC who was coerced to compromise into participating in elections where conditions were improved, but certainly not free and fair.

Leaving aside the evidently flawed electoral process, the fundamental problem in Zimbabwe remains the concentration of executive powers, which have rendered parliament largely impotent. It was this dilution of power that the MDC sought during the mediation in terms of constitutional changes, but which Zanu-PF failed to follow through on, despite the agreement of its negotiation team!

In this context of trickery and treachery, should we support positions such as the FePEP statement that essentially promote and reward such bad behaviour? There is no ‘magical’ solution to the situation in Zimbabwe in terms of making everyone happy. Elections mean there are winners and losers. Certainly, particular circumstances may necessitate negotiated outcomes, but negotiating the suggested governance situation (i.e. a TA with equitable representation) in these circumstances sets an awful precedent for the region - one which, in the future, we may see elements of other faltering and failing ruling parties adopting as some kind of survival strategy. If Zimbabwe can do this they may ask, why not us?

Let’s not even get into the sycophantic support for SADC’s ‘mediation’ initiative and the assumption that Mbeki has done a good job. Many people strongly believe that he has a great deal of responsibility for the mess the country is now in. The extent to which this is really the case is no longer relevant. He has consistently reinforced a perception that he is biased in favour of Zanu-PF, as have the ANC who continue to refer to Zanu-PF as their ‘comrades’ in a quirky turn of revisionist liberation history. Mbeki, alas, is simply no longer trusted to be an honest broker by most Zimbabweans and this perception alone disqualifies him from continuing to play this role.

It appears that the FePEP statement is little more than a reflection of desperation and the thinking of an elitist group of women purporting to speak on behalf of a ‘majority’ that I doubt they have any meaningful contact with. Certainly none can claim electoral legitimacy / representation (at least any more) in terms of popular support. Several work for corporate NGOs and large donor agencies – essentially insulated from the hard realities of life in Zimbabwe or exile. What is suggested is done so from the armchairs of comfortable hotels and NGO boardrooms. It is also very distressing that those who promote such positions appear to also have a certain amount of influence over where donor funds get located and utilised. Many NGOs and individuals have been beneficiaries of the Zimbabwean crisis. Theirs is a 9 to 5 struggle.

There is a very real danger that a ‘managed transition’ (as suggested) with the window dressing of transitional justice will be little more than an exercise in ‘elite pacting’, designed to ensure the old wine is decantered in new bottles. I’m afraid the FePEP ‘position paper’ simply feeds such agendas and does not further a transformative course of action that is so desperately needed.

*Grace Kwinjeh is a Zimbabwean Feminist. End the Zimbabwe Political Impasse!

Feminist Political Education Project (FePEP) (2008-04-15)

We the under-signed Zimbabwean women, in our capacity as THE FEMINIST POLITICAL EDUCATION PROJECT (FePEP), urgently call for an end to the political impasse that our country is in. Over a week after we voted in the harmonized elections, we note with great dismay that the results of the Presidential elections are yet to be released. The country is in limbo. Violence, poverty, HIV & AIDS and deterioration of social services continue to disproportionately affect women and girls. We voted on the 29th of March for our representatives in Parliament and for a Head of State in the hope that collectively they can address these problems. As citizens we demand to know and see the fruits of our vote, which would affirm our rights to participate in politics.

We call for the immediate release of the presidential election results. But regardless of who wins this elections among the four presidential candidates, it is our view that the country is too politically polarized to move on. Whoever becomes our next President has the Herculean task of bringing all sides together to think nationally, and in the best interests of all Zimbabwean citizens, not just their own party, or personal self interest. We believe that neither Mr Robert Mugabe nor Mr Morgan Tsvangirai is trusted enough by everyone to foster unity and national coherence that will be required to move forward. We strongly believe that this is what is at the heart of the present impasse. Equally we do not believe that a run-off will be in our best interests as women. We are too familiar with the violence that was meted upon numerous of us from 1890 when the colonialists came into our country right up to the most recent elections. Chief among these forms of violence is sexual violence, and it concomitant implication, HIV infection. Zimbabwean women now have the lowest life expectancy world wide because of HIV & AIDS, 34 years. We can not afford yet another pointless violent election that will slice more years off our lives.

We boldly suggest that all political parties and players in Zimbabwe come together in a national Transitional Authority, (TA). The TA should be headed by a person who can be trusted by both ZANU PF and the MDC formations. She or he must not be the leader of a registered political party. The TA will be composed of up to 15 members, ensuring geographic, ethnic, and gender balance. We believe that such an interim authority will provide a moderating voice and can pave the way for a government of national unity that can steer Zimbabwe to a more democratic dispensation, guided by a new constitution.

We therefore call upon the Southern African Development Community, supported by the African Union, and the United Nations, to bring all the parties in Zimbabwe together to discuss a move towards this interim arrangement. In this regard the South African President Mr Thabo Mbeki should continue his mediation role. It is our contention that the people of Zimbabwe are so deeply polarized yet again and can not possibly negotiate on their own.

Our position as FePEP reflects and amplifies the voices of so many women, who are tired of seeing their country torn apart by selfish male egos, the quest for unbridled power, and total disregard for citizens’ rights.

Signed, Teresa Mugadzam, Isabella Matambanadzo, Thoko Matshe, Everjoice Win, Shereen Essof, Juliana Manjengwa, Karin Alexander, Janah Ncube, Priscllah, Misihairabwi-Mushonga Revai Makanje