Tag: politics

Zimbabwe’s game of political musical chairs is not really about us

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe announced yet another Cabinet reshuffle last week. (Pic: AFP / Mujahid Safodien)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe announced yet another Cabinet reshuffle last week. (Pic: AFP / Mujahid Safodien)

Last week, yet another cabinet reshuffle was announced in Zimbabwe, with one more Zanu-PF minister, Joel Biggie Matiza, losing his position barely six months after assuming it. His removal followed the grand purge of multiple cabinet members — including former presidential affairs minister Didymus Mutasa and former vice-president Joice Mujuru — late last year on allegations of leading and encouraging party factionalism against President Robert Mugabe.

But while Matiza was the only removal of this latest process, the largest media space has been reserved for news of the reassignment of Jonathan Moyo from the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity to the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development.

The enigmatic Moyo — who recently had a public Twitter spat with the former governor of South Africa’s Reserve Bank, Tito Mboweni — is rumoured to have been removed from his position as a result of deepening friction between him and Emmerson Mnangagwa, one of Zimbabwe’s two vice-presidents. Ironically, Moyo’s 2005 ouster from Zanu-PF is attributed to his keen involvement in a factional plan to bring Mnangagwa to the then-vacant post of vice-president, a position that was assumed by Mujuru until her expulsion.

Factionalism is indeed the staple offering of Zimbabwean politics at the moment, with the MDC — that once potent opposition — following suit with Morgan Tsvangirai’s own purge of 21 party parliamentarians on grounds of factionalism earlier in the year. As one joke goes, “If you send two Zimbabweans to the moon, they will come back with three political parties.”

The humour and bizarreness of it all aside, I am perpetually disconcerted by what gets amplified, and left out, in discussions around these ongoing purges. Take for instance, the terminology used to describe Moyo’s reassignment to the tertiary education ministry. This has largely been deemed a “demotion”; a control measure to put Moyo back “in his place”.

With a track record as a ministry where wayward Zanu-PF politicians are sent for “punishment” or as an “in-between place”, the negative connotations associated with this portfolio are hardly new. Former finance minister Herbert Murerwa was once “demoted” to this post in the same way that the late Stan Mudenge (once minister of foreign affairs) was meted out this same fate. In more recent times, the post has fallen to Olivia Muchena (who was removed from cabinet along with Mutasa and others) and Oppah Muchinguri, who replaced Muchena after vacating the Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development ministry as rumours swelled that First Lady Grace Mugabe would take up the Cabinet position.

I am well aware that not all ministerial positions are perceived to be equal in terms of power and influence when it comes to political manoeuvring. I am also aware of the reported hierarchal ordering with Zanu-PF’s politburo; a strategic line of succession to the presidential position. But something is very wrong when a ministry of tertiary education comes to be seen as the proverbial sacrificial lamb of a cabinet; a position of so little consequence that it relegates its occupier to near oblivion. That is saying a lot for a portfolio supposedly dealing with one of the Zimbabwean citizenry’s fundamental needs; education. And it would appear the gender ministry suffers a similar negative perception as, until the appointment last week of Nyasha Chikwinya to the post of minister, that position had been vacant since December last year.

If there was ever a time that these two portfolios could be deemed inconsequential, now is not it. Strikes, and threats thereof, have become the modus operandi of many state tertiary institutions. In March, following a lecturers’ strike over outstanding salaries, the University of Zimbabwe shut down abruptly, with students forced to vacate halls of residence indefinitely, the university reopening a day later against mounted pressure. Ironically, this was at a time when the strong #RhodesMustFall student movement in South Africa was influencing widespread debate and discussion around race, power and oppression, all leading to the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on the grounds of the University of Cape Town.

I recall once having a conversation with an influential media executive with a large local company who remarked that she would always think twice before hiring a local graduate, favouring working with the few returning Zimbabwean students trained at western universities, or in South Africa.

“I don’t have to start from scratch teaching them basic things like how to work digital programmes and equipments,” she said, alluding to the fact that where learning does occur, it often proceeds with demotivated staff and outdated and scarce equipment.

“Time is money.”

So vast has become the rift.

What, then, are the chances of young local Zimbabwean graduates being professionally competitive if they are not attractive — even to their own job market, which, mind you, remains severely compromised by excruciating levels of unemployment?

Recently, also, Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana spoke in defence of courts that did not jail paedophiles who could “prove” that they had gained sexual consent from girls as young as 12. In his comments, which raised widespread uproar, he also recommended marriage for these young girls (to their sex offenders) as an alternative to poverty. In a survey conducted by Plan International and presented to Parliament last week, it was found that 58% of people within community settings did not see anything morally wrong with sleeping with underage girls.

Given these staggering challenges, and many more, Zimbabwe doesn’t really have the luxury of calling any one of its ministerial portfolios “inconsequential” or “unimportant”.

As enthralling and immersive as factionalism has come to be, it seems we have lost sight of the fact that it serves as yet another distraction from serving and representing our genuine interests, and those of many Zimbabweans not afforded much privilege to articulate their own grievances. The question, perhaps, is whether it actually matters to still have genuine interests within a media and political landscape that favours characters over causes, and sectarianism over service.

No doubt, Zimbabwe is currently suspended in a perpetual game of musical chairs, with politicians across the spectrum scrambling for scarce seats of power as we spectate.

But what happens when the music stops, no one really knows.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

The ridiculousness of “If the West can do it, why can’t we?”

King Mswati III of Swaziland and his wife arrive at the White House for a group dinner during the US Africa Leaders Summit August 5 2014 in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)
King Mswati III of Swaziland and his wife arrive at the White House for a group dinner during the US Africa Leaders Summit August 5 2014 in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)

I am absolutely exhausted by the argument that we cannot complain about inefficient and corrupt African leaders because “even Western leaders do it.” The follow-up to this point is usually an indignant “How come when white people do it, it’s OK?”

And by ‘it’ here, the speaker is referring to plunging a population into a well of suffering simply because one can.

A few days ago I happened upon an article on The Root in which the gripes social media users have with Swaziland’s royal family were brought to light. The article was short and simple: a report on a report really.

“Swaziland’s royal family has found itself ensnared in the firm grip of social media users who are determined to expose the lavish lifestyle of “Africa’s last absolute monarch,” while most of the country’s people barely subsist on $1 a day per person, Agence France-Presse reports.”

But the responses to it are what angered me. Of the hundreds of comments that this post attracted, many of them repeated the same idea: if the [insert white royal family] can do it, why can’t we?

I was so overcome with rage, I found myself doing the one thing I promised myself I never would: I left an angry Facebook comment. But that was not the end of it. My rage at the commenters, many of them African American echoing a sentiment often uttered by Africans too when our own leaders are to be held accountable for one act or another, did not go away.

So here I am, finally explaining why “Well, the King of Britain does it” has to be the dumbest counter-argument I have ever heard.

“If they can do it, why can’t we?”

When this question is posed, it is often by a person, I assume, beginning to familiarise themselves with the heady nature of self-pride. The underlying idea here, is that to criticise one’s own leaders is to exempt the West from blame for their own misdoings. It is a noble idea, and of course, very understandable, even to me, a mere child. But it is sorely incorrect.

To say, “If the British family can live far above its subject why can’t the King of Swaziland?” is to say two things:

1. Exploiting one’s own people is something of a competition and God forbid the African be excluded from suckling the sweet fruits of corruption.

2. Comparing the people of Britain to a nation where sixty-percent live under $1 a day like Swaziland, is perfectly logical.

Indeed at some point in the past they suffered under the tyrannical rule of their monarchical lords, but for the most part, in 2014, the people of Britain are not as affected when the Queen takes a private jet to some island as the people of Swaziland are. This is a simple fact.

Plunging your nation into economic turmoil is not some sort of marker of empowerment. And the very idea conjures up images of corrupt African leaders winking at the portraits of former colonial powers, as they continue the age-old tradition of exploiting African people.

It is simply unacceptable. When will we get to the stage where we view our states through our own lenses? When will we remove ourselves from the “at least…” mentality? “At least it’s better than being exploited by whites.” “At least even the Europeans go through this in their own countries.”

Accountability is not a joke. And government is not a playground where we as citizens must continue to watch our leaders play while we tell ourselves that it’s alright because other people do it too. What is this – primary school?

Governance is not something our leaders do as a favour to us. It is an opportunity that we award them.

To say that what the King of Swaziland is doing is acceptable, is to say the suffering of those people (our people) is acceptable.This mentality is bigger than Swaziland, it is bigger than us. To say that corruption is a problem “everyone has” is to say that it and the ludicrous levels it reaches on our continent every day, is acceptable. To ask, “If the West can do it why can’t we?” is to say we are not people worthy of sound, accountable governance.

Why do we not ask “If the West can do it, why can’t we?” of education reform, of health policies, of infrastructure development, of government transparency, of social welfare policies, of economic engagement, of business forums, of infrastructure maintenance, of youth employment, of medical innovation, of technological integration, of political growth, of citizen empowerment, of sports development, of intra-continental trade, of trade policies, of foreign policies, of art evolution, of literary celebration….


This to me, is a symptom of us having bought into the lie our leaders are living. Drunk on new power and political “equality”, some of our leaders want to forget that political reality only means so much in the face of economic fact. They go to the UN and sit in big chairs next to the President of Italy and think just because the fellow can get away with running the economy like a gangster, so can they.

They shake hands with Obama and think to themselves, “Hey, if he can get funded by morally ambiguous corporations, why can’t I?” as if this is a nightclub. Well, news flash: this is not a nightclub. Economic reality is the only reality that matters. If the GDP of your nation cannot fill even one American state, you have absolutely no business trying to live like the US president.

This is just how life is. So we as citizens, cannot, no, MUST NOT allow our leaders to continue living this lie. The first step to that is to respond, the next time someone says “The President of the US does it”, with: “We’re not in the States here, comrade.”

We have to demand more for ourselves, because as long as it’s fashionable to disguise acceptance of corruption as “our right”, nobody will demand it for us.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-yeard old math-major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @siyandawrites

Girls, football and politics in Zimbabwe

I recently visited a primary school in my neighbourhood to run an errand. It was break time when I arrived and the chorus of children’s excited voices had reached its crescendo. As I made my way to the office that I was looking for, I was confronted by emotions that I have become used to feeling each time I enter a government institution: shock at the levels of dilapidation of infrastructure and frustration at the seeming lack of interest in improving it.

As I walked down the concrete pathway, I looked over to the school’s sports field where thick clouds of dust erupted continuously as hoards of children played football.

There used to be a green and fertile lawn on those grounds once.

A Cabinet of three women
Upon stopping to spectate, I began to notice a few other things about this match. Firstly, it wasn’t an 11-a-side affair – most informal games aren’t. In fact, I don’t believe there were even sides to begin with, seeing as there were at least 40 children on the turf scrambling for the ball. But secondly, and this more interesting to me, there was a sizeable group of girls sitting in the bleachers half watching the encounter and half engaged in their own conversations.

There were no boys in the bleachers, just as there were no girls on the pitch.

Again, there isn’t much that’s new about this scenario; it plays itself out in schools everywhere. But I began to think about it from a more pointed perspective.

A few weeks ago, Zimbabwe’s Cabinet was announced. Of the 26 ministers appointed, only three are women. This represents an 11.5% female proportion –  a figure significantly lower than the 50/50 threshold aspired for by 2015 through the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Furthermore, the announcement came at a time when Senegal had just elected feminist leader Aminata Touré as Prime Minister and Rwanda’s Parliament had recorded an unprecedented 64% representation for women in the Chamber of Deputies. While the main focus of Zimbabwe’s new Cabinet has largely been the reinstatement of an old Zanu-PF guard (with the MDC no longer a part of power-sharing), the retrogression of female political participation calls for some expedient action and analysis.

Aminata Toure was appointed prime minister of Senegal on September 1 2013. (Pic: AFP)
Aminata Touré was appointed prime minister of Senegal on September 1 2013. (Pic: AFP)

As women took to social media to protest, there was a very clear voice from the men – “Well, who did you want them to put?” – as if a defence of turf and territory had erupted within them.

In many ways, I feel that the soccer field scenario yields some of the answers to Zimbabwe’s present female leadership and participation dilemma.

‘Rough’ pursuits are for the boys
Why do the little girls not play football with the boys?

My first response is to say that they – just as the boys who do play – have been socialised to believe that football and other ‘rough’ pursuits are for boys. Girls are supposed to be dainty and pristine in a system that is preparing them for marriage and motherhood.

There is nothing new in this analysis and we know that it generally means that the little girl who wants to play football – or the little boy who wants to sit and talk – each face an incredible amount of pressure to conform to prescribed gendered roles and expectations. Their peers will tease them if they do not; even their teachers and parents might join in.

And with crazed amounts of homophobia in Zimbabwe, anything that sits outside the bounds of ‘normality’ is deeply chastised. I recall once overhearing a father tell his son not to touch or play with his sister’s pink teddy bear because he would “become gay”. The boy, just five, was obviously puzzled. But therein had begun his socialisation around the colour pink, teddy bears and sexuality.

But I also began to look at the football scene from a practical perspective. The playground was dusty and the boys’ uniforms were getting filthy. While already an accepted consequence of ‘playing rough’, there is another layer to the matter.

From what I have observed, most boys do not do their own laundry; a maid or mother or sister or aunt takes care of this chore, leaving the male child free to soil and damage his clothes as much as wants to. Someone else will take care of the mess.

But the same is not usually so for the girls who, in efforts towards entrenching domesticity (or is it independence?), are washing their own clothes long before puberty hits. So playing football with the boys has a few more ramifications than mere social stigma; playing football means getting dirty, and then having to clean the mess up yourself. Put simply, it means extra work. Even if the girls did start to play, they might play with a bit more caution and attention to dirtiness.

So what could, or would, happen if the school I visited decided to invest in growing back its lawn? Could a change in at least some of the girls’  behaviour be seen? Could such a structural modification challenge the socially driven aspects of their action, or inaction?

Supporters of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe listen to his televised speech during the official opening ceremony of the first session of Zimbabwe's Parliament in Harare on September 17 2013. (Pic: AFP)
Supporters of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe listen to his televised speech during the official opening ceremony of the first session of Zimbabwe’s Parliament in Harare on September 17 2013. (Pic: AFP)

If we change the arena, we may draw a few parallels. Just like football, politics is a dirty game. And the dirtier a woman gets, the more she has to ‘clean herself up’ while facing social stigma for her stance. Furthermore, if a girl is not opened up to the possibility of parity and full participation in her childhood, we shouldn’t expect to magically see this manifest in her when she’s a woman. Even the portfolios that Zimbabwe’s female ministers hold are telling of the positions that are deemed appropriate for a woman: Women’s Affairs (Oppah Muchinguri), Small and Medium Enterprises (Sithembiso Nyoni), Higher and Tertiary Education (Olivia Muchena). Unlike finance or ICT portfolios, these are women’s ‘normalised’ roles, like sitting in the bleachers.

I do not write this to exonerate President Robert Mugabe from blame for his heavily imbalanced Cabinet. But I do write it to make clear to the men who have dismissed women’s protests that they do so from a privileged position in society where all arenas, no matter how dirty, are normalised to their needs and aspirations.

Zimbabwean society needs a social and structural shakeup for women and girls to begin to get somewhere. And this starts with the seemingly small acts that take place during tea and lunch breaks in school yards. Those girls in the bleachers hold some of the solution, as do we, their mothers, sisters, aunts and elders.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

This post was first published on Her Zimbabwe.