The opposition MDC is in the middle of a political crisis, with rival groups fighting for the heart and soul of a party whose founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai made decisions that are now at the centre of the turmoil. MPs elected on the MDC-Alliance ticket are grappling with a dilemma that could change Zimbabwe’s political landscape: whether to remain loyal to their president Nelson Chamisa or defect to Thokozani Khupe’s camp. Khupe, who was declared the bona fide leader of the MDC-T by the courts, has teamed up with Douglas Mwonzora, Morgen Komichi and Elias Mudzuri. Senior reporter Bridget Mananavire (BM) this week had a discussion with the communications secretary of the MDC-Alliance women’s assembly, Barbara Tanyanyiwa (BT), on the politics gripping the party and the participation of women. Below are excerpts of the interview:
BM: Following the Supreme Court judgment ordering the MDC to go back to the 2014 structures and the recall of four MPs from parliament by a faction aligned to Khupe, where does the allegiance of the women’s assembly lie?
BT: The MDC-A assembly of women’s allegiance lies with president Advocate Nelson Chamisa 100%. We are aware that the Supreme Court ruling was political and so we decided to deal with it politically. There is no way the courts can choose a leader for us.
BM: How is the ongoing power struggle in the MDC affecting women’s participation and involvement in opposition politics in Zimbabwe?
BT: The only effect is that it is a woman who is causing all this power struggle; that is Thokozani Khupe, who is being used by the system to try and destroy the genuine opposition by trying to force her on people who rejected her. She ended up forming her own party.
This struggle has made us as women much stronger and united and eager to fight on until we bring change in Zimbabwe.
BM: Do women have a voice in the decision-making processes in the party?
BT: Oh yes, we do as women. Our chair, Honourable Paurina Mpariwa, sits on the national standing committee, the body that makes day-to-day decisions of the party in between the national executive meetings.
Five women sit on the national executive committee including myself and 14 women sit on the national council which is the highest decision-making body in-between congresses.
So, we really have a voice as we can fully participate and deliberate freely in making decisions of the party. Also, all assembly of women provincial chairs and secretaries sit in the national council.
BM: How do you feel about the promotion of a woman to an influential role of party spokesperson? And this is in reference to Fadzayi Mahere.
BT: We feel very greatly honoured as women and we are so happy that for the first time in the history of the party we have a female spokesperson and that is a very fine achievement.
We say congratulations to Mahere and we wish her all the best in her new appointment. This showed us that president Chamisa is gender sensitive and we would like to thank him for that.
BM: How are you advocating for more women to take up leadership positions in the party?
BT: By empowering those from the grassroot level up to national level. We make sure that each and every portfolio secretary works independently by coming up with plans of action and giving them the opportunity to execute their duties in their different portfolios.
We also managed to fight for a 50% women’s quota in all public offices, which is a great achievement, although we are yet to achieve this fully.
BM: We recently witnessed what lawyers have described as enforced disappearance and torture of three female members of the MDC, including parliamentarian Joana Mamombe. As mothers in the party, how do you feel about this?
BT: We are very much disturbed and pained by the torture of our girls by the state security. We feel that we are not safe as women as this is not the first time women have been abducted. We demand that justice prevails by bringing perpetrators to book.
BM: What do you think should be done to make sure such incidents do not recur?
BT: The only way out is to have reforms which the government is reluctant to formulate. There should be separation of powers that is the executive, legislature and judiciary.
As it is, there is no independence of these three arms, that is why up to now no arrests have been made and no investigations are going on, which is a very sad situation.
BM: Do you think the country has allowed women to freely participate in the political space?
BT: No, I do not think so. Women continue to be victims of torture and harassment and sexual abuse by the same people that are supposed to protect them.
Cases of police brutality against women keep on rising and we do not have anywhere to run to when victimised or abused. This is done to stop us from being active in politics, thereby shrinking our political space.
BM: Do you feel as the women’s assembly you made enough noise about this?
BT: Yes, I feel we made enough noise as the assembly of women. We have cried out loud to other women’s organisations, locally and internationally. We wrote statements, petitions, we did live shows on social media until they (the arrested MDC youth leaders) were released before 48 hours.
We also lobbied the international Community which also responded swiftly to our calls. Their abduction news reached all four corners of the world, which was great.
BM: Have you engaged other women’s organisations so as to join forces and act and speak against the abuses of women in politics?
BT: Yes, we have and they responded well. Some even did petitions calling for the government to carry out independent investigations and bring perpetrators to book.
BM: What is the MDC-Alliance women’s assembly doing to support women in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic given that most women have lost sources of their income?
BT: We sourced some food hampers for the vulnerable and we are also doing masks and selling them at give-away prices. We also did some awareness programmes on Covid-19.
BM: What is the role of the women’s assembly and are you fulfilling it?
BT: It is to mobilise and empower women in the party so that they become self-sustainable. Educate and fight for their rights and freedoms, representing them in different fora locally, regionally and internationally and also to support and defend the party all the times. I can safely say we are fulfilling the role, although there may be challenges here and there.
BM: What are the challenges?
BT: The challenges are the crippling economy where most women are failing to make ends meet. The coronavirus and the lockdown have caused untold suffering to many women who depend on the informal economy which is totally shut down.
Households are experiencing severe hunger due to the fact that they can no longer afford basic commodities as a result of the collapsing Zimbabwean currency. The other challenge is that of the illegitimate government that is clueless and does not care about the suffering of its people.
There is selective application of the Covid-19 regulations and cases of gender-based violence that continue to rise during this lockdown.