Hildegarde The Arena
WHAT was hoped to be a game changer is turning out to be something reminiscent of Tom Wolfe’s “the bonfire of the vanities”. The line has been drawn. Zanu-PF’s former secretary for administration, Cde Didymus Mutasa, has been making spirited attempts to discredit the resolutions of the 6th Zanu-PF National People’s Congress. He wants his former glory in both the party and Government restored.
Cde Mutasa fails to understand why his 50+ years in the echelons of the ruling party should be turned into a bonfire. It’s not easy to be a “commoner” after losing positions in the Central Committee, the Politburo and Government as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. So close, yet so far! Meanwhile, the Manicaland provincial executive has resolved to have him expelled from the party.
Cde Mutasa felt the compulsion to take “their” – the cabal fired from Government who also did not make it into Zanu-PF’s top decision-making bodies – grievances to Sadc even as the regional bloc is under the chairmanship of President Mugabe, saying: “We are sending this issue to Sadc knowing that President Mugabe is the chairman and we trust that the bloc will deal with it accordingly. If it fails, that will be the first time Sadc would have failed to solve such issues. All those who take their cases to the courts, take them because they believe they are doing the right thing and by taking the issue to Sadc, we believe we are doing the right thing.”
Taking the “factional fights” to Sadc is a game changer because we would also want to see whether the regional bloc only deals with political issues. How about sexual harassment and abuse of office?
Serious allegations of abuse of office, i.e. abuse of female subordinates both in Government and the party have been levelled against senior officials in the past three decades, and Cde Mutasa’s name has been among those people implicated.
In May last year, Manicaland provincial deputy chairperson Cde Dorothy Mabika, who was facing stocktheft charges, told the court through her lawyer, Mr Tinofara Hove, that these were trumped-up charges after she had turned down Cde Mutasa’s sexual overtures.
Mr Hove accused Cde Mutasa thus: “This is a case of political struggle and the accused is being used as a pawn of power struggle in Manicaland. You made an inappropriate sexual demand against her. You are persecuting her because she refused your sexual advances and also refused to join your camp.”
According to reports, Cde Mutasa would occasionally burst into laughter, denying the charges: “It is within your imagination. I never made any proposal or sexual advances and if she is thinking about that, then it is her problem. If she loves me, then let her be open,” Cde Mutasa said.
Cde Mabika also alleged that at one point Cde Mutasa declared: “If a zebra refuses to share pastures with a buffalo, it will be gored . . . She must be alert. If there are power struggles in Manicaland, she should not be found in the circles because when two elephants fight, the grass suffers and Mabika should not be found on the grass.”
His other comrade-in-arms, Cde Ray Kaukonde, has also been accused of sexual impropriety or harassment, defined by the Sadc Gender Protocol 2014 Barometer as, “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another, whether or not such sexual advance or request arises out of unequal power relations”.
There are more of these cases in both Zanu-PF and the MDC formations and some of these cases have gone before the courts, while the majority go unreported because of the power dynamics. You would not dare report a case when you are told that you will be “gored”.
So, if Sadc decides to deliberate on Cde Mutasa’s grievance, it should in the same vein look at the case from a holistic viewpoint. If Cde Mabika told the courts that she was being persecuted because she had turned down Cde Mutasa’s sexual advances, why should this not be revisited and treated with the seriousness it deserves?
Is Cde Mabika a lone voice making such allegations against Cde Mutasa? What did the courts do about Cde Mabika’s claim? What did the Zanu-PF Women’s League do about this allegation and others that have always been whispered around? What did the Ministry of Gender do? What did the women’s organisations do, because all these contribute immensely to the realisation of the regional bloc’s Gender Protocol, and they could also help to rid the region of sexual predators?
Inasmuch as Cde Mutasa wants the regional bloc to reverse resolutions of 6th Zanu-PF National People’s Congress, how should the bloc deal with the trauma faced by Cde Mabika regarding the sexual harassment? What should be the most objective response to someone who laughs off a serious allegation in court and says: “It is within your imagination, I never made any proposal or sexual advances and if she is thinking about that, then it is her problem. If she loves me, then let her be open?”
If close to 20 women are bringing cases of sexual impropriety against African-American comedian Bill Cosby, some of which date back to the 1970s, why can’t the accusations made by Cde Mabika be revisited to determine whether they have a basis at law?
Zimbabwe’s new Constitution guarantees women’s rights inasmuch it guarantees political rights: “Every woman has full and equal dignity of the person with men and this includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities;” and: “All laws, customs and cultural practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this Constitution are void to the extent of the infringement.”
Isn’t it also the responsibility of the Sadc gender desk to make follow-ups on some of these allegations?
Inasmuch as this writer applauds the strides made so far by the gender desk, which has resulted in the Gender Protocol, it is time the regional bloc looks at other gender mainstreaming issues in different sectors: the political space, the market place, the home and others, with particular reference to sexual harassment or sexual manipulation vis-à-vis the power dynamics.
The regional bloc must bring to the fore abuse of power by men in positions of authority, men who think that not only are they entitled to those positions, but also feel a sense of sexual entitlement towards everything in a skirt.
We will watch developments from Sadc on Cde Mutasa’s letter to the bloc, while at the same time waiting to see that the Sadc Gender Equality by 2015 is a reality for all women in the 15-member bloc. It is a protocol that “calls upon State Parties to ensure that by 2015 they enact legislative provisions, adopt and implement policies, strategies and programmes which define and prohibit sexual harassment in all spheres, and provide deterrent”.
Women cannot also afford to turn a blind eye on sisters who come out in the open about sexual harassment. In my view, this is tantamount to complicity.