Election talk strikers fear in Zimbabwean women

JOHANESBURG – While Zimbabwe ’s Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party continue to sound warnings of the first general election in the Southern African nation since the botched attempt of two years ago, ordinary people, especially women in the rural areas, are wishing that this could pass.

Since Mugabe assumed power from Ian Smith in 1980, Election Day in the landlocked former British colony has been likened to the biblical “doomsday” and is – in most areas, unwanted due to the violence that has punctuated each pre and post-election period.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s broader Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claims that over 200 of its supporters were killed after the March 29 2008 election, in which Mugabe and Zanu PF lost to the then opposition for the first time in close to three decades.

Amid Mugabe’s calls for a new election to replace the inclusive government, most Zimbabweans would rather the current administration remains in place until some reforms are made to most of the country’s institutions.

Mugabe continues to flout the requirements of the global political agreement he signed with Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of the smaller MDC, who is Tsvangirai’s deputy in government, but relative calm had returned in the country since February 2009.

Most Zimbabweans wish that elections could be delayed until the country’s pro-Mugabe security forces are reformed, an independent electoral body is sworn-in, media freedoms are restored and a new democratic constitution is written and adopted, but the octogenarian leader says he wants the elections before June next year and has already entered election mode.

Paramilitary groups – war veterans and youth militia, are being activated all over the country and intimidation and violence have already begun.

Most scared of this sudden turn of events are the country’s rural women, said to be the hardest hit by political violence since the formation of the MDC 10 years ago.

Doctor Charity Manyeruke, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, puts at over 20 000 the number of Zimbabwean women who have been says that more than 20 000 women who have been violated – both physically and mentally, since 2000 and adds that the number could increase if new elections are held in 2011, as Mugabe wants.

“The situation still continues to be bad for women in Zimbabwe and many of them have been abducted, raped, maimed, killed and displaced during political violence,” says Dr Manyeruke, who led a campaign against the abuse of Zimbabwean women in Johannesburg, South Africa at the weekend.

“The effect of that violence has been to send fear into women and stop them from speaking out on their country’s political climate.  Most of those who have been abused have kept quiet for fear that there will be future reprisals. They cannot turn to the police because they are either their abusers or are protecting the known abusers, hence the women remain traumatised.”

Dr Manyeruke said the women would not get any rest if the environment is not opened up for them to participate in the country’s political discourse, hence the need for elections to be delayed until healing is attained.

“People are still hurting from the political violence of 2008 and with most of the abusers still there living with them, and the culture of impunity that still exists, the situation cannot get any worse,” she added.

A ministerial committee on national healing has so far achieved nothing, as most of the terror machinery still remains active in Zimbabwe and itching to unleash more violence and most of those known to have partaken in the past incidents still remain scot-free.

Joice Dube, Director of the Johannesburg-based Southern African Women’s Institute for Migration Affairs (SAWIMA), called on Zimbabwean men to stop abusing women for political gain.

“Men should stop this animal-like behaviour of abusing women – their mothers, sisters and daughters because it destroys a future generation. Women must be given their space to contribute to a better Zimbabwe .  Why must they always listen to men when there are more women than men in that country? Political violence has destroyed families in Zimbabwe and that is why most Zimbabwean women have fled into South Africa , leaving their homes collapsing,” said Dube.

Dr Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), also warned that there would be more violence in Zimbabwe if Mugabe goes ahead with elections next year.

“That (Mugabe) regime will always rely on violence to silence dissenting voices and women will always be the worst affected because they are at the forefront of most public demonstrations,” said Madhuku.

“This violence can only be stopped by us, people on the ground by mobilising everybody in the region to support us as we fight for a democratic state in our country. Mugabe will continue to use violence, but he will eventually be defeated. That is why we are launching a campaign to mobilise for regional and international support. We have more women than men in the NCA and they have all been targeted for abuse by the government of Zimbabwe .”

South African civil rights groups have promised to support their suffering counterparts in Zimbabwe until democracy and the rule of law is restored.

“I am ashamed that as South Africans, we kept quiet on the situation in Zimbabwe all along, but would like to assure the people of Zimbabwe that we have adopted their fight and made it ours,” said Charlotte Schaer, the Director of Curriculum for Development Project Trust.

“We will fight with them until they get all their fundamental rights and freedoms back. I hereby pledge our solidarity and active support to you in your struggle.”

According to a report recently released by the Harare-based Research and Advocacy Unit, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) and self-help organisation Doors of Hope Development Trust, members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the police have been fingered in an orgy of gang-rape in which Zanu (PF) militias sexually assaulted hapless MDC-T supporters in the run-up to Zimbabwe’s elections over the past decade, a new report revealed last week.

The joint report by showed that soldiers and police officers participated in politically motivated rape in Harare, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces between 2001 and 2008.

They allegedly worked in cahoots with Zanu (PF) youths and so-called war veterans who terrorised MDC-T supporters in Bikita, Birchenough Bridge , Buhera, Chikomba, Chitungwiza, Epworth, Gutu, Headlands, Honde Valley , Murehwa, Mutoko and Harare ‘s Whitecliff. The report, which was based on 27 sworn affidavits and medical examinations of women, showed that the victims were raped because of their political activities or the activities of their husbands.

"The sexual assaults reported by this sample are ruthless, with horrific reports of gang rape. Some of the women were raped by numerous perpetrators until they lost consciousness," the report said, in brief. ENDS/