TODAY is a significant day for the women of Zimbabwe. You as the women representantives of the country’s largest political party, the MDC, have come to this Congress to elect a new leadership and to chart the way forward for the MDC Women’s Assembly and for the country.
I hope that you will use this important day to reflect on the past five years and derive valuable lessons on how best the women of this country can actively take part as leaders in this important journey towards a new Zimbabwe and a new beginning. It is a fact that 30 years after overcoming the racial inequalities for which the liberation struggle was waged, the gender inequalities remain. This is despite the fact that our women played such a central role in the our liberation struggle.
Indeed, you have also played a central role in the struggle for a democratic Zimbabwe that has been ongoing now for more than a decade. Unfortunately, it is the women of Zimbabwe who had to pay the highest price in our national struggles. When any hardship stalks our land, it is the women of this nation that bear the brunt of the suffering, whether it be from disease, hunger, or poverty.
Therefore, let us take this opportunity to remember the gallant women who defied fear and played an active part in the formation of this party in 1999. Women who must continue to inspire us as we run the last mile to full democracy and freedon. Some of them are now departed and I am talking here about passionate fighters for democracy such as the late Getrude Mthombeni. May her soul rest in eternal peace.
Yet others braved violence and stood firm in this struggle, like our colleague Thabitha Marume who was callously and publicly murdered by Zanu PF activists in Manicaland in 2007. Talent Mabika, a committed woman who was plucked down in mid-stride and brutally murdered in April 2000 at Murambinda Growth Point in Buhera, is a pick from this rich galaxy of brave women who paid the ultimate price in their quest for change.
Abigail Chiroto, another brave woman who was killed simply because her husband was a senior MDC activist. We must remember all these gallant women; brave daughters of this land who decided to be part of the national quest for a new dispensation.
Our mothers and our sisters in Murehwa, Nkayi, Muzarabani and Chendambuya who were raped, murdered and assaulted over the years for their unstinting belief in change. In the face of threats, intimidation and brutal murders, they maintained their resolve to continue fighting against oppression, violence and plunder.
And there is one woman I knew so well and loved so much -a woman who insisted that women were equal shareholders in the struggle for change in Zimbabwe. A woman who would have been happy today to see such a huge gathering of friends and colleagues committed and determined to finish the struggle they started so many years ago.
And I am talking here of my late wife, Susan Tsvangirai, who tragically perished in an accident on 6 March 2009, exactly 23 days after hope had beckoned for this country following the formation of the inclusive government on 11 February 2009. All these women, including the women in the villages, on the farms and in urban townships who have borne the brunt of violence, are the true heroes of our struggle.
They have refused to be cowed and they continue to be associated with the national desire for change. At this historic congress let us honour their sacrifice. Let us treasure the memory of those that have paid the ultimate price and let us ensure that their legacy is a New Zimbabwe that is truly free, democratic and prosperous.
This is what they stood for and this is what they were fighting for when they died. We owe it to them to carry on the struggle courageously, peacefully and relentlessly. In light of this, I wish to address the allegations of factionalism, conflict and corruption that have preceded this Congress. Let me state once and for all that there will no tolerance of violence in the MDC. There will no sanctioning of corruption in the MDC and there will be no reward for patronage in the MDC.
It is these traits that our party was born to eradicate. It is these traits that condemned an entire generation to poverty and repression and there can be no room for them in the New Zimbabwe.
Soon, you will vote for your new leaders.Let me tell you now that it is your duty to shun those that encouraged violence; To reject those that promoted factionalism; And to discard any individual that attempted to tarnish your precious vote by trying to buy it. As we prepare to govern our beautiful country let us ensure that we represent the very best that the people of Zimbabwe have to offer.
Let us truly be the Party of Excellence!
Women of Zimbabwe, I am heartened by the enthusiasm that I see here, the high spirits and the emotive contest which all go to show that we are a true democratic party.Serious business for the Women’s Assembly must begin today.And we must begin with an honest introspection into whether we have succeeded in the past five years in creating a strong women’s movement that can mobilise women across all sectors and classes to be part of the change agenda.
Our last party Conference approved a 50-50 threshold for women at all levels of leadership and you must rise up to the challenge and demand your space. I urge you to step up to this challenge and as a Women’s Assembly; I hope you have comprehensive proposals to the Constitution for adoption by this Congress, including the demand for equal representation at all levels.
Until we have such a Constitution and until our women take their rightful place in the Party and in Zimbabwe, our nation will never be truly empowered. Only then will the MDC truly be a Party of Excellence. I take heart that you have remained resolute over the years, undaunted by a dark past but excited by the prospect of a better future for yourselves and your children.
I also hope that you have managed to debate the party policy on gender in order to enrich the party position on all major issues affecting women and to keep the party appraised of the special needs and concerns of women. At the epicentre of our beliefs as a social democratic party is gender equality, the need to eradicate poverty and the empowerment of women to take care of every area of their lives.
We must be alive especially to the needs of rural women and the key role they continue to play in the country’s economy. We must recognise the role of women as mothers in the family and as the ultimate care-givers even where national institutions have collapsed.
This nation is poised for an election and the role of women in this important national process cannot be underplayed. Women must be on the forefront in the collective quest for a clear roadmap to an election; with a clear role for our African brothers and sisters in ensuring that the election will take place in a peaceful environment with neither fear not coercion.
We must not merely seek peace. We must demand it! The women of Zimbabwe must continue to occupy their space by taking part in national struggles, national discussions, national processes and national events.
I equally hope that the new leadership that will emerge from here will be able to take the struggle forward and to ensure that women have an important role to play in shaping the country’s future.
Your future is in your hands.
I thank you!