Are Zimbabwe women politicians eternal mothers, whores or witches?


The political arena in Zimbabwe is a de facto male space in which women play very peripheral and insignificant roles. Author and scholar Panashe Chigumadzi sums the situation up in an op-ed article, writing that: Politics in Zimbabwe remains a man’s game, and virility is a measure of one’s ability to rule over others.

It is not the place of women to rule, especially over men. Women who dare to aspire to rule are considered to be wild and unruly.

Grace Mugabe, the former First Lady of Zimbabwe, is one such woman, I argue in a paper on the tropes used to describe women in politics in the southern African country.

Grace rattled political cages in 2019 in her bid to replace her ageing husband, both as leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party and also possibly as president of the country.

But instead of focusing on the merits and demerits of her political interests, the recurring comment was that she was a sex-starved hure (a Shona word for “whore”).

This sexist slandering has not been used to describe just Grace Mugabe. It has been used systematically to denigrate women who aspire for any political positions.

Grace became a public figure in 1996 when she married Robert Mugabe after the death of his first wife. She had previously been his personal assistant. At the time of the marriage, she was defamed for having an affair while his first wife, Sally, was terminally ill.

Moreover, Grace was labelled a gold-digger because she had married a rich and powerful man who was 40 years her senior.

She was often compared to Sally, the latter characterised as womanly, motherly and homely. Sally was a saint, according to public opinion, partly because she had assumed a more ornamental role as First Lady.

However with time, Grace was embraced as the proverbial mother of the nation and the endearing appellation of Amai (mother) was bestowed on her.

In 2014, she took her first steps in politics when she was elected chairperson of the women’s league of the ruling ZANU-PF party. She was fronted as the face of the Generation 40 faction within the ruling party.

Generation 40 was a group of young party members who felt there was need for a change of power from the old guard that had waged the liberation war. Grace began a series of rallies across the country. The rallying call at these events was the Shona phrase Munhu wese kuna Amai (Everyone, side with Mother).

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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