Development in article 12, requires that, “state parties shall endeavour that at least fifty percent of decision-making positions in the public and private sector should be held by women including the use of affirmative action measures as provided for in article 5.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is still lagging behind when it comes to the promotion of inclusive and equal participation of women in the country’s politics and leadership.
Our writer Albert Chavhunduka (AC), had a sit-down with the Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD) president Linda Tsungirai Masarira (LM). The topics of discussion included the call for the amendment of the Electoral Act, representation of female politicians and gender issues.
Below is the full interview.
AC: Recently, you expressed concern over the representation of female political candidates in the media, can you please tell us more about that?
LM: I’ve noticed over the years that the media in Zimbabwe is biased towards female candidates, women in politics. I also think that it actually beyond just women in politics, its generally about women. There is a systematic attack on women in leadership, elbowing out of women in leadership in various spheres of our economy.
When we go to politics we look at what happened to Dr Thokozani Khupe or Dr Joyce Mujuru. I mean, all those negative stories about what was happening to them to elbow them out of politics. But there are a lot of positives that they do were hardly ever recorded and they hardly never got media space.
When they are reporting about women, our pictures have to be smaller, and we have to be put in a particular corner so we are suffering from an engendered media space where women are not given enough space and fair coverage which is a violation of the electoral code of conduct and the electoral act which actually enshrine the media to ensure that they give all candidates fair coverage especially during election time.
Women continue to bear the brunt of misinformation and most of the time if you find a woman on the first page of a newspaper its usually about a scandal, it’s a case of a woman being sexualised or propaganda that is being spread around. It’s unfortunate that over a very long time, women candidates have never been given the right to respond and most of the times it’s just a story from a journalist or even if its propaganda that was picked on social media, they hardly even contact those women candidates to get their side of the story which raises the question on whether or not the media in Zimbabwe is ethical in its operations and they are not promoting gender balance, women in governance and they are not gender sensitive to some issues.
I can give an example, after Margaret Dongo I am the second woman in this country to form a political party but you’ll never see that in the media and them speaking about it or profiling me on the journey that I’ve walked in my political career, maybe just because I’m a woman. But if a man was to start a political party today, you’ll surely find it in the media. So as women, we feel that there is systematic elbowing out of women candidates and that has to stop.
AC: You’re now just a few days away from the March 26 by-elections on Saturday and there’s a lot of criticism of the electoral body ZEC over gross anomalies in the voter’s roll. Does it not worry you?
LM: I’m really worried about the state of the voter’s roll because of the fact that I had my name missing from the initial copy that was supplied to me by ZEC when we had the candidates meeting a week after the nomination. My Chief Elections agent then went to ZEC and he was supplied with another voter’s roll in which my name was actually there.
So these are some reservations that we have as a party that how many copies of the voter’s roll does ZEC have and which particular copy are they going to use on the date of the by-elections. These issues, we have since given them to our lawyer who has also written to ZEC and we are waiting for their response.
Going forward, we are also challenging the printing of ballot papers in the absence and without consultation of stakeholders because ZEC is supposed to be transparent and accountable every step of the way as they do their way. So we are really worried about the incapability of ZEC to fulfil its mandate to be free and fair and to ensure that they consult all stakeholders in every electoral process towards any by-election or harmonised election
As it stands right now, the pre-election period has been flawed and there isn’t fairness in the way that ZEC is even handling dispute matters between political parties, candidates and I don’t think that at this juncture we are going into a free, fair and credible by-election.
AC: What’s your take on the issue that there should be an Amendment to the Electoral Act to allow for proportional representation?
LM: We are actually one of the political parties which has been advocating for that since 2019, we even advocated for that at the Gender Commission Indaba in the same year and many political parties present all agreed that there was a need for the Gender Commission to push the agenda from the women in politics and different political parties.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that constitutionalism becomes a reality in Zimbabwe and that we move away from treating the constitution of this country for our own sinister agendas and as at when it its advantageous to us. We have seen over the years, political parties, the government and the judiciary doing selective application of the law.
It is imperative for us to start interrogating the fact that the constitution is the supreme law of this land and that is has to be adhered to in its totality. Section 17 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe is clear on the role of all organs of the state, government departments, the private sector and even political parties that they should to the principle of gender balance.
If we are ever going to adhere to tenets of gender balance, it is imperative for us all to make sure that we start speaking with one voice to advocate for a proportional representation system like the one that is used in senate where political parties submit a list of candidates. It shouldn’t be a mammoth task for government to be able to pass this as law as we are already using this system in the senate.
This proportional representation system is being used again in South Africa and we note with clarity that the parliament of S.A has got diverse players in parliament. It has got people from different political parties and that the system itself is advantageous to the creation of a tolerant society because we will be able to increase plurality of voices of political parties in parliament. Every political party that participates in the elections will have a representation in parliament and it will help us to move away from a two party system, which has seen massive dictatorial tendencies on both the ruling party and those who have claimed to be the official opposition of Zimbabwe for some years now.
So it’s important for us to start moving towards the advocacy work to ensure that we amend the Electoral Act before the 2023 elections and ensure that by the time we get to next year. We need to move away from these quotas which have proved to be useless and caused so much division among women in political parties.
AC: How is your own campaign coming along now that we are just a few days away from the elections on Saturday and what are your prospects for the party?
LM: My campaign for Harare Central has been unique and I’ve been using a new and different way of campaigning where I have been engaging various stakeholders in the constituency and the influential leaders to do the campaigning on my behalf.
We have been suffering from politics of populism for a very long time and having the people in the constituency voting for the same people who have failed to represent them over the years. It is not a secrecy that Murisi Zwizwai has been winning Harare Central constituency even though he is virtually unavailable in the constituency just because of the political party he is coming from.
So I decided to change strategy and use influential leaders to do the campaigning for me and to also have an environmental friendly campaign which does not pollute the environment with dirt. I have also been doing door-to-door campaigns in my spare time considering the fact that I’m also a very busy person. I’ve also done online campaigns and some videos which have been circulating in different groups of people in Harare Central Constituency.
My prospects for the by-election on Saturday are that there are 50-50 chances and when you get into an election, it’s either you win or you lose. My hopes are that I actually win but I’m going into the election knowing that I should expect anything even though the best result that I want for the election is to actually win so that I can represent the people of Harare Central Constituency. By winning, we can have another voice in parliament that is pragmatic, that speaks truth to power and representative and wants to deal with the underlying labour issues that have been bedevilling the workers in Zimbabwe for a very long time.
AC: As the president of LEAD, what do you stand for or represent?
LM: I stand for labour, gender and economic justice.
I believe that Zimbabweans have been marginalised for a very long time and that their socio-economic justice and aspirations have not been fulfilled. If I’m elected into office next week, I’m going to ensure that we deal with the ignored issue of labour reform and make sure that the worker’s dignity is restored in this country both for those in the informal and formal sectors.
We can only rebuild this country when the workers are happy and the law protects them. It’s unfortunate that the laws which we have in this country protects the employer more than the employee. So my message to the people in Harare Central Constituency is that this is the time to vote a voice of trade unionism, a voice of labour and a voice that wants the best for you to ensure sustainable human development and sustainable livelihoods.
AC: The pre-election period has been violent and characterised by the closing in of the democratic space with some parties failing to campaign freely. What’s your comment on that as LEAD?
LM: After the by-elections of Saturday, I expect a non-violent environment and I expect all those parties that thrive on violence as a means of coercing votes and silencing dissenting voices to be able to stop their violent tendencies and to be able to adhere to the peace pledges that were signed in 2018.
It is important for us as we build up to the 2023 elections to ensure that we all spread a message of peace, a message of hope, a message of togetherness and a message that together in our diversity, we can build Zimbabwe without being intolerant of other views
Lastly, my message to the people of Zimbabwe is that if we can co-exists in families, supporting different political parties, what makes us to be violent against people that we do not know to the extent of killing each other and claiming lives.
A life lost can never be reincarnated and it is important for us to exercise restraint be tolerant of diverse views everywhere that we go.