Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa’s alleged rape cases shine light on treatment of women in politics

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Wednesday, 17 August 2022 15:11

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks in a pre-recorded message that was played during the U.N. General Assembly, Sustainable Development Goals, at UN headquarters, in New York, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (UNTV via AP)

A young woman living in Australia, Susan Mutami, took to a four-hour Twitter Space in July to reveal how she was allegedly raped by Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa at a young age in Kwekwe, 215km from the capital of Harare, back in the 2000s. Oppositionists and activists say his government is not doing enough on equality and the protection of women's rights.

Mutami, who further claimed that she was sexually abused by several other politicians, including former state security minister Owen Ncube, former foreign affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo and mines deputy minister Polite Kambamura, has since filed a police report with the Australian police.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba has since refused to speak on these rape allegations against Mnangagwa and his cabinet ministers.

“The rape allegations are highly unlikely to have any material impact on Mnangagwa’s ambition to be re-confirmed as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front at the October congress and to contest for a second term as the president of the country at next year’s election,” Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst tells The Africa Report.

“He also does not seem bothered at all by the explosive allegations. For him, it is business as usual,” Masunungure says. Admire Mare, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Journalism, says the rape allegations against Mnangagwa “will certainly cast aspersions on the things he has done so far to promote women empowerment” in the country.

Women in Zimbabwe’s politics

Although President Mnangagwa promised improvements in the country’s gender policies, he is lagging behind in implementing reforms that promote gender equality. Under his leadership, his government does not respect the constitution’s requirement for 50/50 gender representation in public appointments.

Mnangagwa does not support reforms to be more inclusive, as evidenced by the number of female leaders in his government

Out of the 39 cabinet, deputy and ministers of state appointed in his first government in November 2017, only six were women. “He has not done enough to achieve gender equality as enshrined in Section 17 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” says Linda Masarira, a human rights defender and president of the opposition party Labour, Economists and African Democrats. “We can only measure equality in practice. As it stands, there is no woman in the presidium.”

To date, out of the 53 cabinet, state and deputy ministers, some 17 are women. “Mnangagwa does not support reforms to be more inclusive, as evidenced by the number of female leaders in his government,” says Barbara Gwangwara Tanyanyiwa, a spokesperson for the Citizens Coalition for Change’s (CCC) Women Change Champions.

In the legislature

In parliament, after the 2018 general polls, women occupied 35% of the two houses, which have a total of 350 seats. This was largely due to a proportional representation quota of at least 30% that was introduced in 2013.

That policy was supposed to end in 2022, but last year legislators extended it for another decade to ensure the country achieves 50/50 gender representation.

Sex, lies and leaks

This is not the first time that high-ranking officials have been accused of mistreating women. In 2021, Mnangagwa’s deputy Kembo Mohadi was forced to resign after his private calls of soliciting sex from young women, including his aides, were leaked to the media.

Under Mnangagwa’s administration, there have been continued attacks on women by the state apparatus, including law enforcement agents working in cahoots with the judiciary.

A legislator, Joanah Mamombe, and activists Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri were allegedly abducted, sexually abused and tortured for demonstrating against the government’s failure to provide personal protective equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2020.

Instead of the state investigating the matter and arresting the perpetrators, the trio is fighting charges of faking abduction in court.

The equality question

“Mnangagwa is not pro-equality,” the CCC’s Tanyanyiwa tells The Africa Report. “He has not done anything to promote gender equality, instead he is reversing the gains made over the years.”

Marry Mubaiwa, the ex-wife of vice-president Constantino Chiwenga, is critically ill. She says she is being abused by the judiciary in a court battle where she is facing several charges – from attempted murder to assault and forgery.

She has even been dragged to court in an ambulance and wheelchair while her passport has been confiscated, so she cannot seek treatment outside the country.

“Women are being abused under Mnangagwa’s watch, and he has never uttered a word,” says Tanyanyiwa. “Even in Mary’s case, we did not hear him whipping his deputy for ill-treating his former wife.”

Tough treatment

Political analyst Masarira says considering that Mubaiwa is a former second lady, expectations were that she would be treated with respect and dignity regardless of her alleged crimes.

“The failure to grant access to health for Mary has left a big dent, especially on the human aspect of the current presidium of Zimbabwe,” Tanyanyiwa says..

Women have been abused even in courts under his watch. Mnangagwa unleashes soldiers and police to harass innocent citizens, including women, instead of protecting them,” she concludes.

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