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Zimbabwe elections: Sekai Nzenza – walking her way to power

By Patrick Smith in Harare
Posted on Wednesday, 4 July 2018 13:53

Women have not fared well amid the recent seismic shifts in Zimbabwe’s politics. Section 17 of the new Constitution stipulates that “both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level.” But neither the ruling ZANU-PF or the MDC opposition leadership comes close to meeting that provision.

There are more female MPs due to a quota system. But women are still heavily under-represented in local government, state-owned enterprises and other executive positions. Both the main parties have seen top women activists embroiled in messy disputes, often pushed out by male rivals.

One of the successful contenders for the parliamentary elections is Dr Sekai Nzenza, a former director of the World Vision development group. Talking to The Africa Report, she described how biases operate against women at both the local and national level. And how they can be overcome.

After a globetrotting professional career, Nzenza returned to her village in Chikomba East a decade ago, mainly to look after her sick mother. Putting her experience in rural development to use, she started raising money for boreholes, community halls and gardens. She took out ZANU-PF membership but had no plans to vie for the seat.

The sitting MP, Edgar Mbwembwe, a former minister of tourism, was close to the Mugabes and backed by party HQ. Raising more funds and her profile, Nzenza extended her small-scale projects across the constituency.

Door to door campaign

“A group of women came to me complaining that Chikomba East has never had a woman MP since Independence and was losing out,” Nzenza says. “They urged me to stand in the ZANU-PF primaries. When I explained I had no money for campaigning, they said all we needed was walking shoes and we would launch a comprehensive door-to-door campaign.”

After she bought 30 pairs of shoes for them, the campaign took off, run by women but appealing to all voters who wanted faster development in Chikomba. Up against the better-funded campaigns of incumbent Mbwembwe and evangelist Alexander Chisango, as well as five other male contenders, Nzenza won with over 3,000 votes in the primaries at Chikomba East.

Nzenza’s local roots and activism sealed the deal in what is a safe ZANU-PF seat: “I also represented new blood at a time of big change in the party.”

Others, such as ZANU chairwoman Oppah Muchinguri, fell foul of those changes, losing her consituency in the first round of the primaries. The weakening of the party’s HQ over constituencies looks set to produce more surprises this year.

This article first appeared in the June 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine

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