“I WAS particularly jaded by party politics and I switched off,” said former MDC-T Harare West member of Parliament Jessie Majome who was last seen in political circles after the 2018 elections when she lost her seat to Joana Mamombe.
Majome is one of the pioneer female politicians following the formation of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) by the late Morgan Tsvangirai in early 2000s.
In a way, the death of Tsvangirai in February 2018 left her vulnerable and hopeless in politics as the new president Nelson Chamisa, who is now the leader of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), allegedly substituted her with his candidate of choice and she decided to run as an independent.
“In 2018, I lost my bid to be party candidate when Nelson Chamisa the new party leader who ascended thereto in questionable circumstances after Morgan Tsvangirai’s death deployed all his power to irregularly install his choice of candidate and displaced me,” she said.
This marked the end of her 17- year political journey. Her journey began in the early 2000s when she was appointed a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (Copac) during Zimbabwe’s constitution-making process.
She recounts the years when Zanu PF’s authoritarian government unleashed its fury on the opposition.
“During that tenure I was extremely busy as a lawyer, yanking MDC activists in Matabeleland North from the grizzly jaws of the legal system of the Mugabe regime, which had perfected the vice of abusing the criminal justice system to persecute the opposition in the bloody years of the MDC’s infancy”.
Upon realising Majome’s hard work, the then MDC Matabeleland North provincial chair Morgen Komichi invited her to run for councillor of ward 1 on the Hwange Local Board.
“I realised then that as I contemplated a political career later on in my life that was just as well as good a time as any, as I was already very politically exposed from my legal work”. “I ran in the local government election and won in August 2003 despite a hazardous and maliciously sensational collapse of my marriage,” said Majome.
The domination of the patriarchal system from the grassroots to top-level politics in Zimbabwe sidelines many women from participating in politics.
However, for Majome that was not always the case. But she was not spared the violence and abuse by the ruling Zanu PF while on the other hand she had to take care of her children as a single mother.
Just like any other female politician in the opposition movement, she faced the wrath of the Zanu PF government when she was suspended by the then Local Government minister after she booted out a council chief executive for corruption and refused to back down from her action.
Unfortunately, her efforts to challenge her suspension in the High Court were dismissed which led her return to Harare but unable to contest again for the local authority seat.
The 2008 national elections saw Majome winning the Harare West constituency seat. The 2008 polls would go down in history as one of the most violent elections.
She served two terms in the National Assembly and still believes she achieved a lot.
“My politics was politics of issues. l believe I am remembered as an effective MP and minister,” said Majome.
In the inclusive government which ran from 2009 to 2013, Majome was appointed deputy minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, deputising Emmerson Mnangagwa who is now President.
She is even convinced the results of her motions and debates in Parliament are now manifesting in the current government despite her absence from the political arena and she is glad that President Mnangagwa kept his word.
“The recent amendments to the marriage law, barring child marriages and making marriage registration more accessible by roping in traditional leaders were a result of my efforts to lobby the then Justice minister, who is now the President, to expunge child marriage from the law.”
“He agreed and invited draft amendment clauses of the relevant legislation. I roped in various civil society organisations and we prepared and presented to him a lay Bill on ending child marriage. He kept his word and now all of its provisions are in the Marriages Act [Chapter 5:17. ]”, she said.
As one of the trailblazers, she faced a lot of criticism on issues to with gender-based violence. In 2015, she condemned the sexualisation of schoolgirls in uniform following the release of Jah Prayzah’s video titled “Eriza”.
“I got many brickbats from public opinion, but the message got across and the artiste’s manager reached out.”
The year 2018 saw the end to her political career after Chamisa took over the control of the MDC. Many alleged that he installed his candidate of choice, Joana Mamombe, to replace Majome to run for Harare West constituency.
“I refused to participate in the sham primary election that was planned and withdrew my bid for the party ticket.”
In an attempt to retain the seat, she then ran as an independent candidate and lost to Mamombe.
“I accepted defeat, congratulated the winner and wished her well.”
“In August, having pondered on my political future and realised that there was no party that I could repose my confidence in and support of, and that I had no intention of running for office again as an in dependent, I took the decision to retire from politics and participate in it only as a private citizen,” said Majome.
Her loss in 2018 clearly indicated how vulnerable women are in Zimbabwean politics when they are not affiliated to any male-led party.
In Zimbabwe, for a woman to survive in politics she has to serve in favour of the party leader otherwise running independently or forming a political party can lead to the political wilderness.
Efforts to take control of opposition politics by former MDC deputy president Thokozani Khupe did not reach far, after she contested for public office in 2018 and later joined the CCC.
“I also can’t help but notice with heartache how a once formidable opposition movement has been demolished by power grab personality cult politics, yet Zimbabwe is better off with healthy, serious and ideologically principled political contenders for the electorate’s support.”
“So, I don’t pay much attention to them but even then I can’t help but notice that they seem to be doing little else besides acrimonious jockeying for positions and individual power,” she said.
In 2019, President Mnangagwa appointed her among eight commissioners of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), and she is chairperson of the legal committee.
She perceives her current position as a total opposite of politics as the board works to bring collective results.
“Comparing leadership in it (Zacc) with political leadership is like trying to find the qualities of chalk in cheese.”
According to her, Zacc’s key achievements since she joined include the facilitation of Zimbabwe in adopting a National Anti-Corruption Strategy for the first time in the country’s history, and this is generating confidence in reporting corruption as evidenced by the increase in reports since 2019.
However, she raised concerns over the insufficiency of legislative tools to combat corruption, saying provisions of the main statute, the Anti-Corruption Act, are now invalid and inconsistent with the constitution.
“A lot of its provisions are now invalid because they are inconsistent with the constitution. It also lags behind global developments in anti-corruption and particularly falls short of the standards of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption as well as the African Union and the Sadc protocol,” said Majome.
*This article was supported by the Canadian Embassy in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Centre for Public Interest Journalism (The NewsHawks)