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Opinion

Radio auditions in the bedroom

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IN March 2021, Zimbabwe woke up to Vice-President Kembo Mohadi’s resignation. He was to remain in the political wilderness until recently when he bounced back after elections.

DONALD MADONDO

Mohadi’s resignation letter was precipitated by allegations of sexual misconduct on his part and directed to a married woman.

What surprised Zimbabweans the most was the resignation itself, a rare phenomenon. It does not happen every day that a political figure, a Vice-President no less, resigns because he has been rocked by a sex scandal.

In his resignation letter, the Vice-President stated that he was quitting “not as a matter of cowardice, but out of respect for his office so that it is not compromised or caricatured by actions that are linked to his challenges as an individual.”

What a rare feat it was to have a public official for once taking responsibility and doing the right thing, albeit making feeble protests of being “a victim of information distortion, voice cloning, and sponsored spooking and political sabotage”.

The resignation was supposed to be a starting point to a series of quitting for the unsaid sexual sins committed behind the walls of both private and public institutions.

However, the resignation was to be reversed two years later. Mohadi is back in office now. No questions asked, no inquiry done, no explanations, it is now all water under the bridge and business as usual; we move on to the next scandal as a country.

That seems to be our modus operandi, particularly given President Emmerson Mnangagwa and co-Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s own skeletons in the cupboards. Mnangagwa and Chiwenga were in no better position to seriously judge Mohadi.

Indeed, away from politicians, the next sexual scandal did not take time to hit the headlines. It was mentorship on an extended level. In audio recordings leaked last week, Robson Mhandu, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation director of radio services, is caught red-handed trying to mentor a junior employee by first marshalling her straight into the bedroom.

A few days later, three of Mhandu’s ZBC colleagues are also facing the same accusations.
Mhandu was aggressive and unforgiving in his predatory advances to the junior staffer as he ferociously tells her that, like his totem Shumba (lion), he will maul or devour her; and rejection would come with consequences. The demand was aggressive and the symbolism violent.

The junior, Farai Juliet Magada, wanted to be transferred from Bulawayo to Harare, but Mhandu would not okay it and sign papers without getting sex as a reward.

He was brazen about it. He sounded gayly entitled and demanded it with impunity. Apparently he has been doing it for a long time and getting away with murder, hence to him it is the “practical reality of life”.

It is a tragedy.

The good thing though is that Magada got Mhandu caught and he will now be held accountable for behaving like a bull in a China shop.

Yet Mhandu is not the only one in media doing that horrendous stuff. Some of his ZBC colleagues are also in hot soup over similar sexual misdemeanours. There are also well-known cases of sexual harassment at some mainstream media houses which have been swept under the carpet. Those cases must be investigated.

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment.

This is rampant in different spheres of life and workplaces.

It is a power relations issue.

Previous reports have shown that sexual harassment is rife in the media, preventing women journalists from realising their potential and sometimes forcing them to quit.

This calls for greater commitment by media institutions to address the problem in the newsrooms and training institutions.

Women journalists have been forced out of newsrooms and journalism training schools as a result of being sexually harassed and even abused.

Invariably, perpetrators of the recorded sexual violence are mainly those in positions of authority or influence such as managers, editors and desk editors.

The Mhandu saga is yet another entry into the journal of the everyday untold stories that women are subjected to in the workplace as they are hunted by the male species with an insatiable appetite to “maul” or “devour” them. Some men view themselves as predators hunting prey, as Mhandu’s perverted mindset clearly showed.

History is replete with men who have used their perceived social power to harass and subjugate those in weaker positions.

Sex is then used to complete the subjugation and harassment. It is about power and conquest for the predators.

This is a feature that is common both in the private and public space.

When one perceives themselves to be in a position of power, the abuse of that power most often than not tends to result in sexual harassment.

However, because of the way our society has viewed and deified sex, as well as  views perceived power, most of the incidents which are criminal in nature go unchallenged.

Victims of abuse remain silent for the fear of being labelled and have tags attached to them – stigmatised. It has become a cancer that has slowly consumed our society. Perpetrators get appointed, while victims are disappointed.

But what is sexual harassment in terms of the law?

Section 8 (h) of the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01} provides that, it is an unfair labour practice by an employer or any other person, by an act or omission, if he or she engages in unwelcome sexually-determined behaviour towards any employee, whether verbal or otherwise, such as making physical contact or advances, sexually colours remarks, or displaying pornographic materials in the workplace.

The Public Service Commission Sexual Harassment Policy 2022 has a broader definition of sexual harassment.

It provides that sexual harassment in relation to an employer or any member means any act where an employer or member (a) demands from any employee or prospective employee any sexual favour as a condition of – (i) recruitment for employment or (ii) the creation, classification or abolition of jobs or posts; or (iii) the improvement of the remuneration or other conditions of employment of the employee; or  (iv) the choice of persons for jobs or posts, training, advancement, apprenticeships, transfer, promotion or retrenchment; or (v) the provision of facilities related to or connected with employment; or (vi) any other matter related to employment; or (b) engages in unwelcome sexually-determined behaviour towards any employee or client, whether verbal or otherwise, such as making physical contact or advances.

This definition is wide and it encompasses some aspects that border on the criminality of harassment.

While sexual harassment knows no gender, one can take judicial notice that in this teapot-shaped country the victims are mostly female and the perpetrators are male.

Instead of sex being for procreation and pleasure, when abused it becomes a weapon of mass destruction.

While those with perceived power weaponise sex, the law provides a weapon cast in statutes and policies to whip those of a disposition set to forcefully drink from wells they have no access into line.

Part III of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act provides for sexual crimes and crimes against morality.

One can report predators of sexual offences and, depending on the incident and nature of violations, the Zimbabwe Republic Police must arrest perpetrators.

Day in and day out, our courts adjudicate on sexual complaints. Part of the population in our prisons constitutes those who decided not to exercise temperance with their hormones.

Victims of sexual harassment can either report the crimes to the police and, if violated within the workplace, a labour practice that is fair would have been violated and action must be taken that leads to suspension or dismissal as the circumstances of the case would dictate.

In legal parlance, they are both criminal and civil remedies can be pursued where violations are committed.

However, one wonders whether these remedies are effective, considering how sexual harassment issues have been dealt with in the past.

Our history has shown that it takes less than two years for a whole Vice-President to be re-appointed after a sexual scandal unfolds.

As my learned late brother Alex Magaisa would always say, no matter how brilliant our constitution reads, it takes political will to change the discourse of a people.

We may have policies in our workplaces and laws, but it shall take the political will of our leaders to change the discourse insofar as sexual harassment is concerned.

As long as we see it fit to release some convicted Bobby Makaza characters to sing Huchi praises for us at the expense of our young girls and women, we shall continue to suffer the scourge of mentorship into bedrooms instead of boardrooms. 

Until we self-introspect as a people and take collective action, our women remain vulnerable to Mhandu-style mentoring into bedrooms with reckless abandon and impunity.  

*About the writer: Donald Madondo is a pseudonym of a local lawyer who will be regularly contributing to this new legal column, which is also open to other writers.

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