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Rape, threat of rape being used to keep woman out of politics



…Mudehwe retraces torrid political journey

BATTLE-HARDENED political activist Lynnette Mudehwe is a bitter woman.
Mudehwe had a near-rape experience that makes her hate the government and the country’s state security with a passion.


Mudehwe has been arrested more than 10 times throughout her political career but her spirit is however still undaunted and she stands ready to fight for what she believes is right for every Zimbabwean who she says deserves a better life.

Following one of the several arrests and detentions, Mudehwe told The NewsHawks in an exclusive interview that she was set up for rape while in police holding cells.

“On one of the arrests I have encountered I was detained at Southerton Police for 48 hours and I was the only lady there. The police would take a naked man into the holding cells and all the other cells were locked from outside but only mine was not locked and anyone in the courtyard could open my cell,” she said.

“So, this man opened my cell twice every night and I would hide and lock him inside the cell and called for the police to help. What I think with everything that happened is that they wanted me to get raped and I was fortunate that man did not touch me.”

Rape is a horrific experience that violates women’s lives. Because of the devastating impact it has, political thugs and despotic political parties use it as a tool to deter women  from participating in politics.

Weaponisation of rape is a scourge that has not spared Zimbabwe across its many periods of political turmoil even before Independence.

Violent sexual crime is however generally underreported and victims hardly receive the necessary assistance.

Top human rights lawyer Passmore Nyakureba told The NewsHawks that rape is used as both punishment and a scare tactic.

“Generally, women are vulnerable to the weaponisation of political violence and rape is used against women as a weapon to punish them,” said Nyakureba.

“In toxic politics and in politics of violence, rape is more often than not used as weaponed punishment and once a woman has been violated or raped it is treated as a way of punishment and to humiliate women.”

Nyakureba said the idea of weaponising rape is to scare women away from active politics.

“At the end of the day it is to discourage female politicians from participating in politics. So, you have situations where female politicians are abducted or kidnaped, assaulted and in the process, they are also raped either physically or through use of weapons like a spear, a knobkerry, or a gun etc,” Nyakureba said.

In 2020, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission launched a gender audit of the main political parties and one of the key findings was that women occupied non-key positions while men took up influential positions due to lack of confidence in women’s leadership abilities.

Also cited were various barriers including political violence, cyber attacks, negative social and cultural norms and prejudices which marginalised women from effective participation.
However, little to none has been said on the use of rape as a weapon of political violence against women.

Even now a nine-year-old unresolved criminal case that could land the tough-talking Mudehwe in jail is dangling over her head. She may not be in jail, but she is not a free woman.

She has yet to taste freedom since the year 2015 when she got arrested for protesting the then vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko‘s lengthy stay in a five-star hotel for a scandalously long period at taxpayers’ expense.

She is however trying to fight back and has since sued the state for unlawful arrest and detention.

The battle-hardened political activist believes the state has not dropped charges against her completely to avoid having to account for its action through her lawsuit.
But she vowed to fight until justice is served.

Born to a forester father and a nurse mother, Mudehwe grew up in a middle class family.

She is a teacher by profession and her political career started as a student activist from where she graduated into mainstream activism and active politics.     

Student activism

Mudehwe slightly pulled up her army-green shorts which matched with a green and white checkered blouse she was wearing as she sat on a white plastic chair in an incomplete part of her family house in Dangamvura, a sprawling high-density suburb in Mutare.

Exuding confidence, she narrated how the withdrawal of students’ grants led to the beginning of her political career.

“I was a student at Mutare Teachers’ College when I started my activism. I am a trained science teacher by profession. When we were at college in 2004 that was the time the government suddenly decided to withdraw students’ grants and I was one of the beneficiaries getting into my third year,” Mudehwe said.

“Life was okay with me until I came face-to-face with reality when the government started failing to provide what it is supposed to provide and willy nilly withdrew the support, so I led demonstrations, protesting against the withdrawal even though I was not in the students’ union leadership.”

Mudehwe’s height in student activism came with her election into the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) leadership as the national information and publicity secretary.
While with Zinasu, she suffered bullying as women were always in the minority.

“In a group of 10 nationwide leaders, we were two females, the first in a national executive. It was a men’s club and also the first time teachers and polytechnic colleges joined Zinasu as it used to be a UZ (University of Zimbabwe) issue,” she said.

“Because it was a boys’ club, we were at the receiving end of bullying, serious bullying and serious scheming by the boy leaders and most of them are now national leaders and members of Parliament.”

Mudehwe served in Zinasu from 2004 to 2007 before joining the opposition MDC-T as an employee.

An escapade with MDC-T

Recounting how her political career unfolded, Mudehwe laughed in a sarcastic manner as she adjusted her seating posture as if trying to find a comfortable spot, and sank back into her chair.

Too relaxed to care, Mudehwe said her stint in the party proved that there is a struggle within a struggle for women in politics.

“Someone approached me and asked if I could help Mr Tsvangirai, as the national women’s co-ordinator. I was employed to do this job, a very traumatising job. All the violence of 2008, I was there,” Mudehwe reminisced.

Mudehwe said she realised the brutality of the Zanu PF regime and how violently women were treated. Her cheeks turned red at the mention of the regime.

“I really realised the brutality of the regime when I was working for MDC-T. I saw women raped, I assisted women who were displaced, their houses burnt down to the ground by political thugs in most rural areas. I saw displaced children and I will never forget the experience.

“That time I was also a marked person and working in Harare so I had to move from one place to another for security reasons,” she added.

Mudehwe said she was unfairly dismissed from her MDC-T job, and jealous older women within the party of orchestrating her victimisation. After her dismissal she sued the party.

“I was dismissed unfairly when I was with the party by an organisation spearheaded by older women in the party, that was in 2009. I realised there is a struggle within the struggle because I experienced older women unfairly treating and bullying younger women in political structures,” said Mudehwe.

“There was no hearing, charges were flimsy and did not even tally with the code of conduct, so I had to fight for justice outside the organisation because I could not get within the party. Even the then secretary-general, Tendai Biti, could not assist me. It seems it was a women’s issue to him. So after a year of frustration, I sued MDC-T for unfair labour practices.”

Mudehwe won the labour case and was awarded US$16 000, which was paid in tranches.
She also questioned the sincerity of some of the women in influential positions and their ascendancy.

“Not all women who are in influential positions are telling the truth that they resisted sexual manipulation and are there on merit,” she said.

Mudehwe believes that the 50/50 gender provision must be made law to ensure balanced representation.

“50/50 must be made law because right now it is just a constitutional provision. We have an all-male presidium,  why? Yet we have the 50/50 provision. Even at party level it should be made law that there is balanced representation. We want a zebra electoral system, at least the Senate is more balanced,” she said.

*This article was supported by the Canadian Embassy in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Centre for Public Interest Journalism (The NewsHawks)

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