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The young must show courage in the face of persecution

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NETSAI Marova (NM), the MDC youth leader who was abducted together with legislator Joana Mamombe and activist Cecilia Chimbiri last year, this week told The NewsHawks she will continue fighting for change in Zimbabwe despite being subjected to intimidation, humiliation and arrests.
She shared her political activism journey, leading to her current position where she is living under surveillance. Marova (pictured at the centre) also talked about the cost of her activism, including losing her job. Find excerpts of the interview she had with Bridget Mananavire (BM) below:

BM: Growing up as a child, did you ever think you were going to be who you are today, standing up for the people?

NM: I was born in Gutu in 1995. I came to Harare to start school in 2001. Then, I was staying with my father here in Harare and my mother was in the rural areas.

So, I started my primary school at Tashinga Primary in Mabvuku and went to Mabvuku High School for secondary. It also still surprises me. I never grew up interested in politics. But I was so interested in women activities.

I remember in 2005, there was a time when women parliamentarians would come to Mabvuku, back then I was a peer counsellor. I got to be a peer counsellor because I was very active. I was doing sports, I was always involved in a lot of things, but not with the interest of leading.

Maybe it was happening by default; I didn’t know, because maybe I was also not exposed to leadership and all sorts of things. I was a peer counsellor…I think that’s when I started developing interest in wanting to understand what happens in Parliament. What it means to be a minister, a member of Parliament, and I was in grade five.

In form one, I was at Rusike High School in Goromonzi, and I had plans of becoming a head girl because I thought I was going to finish school there. The motivation behind that was not necessarily to represent, let me say, but to make sure that things go the way I want, because I wasn’t that much interested in politics. But I would come back during the holidays in Harare. I would attend MDC rallies by default, because they were happening close by.

So, I remember during the time of the GNU (Government of National Unity) when honourable Tendai Biti was the minister of Finance, he came to address a rally with the late (MDC) president Morgan Tsvangirai. After I attended that rally, that’s when I said, I think I want to keep on attending more of these. From that time, I started researching on how to get into MDC structures and get to a point where I would get the microphone and get to say my frustrations that since 2004 to that time, there was no water, there was serious (electricity) load shedding.

So I really wanted an opportunity to get to the podium to make sure my concerns were heard. That’s when I started engaging with people within the MDC structures; it was for a very short time before I was appointed secretary for elections in the district. Then I didn’t even care about it because it was not about the position, but just making sure that the issues I wanted addressed were addressed.

Then I went to Chinhoyi University and I met honourable Joana Mamombe, she was in the SRC (student representative council) and I was first year. During the orientation, she was pregnant, but chanting Zinasu (Zimbabwe National Students’ Union) slogans in a very powerful way and I felt so inspired. I said one day I’m going to be the one leading the orientation session. I was doing accounting and there was no one interested in that in my class.

One day we went to the dining hall and we found the lunch and dinner price had been increased from 50 cents to $1 and I went back to the hostel shouting about how expensive it was and people started supporting me.

So, I led a group of people, shouting and we found people demonstrating at the dining hall. So, people were happy that I brought a group of people, a demonstration, and that was my first demo. Police came and some people who were trying to recruit me to Zinasu then came and helped me to run away. That’s how I joined Zinasu.

I lost my first election in Zinasu and the second one, but I was still active and had a lot of projects, campaigns about women’s leadership, about sexual and reproductive rights. And then for MDC, I started in the students council as the national deputy organising secretary of the MDC students’ council. And during the time when I held that position, I moved throughout the country doing campaigns, recruiting students to join MDC.

So that’s when I had more time, interacting with young people with the leadership of MDC and other political players. And in 2019, the MDC congress came and I felt I might be the right candidate to contest and people were encouraging me to even run as the SG (secretary-general) for the MDC youth assembly, but I went for another position.

I am the youngest member of the MDC national standing committee of the youth assembly. I’m 26 actually; I was elected when I was 24.

I ran my campaign and I was elected as the deputy organising secretary of the MDC youth assembly.

BM: Did you ever pursue a career in accounting? And what was the reaction of your parents after you chose the political path?

NM: I did get a career in accounting. But when I was active in politics my parents didn’t like it. They would always give me reference of the people who died during Chimurenga.

They did not want me to get involved. But as an accountant, human rights activist and politician, I self-reflected and thought of the people who had inspired me and what they were doing. I thought of honourable Joana Mamombe, honourable Tendai Biti, I also thought of honourable Elton Mangoma. I did some research and read around it.

I loved accounting, but I also found myself passionate about leadership and representation and I thought ‘no, this is my life and this is what I want’. I had a conversation with my father until he understood. Now he even calls me honourable at home. And he has come to understand that this is my passion.

I want to represent, I want to get those issues addressed. I have been advancing my studies online and now I have got a scholarship to advance my studies in international business out of the country. So I can still advance my studies and be in politics.

I lost my attachment in 2016 after I had attended a demonstration during working hours. I didn’t have a reason to miss the demonstration. I wanted to lead the demonstration right behind President Tsvangirai. My boss saw the pictures on social media and fired me.

I was working at Camfed. And recently after the abduction ordeal, I was working at Parrogate Zimbabwe Limited. I came from Chikurubi and got an email that they were no longer able to employ me. I did not bother really because it was not the first time and so I told myself, well, it has happened I’ve lost the job, but it’s not going to stop me from the fight of representing the young people. I said no, I’ll continue with the fight.

If there’s any other organisation willing to employ me, well, that’s it, but if there is nothing, I’ve actually started venturing in small entrepreneurial businesses, you know, the hassles of young people. So, these are the things that sustain me, because I also don’t want to stop the fight.

So now, I’m focusing on pursuing my studies and trying to get into the business environment as an entrepreneur. But much for my efforts in the fight for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

BM: So what is your trade?

NM: It’s not yet established, but I am venturing into a lot of small things. Now I want to establish a kitchenware shop. So, I’m selling things around that. I have so much interest in the manufacturing business. So, I’m trying to set up a manufacturing firm.

BM: You spoke about the abduction. Have you healed from it and did you get counselling? What goes through your mind when you think about it?

NM: Up to now it still scares me that I have gone through such experiences in life. I’m still scared that it can be repeated because of the circumstances I’m living under.

I’m under surveillance, I have Ferret team members following me and I don’t know their intentions up to now. When I reflect on these things, I cry. I cry because the emotions are still running; because the scars are still there. But I want to fight and also fight for other young people so that they do not go through what I have gone through because of politics.

How do I explain to my kids what I went through, that I was made to drink someone’s urine? It makes me cry and sometimes makes me think that I am now less human.

But I draw a lot of strength from my colleagues, because we draw strength from each other to say the intention of the regime in doing all this is to make sure that they deter young women from joining politics, which is a fight that I feel I started when I was actually still very young, to make sure that we as the young women should also be representing in Parliament and we should also be leading in the community.

We should also be leading in our political parties, occupying positions and leading these demonstrations, to make sure that we can effect change in Zimbabwe. So, after realising that this is their agenda, we said “no no no, we can’t bow down to their agenda”.

Whatever fear they want to instil in us, whatever victimisation they subject us to, they will not stop the fight.

BM: How does it make you feel when people, including senior government officials, say you faked the abduction?

NM: Let me give you an example, there are a lot of people who say you have dated someone you have not. So, when I gave myself that example, I said, well, people can still say whatever they want, I don’t care.

I know what happened. So, if they claim it did not happen let them bring the evidence of where we were, because they have created their own narrative that they want the public to buy. We told the police the truth of what happened and the issue is at the courts.

Why don’t they go on and bring videos, why not wait to put the video before the court?… Because they wanted to tarnish our image.

Let me admit, yes, at some point, it was really getting on my nerves, up until I said, really I can’t be deterred by a mere Nick Mangwana, just a government employee. Who is he in the broader politics of Zimbabwe? He can’t take away my future because he just tweets nonsense. He just tweets negative things about myself, using free data from taxpayers’ money. And I get to be frustrated by that person. I said no no no.

From that day, I told myself I can’t be stopped by things people say in the comfort of their homes when I’m also in the comfort of my own home. I can also still continue the way I was doing. It’s for people to see, because at the end of the day, everyone knows and sees the condition of the country.
We all face the harsh economic environment that we have been forced to live in by this regime of Emmerson Mnangagwa. It is a ruthless regime. It doesn’t even care about addressing the issues being raised by young people.

It only wants to detain young people. It wants to silence them. If everything was okay, we wouldn’t be in the streets demonstrating, we could actually be enjoying the good things being offered to us as young people.

Probably we could have been leading very big companies and doing well, but we can’t do so because companies cannot do well because the economy is not a permitting them to do so.

So, really, people can continue tweeting negative things, but we will continue with the fight until Zimbabwe is free. And when Zimbabwe is free people will realise that we are fighting for a cause, and we can’t be deterred by mere tweets from Nick Mangwana.

He got employed so that he can feed himself and his family, and we are fighting for a cause to make sure that all Zimbabweans benefit, not just a certain sector of people.

BM: Have you always been friends with Cecilia Chimbiri and Joana Mamombe or you were brought closer together by your ordeal?

NM: We were not friends actually. Joana was my mentor and Cecilia is my vice-chair, because we are in the same youth executive.

I can’t say we were friends. Joana was someone I would draw a lot of inspiration from. But after the kidnapping, a lot of people were scared to associate with us, because of the risks. Some people would get followed, and no one wants to be under surveillance, because you don’t know the intention of those people.

So, we ended up just being the three of us in this life, and we would hang around together, trying to heal, trying to motivate each other, to just remain strong. Because we would spend most of the times in court. This is our life, spending the whole day in court, three, four days a week.

We were reporting three times a week, that was Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So, you could say that the regime actually brought us together, and we would draw more strength from that. And that’s when we said no, we should sit down and continue planning the agenda of liberating Zimbabwe, because they brought us together… And that’s what made us friends in the end.

We are comrade sisters in the struggle for change, because what binds us more is the fight for change, other than social issues, because we no longer have those social spaces we hang around in that much. Our lives are not back to normal. So, we just hang around, the three of us.

BM: Do you miss them, since they are in remand prison?

NM: I miss them so much; just being with them; having conversations; deliberating about what we can do as young people; discussing what steps to take given what we are facing as young people.

We have been rendered unemployed, the economy is not doing well, there are no jobs, nothing is moving. So I miss having those conversations with them freely sitting together discussing our life and our future.

So I get a chance to see them everyday when I make an effort to visit them at
Chikurubi. But it will be very painful and emotional to see them behind bars when I’m out here. It’s not something I ever saw coming.

If I had powers within me I could make sure I take them out of prison because they don’t even deserve to be there. And it makes me want to fight more to make sure that other young people don’t get to face all these things. I have so much hope that if (MDC Alliance) president Nelson Chamisa leads this country, we as young people we are protected, our voices will be respected and democracy at large will be respected.

BM: There has been a narrative that you do all this because you get sponsorship from Western embassies. Have you ever received sponsorship?

NM: If I had received sponsorship from the embassies, I wouldn’t have been using this phone that is cracked.

I can’t even repair it, if I had sponsorship I could have actually started by upgrading my life, getting a lavish phone, getting myself a nice car, getting myself to stay at a very lavish place. And I used to stay at my parents’ place down in Mabvuku, in the ghetto.

If I was getting money, like they claim, I would have moved out of that place a long time ago and started leading a lavish life because this is the life that I also wish for, that’s why I’m in the fight for change. I never received any money. If there’s anyone who claims they sent me money, it’s a lie. I’ve never received any money from embassies; actually there is no embassy that has engaged us to say we want to fund you.

We get the support from our relatives, support from the party sometimes, support from ZLHR (Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights) for our legal fees, support from ZADHR (Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights) which was catering for medical bills and support from a few organisations which have been assisting us with counselling services, with some transport money to go to court and to go for reporting.

Because we are not employed, we can’t finance all that. But this sickening government narrative is very disturbing, because they want to reduce the fight for change to issues of monetary value. I’ve never received any call from any embassy.

I don’t even have any contact with any embassy regarding support for us. My focus now is to make sure that Zimbabwe realises meaningful change, because I feel the people who fought in the liberation struggle did a very good job, but their efforts are now being taken for granted by selfish people who want to just take everything for themselves; who don’t care about the broader picture of the country; who don’t care about the broader social livelihood of the people, of everyone else in the country.

BM: Pictures of you when you were in hospital after the abduction were leaked on social media. You were naked in those pictures. How has that affected you?

NM: It’s disturbing, obviously. It was actually a lady who had come with ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police), her name is Philippa, that’s how she introduced herself. She’s the one who took those pictures and leaked them to the public.

We didn’t have phones when we first heard about it. We thought, but now that is it, they are now in the public domain and we can’t do anything about it, and we can’t take them back. At that moment, we were still trying to process the whole ordeal.

We were still trying to recover in hospital. So really at that time to be focusing on pictures on social media was not a priority.

The main priority was to regain strength to recover, and then we would deal with those people who had put the pictures in the public domain.

BM: What action are you taking?

NM: We are actually suing them for those pictures, and we have hope that for once justice will prevail in our lifetime.

BM: What would you say are your political ambitions now?

NM: It is nteresting. In 2018 I wanted to contest in Mabvuku, but I couldn’t manage then because that’s when I was also writing my dissertation.

So, I needed to finish my studies first, but definitely I would want to run for public office because I feel I have to represent and be the voice of the people and the voice of young women to make sure that our issues are addressed in Parliament and our issues are addressed in the local authorities.

I feel I still have to add my voice to make sure those issues are addressed. In 2023, I will make sure I run for office. I am not very sure if it will be as a councillor or an MP in Mabvuku constituency, because that’s where I come from.

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