IN 2020, Harare West MP Joana Mamombe together with two other female politicians Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted by suspected state security agents before being arrested in what human rights defenders described as trumped up charges. They have since been acquitted.
With the post-election political environment becoming more toxic for opposition political players –characterised by abductions and recalls to opposition legislators, it has become even more toxic for women and other marginalized populations in politics.
Despite the dog-eat-dog contest, other women leaders have vowed to remain steadfast.
This week, The NewsHawk’s Patricia Rwafa (PR) caught up with Mamombe (JM), who shared her experience in the pre- and post-election period, and what has kept her going in the face of challenges facing women politicians in Zimbabwe.
Below are excerpts of an interview with Mamombe:
PR: There has been a surge abductions of opposition members and activists. What does that mean to you, and what is your feeling towards the situation as a female opposition legislator?
JM: It is emotionally disturbing and painful to continuously hear about abductions and torture of the leaders in the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), let alone the killing of our champion (Rev Tapfumaneyi Masaya). When will this end? When shall we be free from abductions and torture? Such criminality has to stop.
Abductions and murder of CCC leaders is now a state of emergency! Citizens of Zimbabwe deserve an unbiased police service.
The police must conduct unbiased investigations into the killing of Rev. Tapfumaneyi, kidnapping and torture of Comrades like Honourable Taku (Takudzwa Ngadziore), Councilor Wombe (Womberaiishe Nhende) and former MP James Chidhakwa, and enforced disappearances in compliance with Section 219 of the Constitution. By now police should have started the investigations on the abduction and murder. The impunity must stop and perpetrators must be held accountable.
PR: How has been your political journey been, since May 2020 when you were abducted, to now?
JM: Abductions and Sexual Assaults were also part of the violence and intimidation. In 2020, alongside Cecillia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, we got abducted, severely beaten and tortured as a way to oppress and suppress my political views. We were abducted for flouting Covid -19 rules and taking part in a protest in Harare against the state’s failure to provide for the poor during the country’s lockdown.
Our whereabouts were unknown until the Friday morning of May 15, 2020, when we were found dumped in Bindura, and in a bad state. We were later taken to Parktown Hospital for medical attention.
Violence and harassment are some of the problems that I have identified as a stumbling block to robust participation of women in the political process and in governance. It was used as a targeted and destructive tool in various ways throughout the electoral cycle to dissuade women from participating as voters, candidates.
As women, we are victims of gender based hate speech especially on social media. I experience most of these on my social media accounts. The gender-based hate speech is in form of comments on my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram Accounts.
I have experienced an isolation whereby; our cultural and traditional norms have shaped the World in such a way that only men should participate in politics and other leadership positions.
A lot of people have projected their cultural and traditional beliefs on my capabilities, as they are of the beliefs or practices that women should not participate or partake in leadership roles. And not only that, through discussions with other women, I have come across men refusing their wives to work or participating in economic activities.
Limited finance has been a factor that I have experienced, which hinders participation, because the cost of campaigning is very high. Socio-economic status of women to a greater extent plays a significant role in enhancing participation and representation in political decision-making bodies.
PR: What gave you courage to stand for election despite persecution?
JM: I thank my strong support system (family, friends, comrades in CCC and mentors) for being a source of strength.
As Nelson Mandela said: “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere”, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”
PR: What advice would give to the women in politics?
JM: For women and young people who would like to participate in any form of leaders with the aim to make a difference in your communities, I would advise them that since fear is the major barrier, they should have bear in mind that the fear of big politics, self-doubt, stereotypes and other reservations prevent women from going into political, social and economic participation. Thus, women and young people should have a mentality of doing what they fear the most.
Women and young people should look for special mentoring programs e.g., developed by political parties to help young women get support from more experienced women politicians to gain the necessary experience, improve their skills.
Training and leadership programs are also of so much help since they not only teach women how to understand the budget or draft decisions but, they also help them create communities, become self-confident, learn the mechanisms of self-defense against oppression and be more confident and determined, thus playing an important role in the making of women politicians.
PR: In light of the persecutions you have been facing, did you seek any professional counseling?
JM: I have encountered most of my challenges by seeking support and assistance from organizations such as CCC, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS), One Young World and the United Nations, where I have been given a platform and opportunity to improve my leadership skills as a Chief Delegate.
I have established an independent fund…which helps to support in overcoming the barriers to political participation. I have also been networking with other women in leadership to improve on self-confidence and learn other self-defence mechanisms against oppression.
*This article was supported by the Canadian Embassy in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Centre for Public Interest Journalism (The NewsHawks)