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On The Issues Magazine - Fall 2008
Terror in Our Homes: Violence Against Women in Zimbabwe
by Tawanda Mudzonga

Zimbabwe has always been ruled by fear and violence. Our political history reveals government again and again forcing its will on the people. This has had an unlikely trickle down effect into each and every household where women fight a losing battle for their humanity.

Ian Smith was the first pioneer of terror in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. Under his government, Smith patented a brutal style of violence that provoked a guerrilla war of liberation against white colonial rule. Decades later, Robert Mugabe found Smith's laws and tactics useful as liberator turned oppressor on his own people.

From its origins as Rhodesia up to this very moment, Zimbabweans have known nothing but violence and fear. The violence of increasingly bad leadership by President Mugabe and his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The violence of electoral politics, as people flee Zimbabwe's borders. The violence of a crippled economy where 231 million percent inflation turns money into paper. The violence of a dilapidated health system with no medicines, no doctors. Death is the most booming business in town. Violence confuses and becomes a warped expression of paternal love.

It is somehow not surprising then, that Zimbabwean society has collaborated in the belief that it is a man's right to beat his wife. An astonishing 60% of all murders are attributed to violence in the home.

On October 4, 2006 Timothy Mubhawu -- a Member of Parliament for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) -- was in attendance in Parliament. Under discussion was the controversial Domestic Violence bill. This controversial piece of legislation advocated that physical, sexual and emotional abuse of a spouse be considered a crime punishable by law. It required the police to assist victims and the courts to discipline perpetrators. Female parliamentarians started lobbying for the bill in 1996. In fact, it is the most debated bill in parliament's history. For years, a male-dominated parliament paid it scant attention, dismissing it and the discussion of violence against women as a waste of time in a forum where “real issues” took precedence.

In October 2006, the bill had finally gathered enough momentum to be seriously considered as legislation. As the debate raged back and forth, Mubhawu sat and listened and feared the worst. Unable to contain himself any longer, Mubhawu stood up and spoke from the heart: “I stand here representing God Almighty. Women are not equal to men. It is a dangerous Bill and let it be known in Zimbabwe that the right, privilege and status of men is gone. I stand here alone and say this Bill should not be passed in this House. It is a diabolic Bill. Our powers are being usurped in daylight in this House."

There was a collective uproar as local independent newspapers, blogs in Zimbabwe's far-flung diaspora and civil society organizations denounced the remarks as “feudal” and “patriarchal.” Morgan Tsvangirayi responded defensively saying, Mubhawu had spoken in his personal capacity. Tsvangirayi is the leader of the opposition MDC which has styled itself in stark contrast to the violent and bullying tactics of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF. His remarks, along with Mubhawu's, gave voice to a deep-seated cultural belief that a man has the right to '”discipline” his wife. In a country whose history has been shaped by the abuse of power, and where no one, let alone women, has any rights, this is not surprising.

What is surprising is that our current self-styled liberators (MDC), following in the footsteps of our previous liberators (ZANU-PF), are admitting that violence is necessary to maintain the status quo. The irony was not lost on the MDC. Under pressure from civil society groups, the MDC suspended Mubhawu. They issued a statement restating their “belief in the values of solidarity, justice, equality, liberation, freedom, transparency, humility, obedience and accountability.”

Changes in attitude however, remain to be seen. Today, as Zimbabwe faces the prospect of a failed MDC-ZANU PF unity agreement, the question is: how much more violence can we take? As a nation and as women, we are tired of feeling terror in our homes and in our hearts.

The Domestic Violence Act became law in October 2007.

October 14, 2008

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Tawanda Mudzonga is a writer and sociologist who grew up in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. She is currently working on a memoir that explores Zimbabwe's political and social history. She lives in New York.

Also See: Terror for Women Exists Throughout History, Across Cultures by Mahin Hassibi in this edition of On the Issues Magazine.

See Terrorizing the Loved Pets of Women by Carol J. Adams in this edition of On the Issues Magazine.


 

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