When will the life of a woman matter? When will rape be considered heinous enough to be taken more seriously and be punished not rewarded? Why does in 2017 an election partnership trump the rape of a woman? Can there ever be any excuse for any political party to join hands with a rapist in the hope of boosting votes?
I was seething and outraged while writing this when a colleague posted on Facebook his disgust at the fact that Zimbabwe’s biggest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai, will be joining hands with a man accused of raping a human rights defender. Agrippa Mutambara, an ex-combatant and former senior member of the ruling Zanu PF raped Judith Todd who had dared raise alarm on the brutal massacre of Zimbabweans of Ndebele origin in the early 1980s. He now leads Zimbabwe People First.
Daughter of liberal former Rhodesian Prime Minister, Sir Garfield Todd, Judith was a prominent campaigner for black majority rule. When the atrocities by the Fifth Brigade known as Gukurahundi were carried out, Judith lived in Matebeleland where she worked closely with former liberation fighters from the late Joshua Nkomo’s Zipra.
Prior to independence, Judith had worked with Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) liberation movements so she had access to members of government and the defence forces after independence. She tried to use her connections to get information across to government that the Fifth Brigade was committing acts of genocide. It is in the process of trying to do this that she met Agrippa Mutambara who raped her. Mutambara now claims that he was only following orders from his seniors. The rape was meant as a warning to Judith to stop talking about or looking into the Gukurahundi killings. Obviously, Judith had assumed that the government could not have possibly sanctioned the unimaginable madness that was being visited on Matebeleland – and she was wrong.
This is an insult and a slap in the face of every woman who believes in human rights and particularly women’s rights. No political spin could ever make this right. Judith was raped for standing up for something – for trying to stop the wanton murder of thousands of Ndebele people. The same political party (MDC-T) that had some of its female supporters in rural areas subjected to rape is today joining hands with a rapist. How can that be good for any woman who everyday worries about the possibility of being raped for just being there, just being a woman or for her political affiliation? In 2008 the MDC-T used the numbers of those brutally murdered and the raped to win sympathy from the world.
Have the men at the top making these decisions no shame? Do their memories serve them so poorly? Women make up a very big chunk of the voters in Zimbabwe. What message are the men who have seen it fit to join hands with Agrippa Mutambara sending to the female voters? And the women in those political parties welcoming this union should do some introspection.
Rape is the most barbaric form of subjugation. It can not be excused or explained away as a “reasonable order”. Any man who takes such orders and executes them shows severely flawed judgement and a seriously troubling lack of moral fibre. Such a man does not deserve a seat at the table of rulers but a jail cell.
That female politicians and women’s organisations have not found this disturbing enough to say something is terribly worrisome. Serious democrats must examine their every move and how their decisions will not just reflect on them but impact on those who seek true leadership. Rape is a hate crime. We can not welcome the law that can now see rapists behind bars for 60 years while we allow our votes to be tainted accepting a man who has no respect for women.
Some of us hungry for real change criticise this move by the MDC-T because when it was launched in September 2009, it gave us so much hope. There are those who argue that Joice Mujuru was never subjected to moral questions about associating with Mutambara. But the reality is that Mujuru and Mutambara had been in the same party – Zanu PF and it had never bothered her that Mutambara had raped Judith. While Mujuru might want to describe herself as a democrat today, this is a term she has adopted only after being chucked out of Zanu PF. She never chose to be a democrat – for her, this is political expediency. We expect those parties that preach democratic principles, good governance and rule of law to understand that when they make a shitty move those who do not follow blindly will take them to the task. A woman’s vote must count for something. Ignoring bad decisions is what led us to suffer for three decades. Every democratic party should welcome constructive criticism. Only dictators and cults expect supporters to view everything they do with rose-tinted glasses.
A rape committed decades ago is still a rape today. How will the MDC Alliance and Mutambara protect their female members from being raped as we enter the crucial campaign period for 2018 elections? How can any woman trust that these men will have their safety and interests at heart? Misogynists who believe that rape and pussy-grabbing moments can be explained away as mere orders have no right to the female vote. We should never reward both male and female politicians who do not baulk at this aberration. For a very long time on the African soil men in politics and soldiers have used rape as a tool to silence and punish those that oppose them. The fact that the men in the MDC Alliance have not been raped themselves or had their own female family members raped should not make them blind to the fact that any man who accepts orders to rape is not fit to lead or be part of the leadership. We want change but we should never sacrifice our democratic principles. Human rights and rule of law are sacrosanct.