‘Gukurahundi could bring future upheaval’

Controversial MDC lawmaker Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga is at it again; this time warning of future social upheaval over the emotive Gukurahundi issue. Misihairabwi-Mushonga is also part of women politicians that are pushing for the women’s vote ahead of the 2018 election. The Standard senior reporter Richard Chidza (RC) spoke to the former Cabinet minister (PM) on a range of issues. Below are excerpts.

the big interview BY RICHARD CHIDZA

Priscilla Misihairabwi

Priscilla Misihairabwi

RC: Recently you warned of possible social upheaval or even ethnic war if the Gukurahundi issue is not addressed, may you please expand on your warning.

PM: There are many aggrieved people, with political and social inequalities that are linked to historical differences which are linked to ethnic issues. We have a state which is in denial and a young generation that is getting increasingly restive and agitated. Since the language of discussion is not working, there is a conviction that a resort to violence may be the option.

RC: Do you think the current political leadership has done enough or has stuck its head in the sand on the issue?

PM: Not only has it ignored it but it continues with new forms of Gukurahundi where you impose the majoritarian language on a people.

Simply put, this government has encouraged perpetuation of Shona hegemony in both the social, economic and political sphere.

RC: President Robert Mugabe described Gukurahundi as a “moment of madness”. Do you think that was enough?

PM: It’s an insult to call genocide that resulted in the naked murder of 20 000 people, a moment of madness. One hopes that at some stage reality will hit home.

RC: How do you think the issue should be resolved given some in government have described it as a “non-issue”?

PM: I think it is important for those in Zanu PF to go to Matabeleland to listen to what they are saying. It is wrong for anyone to act like the spirit medium of the people. [Home Affairs minister] Ignatius Chombo should go to Matabeleland to see the mass graves and to speak to women that lost husbands, children that lost their parents. Only then will they be able to define non-issues.

RC: Do you think President Mugabe should or must take full responsibility for the Gukurahundi atrocities?

PM: What I heard people in Matabeleland say is that they want a conversation with President Mugabe over Gukurahundi. I think it’s only the victims who can speak about what restorative justice is. It is wrong for any of us to assume that because we are political leaders, we hold the brief for victims. They know what they want. Great Indabas should be held to allow people to speak.

RC: Given his insistence at contesting in 2018 elections at age 94, what would be your opinion of his personality as a leader?

PM: I personally don’t think Mugabe’s stay in power is about him. It is about those around him. How do you have people in leadership that continue to abuse people for their selfish ends? Those that want to succeed him should do the honourable thing and contest at congress and stop this shadow boxing. That he is contesting at 94 speaks less about his personality and volumes about those in the leadership of the party.

RC: Some have blamed First Lady Grace for Mugabe’s continued stay in power. Do you agree?

PM: It’s a very stereotyped response to a crisis; society finds it easy to scapegoat women. If a man dies, it is the woman who killed him. It is a paradox that when leaders are doing well, no one credits the woman in his life for the success. Grace has only one vote in Zanu PF; people get the leaders they deserve. It is the party and those in Zanu PF who have kept Mugabe in power.

RC: You were part of a group of women leading a new grouping called the Women’s Election Convergence 2018. What is this and could you give us its aims?

PM: This is a Women’s Election Convergence 2018 (WEC18) which is a coming together of women from different political parties with the objective of creating a constituency that speaks with one unified voice on the 2018 elections. It is borne out of a realisation that Zimbabwean politics is increasingly getting very male both in its form and it’s merit. Politics is increasingly being defined by male values and standards. WEC was born out of a meeting of four women leaders – Dr Joice Mujuru, Thokozani Khupe, Lucia Matibenga and myself. It was then realised that for it to make sense, there was need for buy-in from more women from other political parties, more importantly women from grassroots structures of parties, hence the big launch.

RC: Is there a plan to push for a woman presidential candidate for next year’s elections?

PM: No, what we are doing is bringing women together so we can encourage them to register, we know that currently there are discussions on having a grand coalition and we will stand by the position taken by our parties. However, we got a commitment from the party leaders who came to give solidarity messages [last] Saturday that they will be guided by a principle of 50/50 on all candidates and we will hold them to that, and will name and shame any party leader who deviates from that commitment. We know though that some men will be challenged and we are expecting a backlash from some quarters. We had more than 2 000 women and I am hoping that each woman in Harare will mobilise 100 women, which would mean that nationwide the expectation is we will have a constituency of million voters for the WEC18. We received commitments from Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma, Jacob Ngarivhume, Dumiso Dabengwa represented by Strike Mkandla, Welshman Ncube represented by Edwin Mushoriwa, Morgan Tsvangirai and [Joice] Mujuru.

RC: Is this programme aimed at the 2018 alone after which it will stop to exist?

PM: For now, we are looking at 2018; we do not want to create perpetual non-governmental organisations. We are convinced that we will get the principle of equality entrenched; that it will not be necessary to continue with the programme post 2018.

RC: If you are talking about bringing women together, why is it that there were no women from Zanu PF? They seem to have been left out of the project.

PM: We are cognisant of the fact that, we in the opposition have different challenges and different needs to those of our colleagues in the ruling party. At a very basic level, they enjoy the protection of the state security, have access to resources and a host of other privileges that come with being part of a ruling elite. They will be instances where we will meet but it would be a huge pretence to assume that we are in the same position.

RC: Women normally bear the brunt of electoral violence and abuse, especially in rural areas. What are you planning to do about that?

PM: Exactly my point. Experience has shown that it is women in the opposition that are violated during elections. Many of them are not only physically violated but are left homeless as they look for safe places to run to with their children. We intend to set up a community security alert system and places where these women can go for safety; places where they can receive emergency health and psychological interventions.

RC: There are reports that women’s groups who seemingly have the same aspirations as yourself are unwilling to go to bed with your project. True?

PM: It has become clear to most of us in the opposition that the current thinking in women’s organisations is to be politically correct under the mantra of inclusivity. It has become sexy to parade women and let them speak of safety issues that do not disturb the status quo. Supporting a project that speaks to hard core issues of the politics of this country does not fit with the current thinking of most women’s organisations. The co-option of most of them into state institutions and commissions has also meant that it pays to play it safe if you are to be considered for appointment into government positions. Nobody wants to be seen to be associating with undesirables. Ironically, it has forced us to seek support from male-led organisations.

RC: Groups such as #Shevotes are advocating for election participation by the girl child, is there possibility of synergising the programmes?

PM: #Shevotes is a partner of WEC18. One of the programmes we will do with them is a mother daughter programme that we have christened #Hervotewins. This points to the importance of the women’s vote and means those who want to win next year’s election will not do so without the women’s vote. We will determine who wins.

RC: We understand that they are not happy with your endorsing of Mujuru given her Zanu PF roots. Actually, you are accused of selling out the democratic struggle.

PM: I am not privy to those comments, my simple position is that I refuse to be dogmatic about feminism. Any belief system that becomes fundamentalist is a problem; like in any other belief system no one can claim to represent the purest form of that belief. In fact, when you begin to think that you are a saint of any movement, you should know you are headed for a fall.

RC: Thank you very much.