Zimbabwe is right in the middle of an election campaign — often regarded as “silly season”– when politicians out to grab or retain power can resort to unverifiable, wild, trivial, irrelevant, and even false claims.
During campaigns politicians feel the urge to promise the electorate the world without providing plans on how they will achieve this. Sometimes the promises they make are so absurd one begins to doubt their sanity.
A recent statement by the MDC-T leader Nelson Chamisa that he will give away his 18-year-old sister to his political ZANU-PF rival, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, if he wins the forthcoming elections is reckless political banter that should be condemned in the strongest terms.
Chamisa said this while addressing Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party supporters in the United Kingdom last week.
“If Mnangagwa wins five percent in a free election, I will give him my sister. I have a sister, who just turned 18 and is looking for a husband. I’m betting on this because it won’t happen.”
Chamisa’s “election bet” was widely condemned by both men and women across the political divide. Some opined that such a reckless statement from an aspiring presidential candidate smacked of hypocrisy and was a clear sign of contempt of women.
While some quarters defended Chamisa’s statement as a mere bad joke, over the years Zimbabwe has developed a sad cultural narrative of women and girls being married off to settle family disputes, avenge spirits or being forced into marriages for the sustainability of a family.
In some of these cases, marrying off young women and girls has resulted in maternal complications, HIV infection and perpetual poverty.
Zimbabwe is already battling the problem of forced and early child marriages. Both government, gender activists and women rights organisations have been burning the candle to try and address this issue.
It was downright insensitive for Chamisa to talk about ‘giving away his sister’ to a political rival as if women are commercial commodities. This can only come from those whose ambitions override respect for human rights to a point where they see everyone as political fodder.
The agenda to attain gender equality cannot be reduced to political banter. The joke was in bad taste at all levels and amounts to gender discrimination. Violation of women begins in the mind.
It is regrettable that a leader of his stature can sink this low after years of a democratic struggle for women rights, which have included dealing with stereotypes around sex, sexuality and objectification.
Despite this we still hope and pray that Chamisa’s MDC Alliance will present a gender sensitive or mainstreamed manifesto, which reflects the level at which they will implement progressive gender policies across all sectors and in choosing candidates.
Chamisa must demonstrate maturity in handling such sensitive and serious matters in his campaign, if not for their party, but for strengthening democracy in Zimbabwe.
The apology that Chamisa made following the outcry over his outrageous statement was not good enough and appeared to be insincere. He is quoted as having said the the ‘joke’ should have been a ‘non-issue’ because Zimbabweans were more worried about survival. He accused those who spoke up against his statement as irrelevant people who majored in minors and sought to score cheap political points at his expense.
Equally worrying is the ferocious defence by young women who make up a group called #YoungWomenForChamisa.
They were quick to defend the politician with their lives, saying Chamisa “meant no harm” instead of commiserating with those that raised their voices against such an insensitive, chauvinist ‘joke’.
In their statement the #YoungWomenForChamisa dismissed the anger over Chamisa’s statement as “partisan distortion, exaggeration and outright fiction”.
Although one of the groups spokespersons Maureen Kademaunga acknowledged the lack of top female leadership within the MDC Alliance, she contradicted herself when she said, ‘the anatomy must not be the sole basis on which we transform our society, women should be chosen on merit.”
Kademaunga may not know what it feels like to be given away and worse still to struggle for political space within the grassroots structures. Her view that the anatomy cannot be a basis to consider for leadership, is therefore elitist!
It is sad and tragic that the young women fail to detect the misogynistic attitudes of their leader, whose disregard for women is now in the public domain.
Ruth Butaumocho is a CNN awarding winning and practising journalist with nearly two decades of experience in the mainstream media. Currently employed by Zimpapers as the Gender Editor, Ruth is passionate about developmental journalism and international affairs.
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