Yesterday, I said in a Facebook post that the events currently happening in Zimbabwe is a gender issue. Funny though it may sound, it is a gender issue. This rather long note is to explain that post.
The Military’s Visit
Let’s look at what is happening, critically. First of all, the military is not in for a regime change. They made it clear that theirs is “not a military takeover”. They don’t even seem to have a problem with President Robert Mugabe, the man who has their political and legal mandate. They said they’re “only targeting criminals around him”. Clearly, they are only in for a regime consolidation.
Indeed, they’ve not said anything about the First Lady, Grace Mugabe. Actually, they did – they didn’t think she’s a part of the President’s family. They told the whole world that the President’s family was “safe and sound” at the time that no one knew where the President’s “wife” was. We later heard that she’s believed to be in Namibia or wherever. Add this to the regime consolidation agenda; and you’d readily know that the military doesn’t think the Mugabe regime would be best consolidated under her. They think the Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would be a better protector of the regime than the First Lady whom everyone suspects is Mugabe’s favourite.
Interestingly, we’re getting to know the military’s reasons for not preferring the First Lady. The principal reason is that she was not part of the liberation struggle that brought Mugabe to power and saw an end to the white minority rule over 4 decades ago. The other reason, which is supplied by the dominant media (rather than the military), is that she’s extremely profligate and ostentatious – she is “Gucci Grace”. The other reason is that she’s a schemer and usurper, who “worked” her way to the top. Remember, they don’t seem to accuse Mugabe, the head of the regime, of any of these “ills”. Only Grace. I’ll show you how and why all this is about gender.
The Liberation Struggle
Grace Mugabe is 52. This means that she was still a baby when the liberation struggle that Mugabe would lead started. She was about 10 when Mugabe became the Chairman of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) group. She was barely a teenager when Mugabe was sworn in as Prime Minister. All this means she couldn’t possibly be a part of the struggle, even if she wanted to. But this is about age (not gender). Nonetheless, even if she was an adult at the time, she still couldn’t be at the forefront of the struggle like Mnangagwa and the other male comrades. The reason is gender. She’s a woman and society has made it impossible (if not extremely difficult) for a woman to be at the forefront of such struggles.
We can blame her for being a woman, but no one can deny that she, like Mnangagwa, spent her entire adult life toiling for the regime. But why is her contribution not recognised? The answer is gender. Society allocates roles based on gender. So, even before she was born, her role was well cut out and defined – she could be a secretary (not a boss). That’s the closest she could come to the top. And, if she performs that office well, she could become a “wife” to the boss. That’s it.
To drive home the point better, allow me to wax a little bit philosophical here. We often argue for “equal pay for equal work”. But, I think, the principle in that phrase should be deeper than ‘equal money’. The principle should be ‘equal recognition’. The gender issue should not be limited to the roles, as some may want to have it look like. It should also extend to the recognition that society gives to the roles, especially where the roles are hard changing and where a huge majority have already performed and are accustomed to performing those roles. Indeed, we don’t want women to be the only human beings who take care of the kids and the home. Because of this, we say “send the girl child to school”. That is great. Way to go. But, you see, there is this huge army of ‘girlchilds’ currently performing the house-wife roles. How do they get equality and justice? That is exactly where ‘equal recognition’ comes in.
If we, indeed, agree that the family is the nucleus of society. If we agree that there cannot be a great society without great families. Then, someone somehow must grow the family. And, if we ‘recognise’ the family, then, it is hypocritical on our part to keep according higher recognition to ‘non-family’ roles than to ‘family roles’. Then, it is hypocritical to give a higher recognition to the person who goes to talk in public for a few hours than to the person who takes care of the public talker, his kids and home the whole day and night back-to-back. Then, it is hypocritical to give a higher recognition to the politician than to the person who grows the families over which the politician lords. We need to give equal recognition to the roles, even as we boost the fight for de-genderisation of the roles. That is transitional gender justice. That is equality.
Now, let’s come back to Zimbabwe. Mugabe is 93 and Grace is 52. We’re dealing with an age gap of almost 40 years. She was Mugabe’s secretary. She probably excelled at that role (and, look here, I’m not responsible for what you’re thinking at this moment); and later became his wife and First Lady. Then, they recognised her as the head of the ZANU-PF Women’s wing. That’s all. That’s the highest recognition society is ready to give her. No one expects her to be President of Zimbabwe; certainly, not when the Mnangawgwas of this world are still around. Do you know why? The answer is gender.
Add the insane age-gap to the fact that she’s the leader of the ZANU-PF women’s wing. Go on, check the population of women in Zimbabwe and the ZANU-PF; and you’d immediately know (if you really want to) that she’s not really a “wife” to Mugabe. She’s probably the de facto President, while the 93-year-old male retains the recognition. You’d also know immediately that there’s no merit in the claim that she’s not contributed to the regime. Therefore, by saying that Grace has not contributed to the regime, the military, (and society for that matter) is simply refusing so recognise the role of women (be it secretaries, wives, First Ladies, head of women’s wing, whatsoever). It is just the same way that all societies always refused to recognise the army of women who took care of homes while the Mnangawgwas of this world were in the bush “struggling” for the liberation. The answer is simply gender.
She is accused of living a recklessly extravagant or wasteful life. I saw a short documentary titled “Gucci Grace”. It shows how much she spends shopping in Europe. The video also shows her sons, too, pouring a very expensive champagne on an even more expensive wristwatch. What this documentary doesn’t tell us, however, is that Mugabe himself has been an ardent client of Savile Row since the 80s. The documentary doesn’t also tell us that the sons in the video are also President Robert Mugabe’s sons. It tells us one thing: “A wise son brings joy to a father; a foolish son brings grief to a mother.” (Proverbs 15:20). So, the military, or no one for that matter, has a problem with the sons’ father, Robert. It is always Grace. Do you know why? The answer is gender.
I’m not sure if this particular accusation is worth my time and keyboard. Look, which politician is not a schemer? Since when did they realise that she’s a schemer? What are the military chiefs doing in the Presidential Palace if not scheming to get their favourite into office? The accusation of scheming brings to mind what happened to another woman who got close to the Presidency, Joice Mujuru, Mugabe’s Vice President before Mnangawgwa. She was thrown out not just from the government but also from the party she served since she was a teenager. Her humiliation was for what? Scheming! It appears that everyone in Zimbabwe is allowed scheme except non-males. Do you know why? The answer is gender.
When I look at what is happening in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, I see soldiers, I see ambitions, I see mismanagement, I see economic inequality, I see a stubborn 93-year-old man, I see die-hard pan-Africanists, I see the liberation struggle still going on, I see power struggle. But I see gender too.