Zimbabwean women demand real rights for international women's day

Cape Town, South Africa

Posted on behalf of Isabella Matambanadzo, based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

As the commemorations for International Women’s Day draw nearer, I am inspired to write to you all about the legacy Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh have made to our movement. I realise that in their immediate roles they are largely seen as representatives of opposition politics, but that is not where they have always been located, and it is certainly not what I wish to focus on through this email.

I visited both of them on Tuesday when they were admitted in the late afternoon to Avenues clinic. My intention was to offer any kind of help, be it with making calls to family and friends, just chatting or just, in the spirit of sisterhood  that the women’s rights movement of Zimbabwe has taught me, just being there.

Sekai Holland is over 60. She fought the battle at the high court for the rights of non-Zimbabwean men who married Zimbabwean women to have citizenship. at the time the law was discriminatory in favour of zimbabwean men whose non zimbabwean spouses  received citizenship quite automatically. Her battle against the Citizenship Act was an important win for women’s rights to equal treatment before the law and opened up the way for many more women’s equality cases to come before our domestic courts.

Details are available from an IPS publication that is fortunately on line:

To quote this document, "Sekai, a black Zimbabwean woman married to white Australian Jim  Holland, is one person who suffered a bitter struggle at independence when, she says the government wanted to deport her husband back to his home country despite the constitutional provisions against such an act.

For 16 months we fought battles in the courts to have my husband allowed to stay in Zimbabwe and at last we won the battle and my husband was allowed to stay in the country, she explained.

"Mixed marriages under the colonial period were rejected and the government did not do much to reconcile citizens not to segregate each other on racial lines," says Holland. Sekai feels that both the government and non-governmental  organizations have failed to invest in racial harmony. As a result, some colonial practices that perpetuate racial
discrimination still exist in Zimbabwe, she says.

This piece of legislation (Citizenship Act) was both unlawful and unconstitutional because it violated women’s rights.
"It did not have any space in a democratic society which respects human rights and gives equal opportunities to all people irrespective of their sex," Madhuku says. (Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the NCA, has had a record of being an ally of the women’s movement on matters to do with law and rights).

The discriminatory nature of the Citizenship Act forced women and human rights campaigners to wage a bitter campaign
against it. Their efforts forced President Robert Mugabe’s government to persuade Parliament to amend the Constitution. The amendment became famously known as Amendment number 14 of 1996. The new law took away men’s rights to have their foreign wives gain automatic citizenship. It now requires both Zimbabwean men and women who have foreign spouses to apply to the Immigration Office for registration of their unions.

Zimbabwe is considered as having one of the best Bill of Rights when it comes to race relations and mixed marriages in
particular. The Declaration of Rights Section 11 of the Constitutions says,… "every person in Zimbabwe is entitled to the
fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, the right whatever his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex but subject to the respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest".

Sekai was influential in supporting demands for the creation as early as 1981 of the Ministry for Community Development and Women’s Affairs. It was envisaged as a national mechanism for women’s advancement.  The Ministry provided an invaluable platform for debate on women in development issues. It was also a critical force in the realistion that the women’s movement, operating from outside of the ministry and givernment spae, could advocate for the
more political demands for omen’s emancipation.

Last night ZTV aired an advert for the Ministry and Unifem inviting Zimbabweans to commemorate international women’s day on march 17. The "end impunity for violence against women" slogan —with its the take off point was the domestic violence bill could not have been more poignant.

Grace and Sekai were brutalised while in police custody, but looking at their bodies in hospital made me realise just how much the state machinary, in this instance the police, has mirrored the battering husband…So my heart sank as I was invited to a ceremony that because of this violations, I must question…How do I go and spend money on buying the official regalia and being collected from the usual pick up points…while sekai, grace and other comrades of our movement have been battered. And the formal systems of women’s protection, the women’s movement,
has kept so alarmingly quiet.

The report of the Doctors say: he injuries documented were consistent with beatings with blunt objects heavy enough to cause the following:
·         Fractures to hands, arms and legs in 5 individuals including Lovemore Madhuku with a fractured ulna. 3 of these, Elton Mangoma, Sekai Holland and Morgan Tsvangirai sustained multiple fractures.
·         Severe, extensive and multiple soft tissue injuries to the backs, shoulders, arms, buttocks and thighs of 14 individuals.
·         Head injuries to 3 individuals, Nelson Chamisa, Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku with the latter two sustaining deep lacerations to the scalp.
·         A possibly ruptured bowel in 1 individual due to severe blunt trauma to the abdomen.
·         A split right ear lobe sustained by Grace Kwinjeh.

Prolonged detention without accessing medical treatment resulted in severe haemorrhage in Morgan Tsvangirai leading to severe anaemia which warranted a blood transfusion. Injuries sustained by Sekai Holland were also worsened by denial of timely access to medical treatment which led to an infection of deep soft tissue in her left leg. Denial of access to treatment in another individual suffering from hypertension lead to angina.

Whatever our personal views and emotions, especially about her present political location, there is no denying Sekai’s contribution to feminism in Zimbabwe and its development.

An appropriate response this year with the themes of women’s day would be for political peace and the machines of violence, be they public or private, to stop brutalising women. he WOZA women have reaptedly given testimony of their dire treratment in jail cells, as have the women in the union formations.

Let’s get beyond the rhetoric of celebrating an international day with pomp and costume, and really demand our rights to peaceful societies, as so boldly outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action.

If our movement is really not partisan and does not make choice based on political location, but rather on the true principles of feminism, can we show it. This violent maachine that beat up Grace, Sekai and other sisters, called them "whores, prostitutes of the opposition, Bush and Blair". What does our individual and collective silence mean in the face of such an assault on womanhood by patriarchal forces?

Kind regards
Isabella Matambanadzo, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe

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