Celebrating achievements by women in politics

Women in politics in Zimbabwe this week have two major reasons to celebrate; Vice President Joice Mujuru earned her PhD in Philosophy and Senator Sekai Holland assumed the position of Interim party President of the MDC Renewal team.

Although Mai Mujuru is not the first woman in Zimbabwe or in her political party, to earn her PhD, she has shown that with hard work and perseverance a woman can do anything she puts her mind while standing up to patriarchy, something she has been doing for the past 30 odd years. Joice Mujuru has many accolades to her name, a legitimate Liberation War veteran, one of the first women commanders in the ZANLA forces, the youngest cabinet minister in Zimbabwe’s first cabinet, taking the portfolio of Sports, Youth and Recreation, the first female Vice President, and now she can add Doctor to her name.

She graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy degree at the 59th University of Zimbabwe graduation ceremony on September 12, 2014. Mai Mujuru received her undergraduate degree from the Women’s University in Africa as well as a Masters in Strategic Management. She also graduated with a Masters Degree in Entrepreneurial Development from Chinhoyi University of Technology. Mai Mujuru said ‘this should inspire my children and other women to pursue education and empower themselves. It was not easy going to school after independence but I persevered. I am a grandmother, a widow and occupy the second office from the first. I have enormous responsibilities but I worked hard.”

On the other side of the political spectrum Senator Sekai Holland has become the Interim party President of the MDC renewal team. In her statement, released on September 16, Senator Holland said she assumes this position because MDC T has failed to live up to its constitutional principles and ‘violence as a means of control and oppression remains a central feature of the Party with accusations never investigated properly that it emanates from the president’s office.’ She says as a torture survivor she cannot continue to be associated with a party that has made no serious effort to eradicate violence and has failed to institute mechanisms to deal with this, especially where thousands of members have been victims, including the president of the party himself.

Sekai Holland, in the same statement, stated that she is deeply embarrassed by the party’s silence on the president’s attitude and behavior towards women. Patriarchy is still very much alive regardless of all the strides that Zimbabwe has made to empower women in a bid to bring about gender equality. Our Constitution in section 80 (1) states every woman has equal dignity of the person with men and this includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities. Both Joice Mujuru and Sekai Holland have shown that success for women in their chosen field and in their own right is attainable and congratulations are in order.

This is an inspiration week for women in Zimbabwe, especially for women in politics, as the Women’s Trust said in their campaign ‘Women Can Do it!’



#CSW58- MDG 2: Achieving Universal Primary Education

Of all the millennium development goals (MDGs), achieving universal primary education is something that Zimbabwe has recorded tremendous progress in.  We boast of the highest literacy rate in Africa, recording an impressive 90.7%; the only country on the African continent with a literacy rate above 90%. I, as some Zimbabweans do too, consider these statistics with a pinch of salt, given that in my context-it is not how the world views us but how we view ourselves that matters the most. Even though we may be considered highly educated, I am disgruntled with the quality of education that our children are receiving. The education system is fraught with challenges, among these;

  • the inability of parents to pay fees because of the harsh economic climate resulting in school drop-outs and frequent absenteeism;
  • the inability of government to protect children who cannot pay fees from getting expelled from school. Even though policy says children should not be expelled, its implementation is weak;
  • the brain drain which has seen  many qualified teachers migrating to so called “greener pastures” because they can’t stand a life of grooming other people’s children to become significant members of society while their own become paupers given their meagre salaries;
  • the lack of motivation amongst our teachers because of their poor working conditions characterised by low salaries and no incentives, which causes them not to teach our children in normal time and forces parents to pay for “extra-lessons;” and
  • the challenges that the examination body; the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) faces in creating examination scripts, disseminating examination material, marking examinations and distributing results of examinations on time.

It is consoling however to hear that enrolment into primary school is still high despite the fact that primary education is not free anymore as it was soon after independence. Rural areas record higher rates of enrolment (84.1%) than the urban areas (73.4%). This could partly be explained by the fact that the majority of Zimbabwe’s population resides in the rural areas. The number of girls in primary school also remains high, although dropouts begin to increase from secondary level going upwards.

Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children
Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children

What have we done well?

  • The Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) has been instrumental in enhancing girls’ and boys’ access to education, especially orphans and other vulnerable children. This programme has paid school fees and other levies for the under privileged members of society. However it is worrying that this programme is undergoing financial challenges, meaning that many of its beneficiaries have been left stranded and are likely to fail to continue going to school.

What have we not done?

  • Our budgetary allocation to education remains low. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), recommend that an education budget should be at a minimum 6% of the Gross National Product. Although we have done this to the book, our economy’s performance means that this amount is so little that it only pays for teachers’ measly salaries.
  • We have not been compiling statistics on the completion rate of primary level education by girls, to understand in particular why girls drop out of school. This would help us to understand the prevalence of some of the factors that cause girls to leave school such as child marriage,early marriage, sexual violence against girls, teenage pregnancy, domestic servitude and inability to pay fees and how much girls suffer because of it. It would also help us to know where we should focus our interventions.

What more can we do?

  • We used to have free primary education soon after independence, what happened to that? Now parents have to bear the costs of sending their children in a challenging economic environment. Let us bring it back if we want to ensure that we have an educated nation. Primary education is the most basic form of education and if we can’t give that to our citizens then what kind of population are we growing?
  • It is clear that some traditional and religious practices are preventing children from going to school or continuing with their education kunyanya mapostori. Mere policy encouraging them to send their children to school remains inadequate. We need stronger penal provisions to force such religious sects and traditionalists to conform and allow their children to have the most basic need in their lives; an education. If politicians are going to mix and mingle with mapostori when they campaign during elections, but fail beyond the campaigns to have meaningful dialogue with them about treating their women and children better,  then the politicians have failed us all and these children.
  • We allowed our schools, especially primary schools to be used as political bases where rallies and political meetings were held. In the 2008 election period, such activities were marked with devastating levels of violence which children either experienced or witnessed resulting in some dropouts. Teachers were also targeted, some beaten, others abducted and causing many teachers to desert their posts and migrate. Most of these were replaced by unqualified temporary teachers. Cumulatively, this has also affected the quality of our education and we need to address this and ensure the highest quality of education.

We love bragging, and we have reason to brag because we are better educated than all the other African countries but can our government fix all these problems already so we brag some more!

Interrogating the culture of exclusion of women from key decision-making positions

by Kudakwashe Chitsike

In September 2013 the President selected his Cabinet and appointed only three women into it. Yet the Constitution clearly stipulates that Cabinet should have equal gender representation.  In response to the queries raised pertaining to his decision to appoint few women, the President stated that there weren’t enough women qualified to fill the positions, as women are not sufficiently educated to take up these high government posts. This prompted me to write an open letter to the President. My letter was unfortunately not responded to.

Yesterday, as I was going through the daily newspapers, I read that the Chief Justice, Godfrey Chidyausiku, had sworn in new Commissioners to the Judicial Service Commission. Out of curiosity, I checked to see how many women had been appointed and whether there were as many women as there were men. As to be expected, given the context of the Ministerial appointments, more men than women were appointed.  Although congratulations are and remain in order to the appointed female Commissioners; Mrs. Priscilla Mutembwi and Mrs. Priscilla Madzonga, along with 6 other male commissioners, there is still need to interrogate this continuing culture of the exclusion of women from occupying key decision-making positions. 

The Constitution stipulates in Section 17(1) (b) (i) that both genders should be equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at all levels, and that (ii) women should constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed government bodies established by or under the Constitution and any Act of Parliament. 

Clearly this has not been followed, and it raises questions; is our Constitution just a guiding instrument whose sections can be taken up or disregarded at a whim? If the Constitution says there must be gender equality why is this not being adhered to?  Is the Constitution not the highest law in the land? So then if we do not follow it, how much more will we respect subsidiary legislation? 

It is civil society’s job to raise these questions as our Constitution – which is not even a year old – is going to be meaningless.  The women’s movement must work tirelessly to ensure that Section 17 of the Constitution is strictly followed, after all, this is one of the main reasons women were encouraged to vote for it. Let us not waste opportunities to raise issues as they arise.

There are 5 other commissioners that are yet to be appointed, I sincerely hope that most of the appointees are going to be women.  There is no excuse to say there are no qualified women; especially women lawyers.  If the relevant authorities are hard pressed to find qualified women lawyers, a simple phone call to Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) for recommendations will provide them with a long list to choose from. 

Chief Justice Chidyausiku congratulates newly sworn in Commissioner, Ms Priscilla Mudzonga. Picture by Munyaradzi Chamalimba


Zim’s New Cabinet: An Open Letter to Mr R.G Mugabe

by Kudakwashe Chitsike

Dear Mr President,

I read with concern an article in one of the newspapers, which reported that you defended your decision to appoint only three women to Cabinet by saying that Zimbabwean women are uneducated and do not have the intellectual capacity to take up office. The newspaper quoted you directly as having said the following: “Give us the women. This time we did proportional representation; there were just not enough women. Women are few in universities.” Is this really true, Mr President? I have always regarded you as a progressive man, and I am having a hard time believing that these were your words. Perhaps the media misunderstood you, or just deliberately misconstrued your statement. The private media is very mischievous, isn’t it?

You have been the president, and therefore boss of this country for more than 30 years, overseeing everything that happens in your government. How is it possible that 52% of your population is still not educated enough to take Cabinet posts? There are other important things I could raise, that seem to have also escaped your attention, but that is a letter I will write on another day. I hope that now that you have noticed this challenge, you are going to do something over the next five years to turn around the education system and ensure that there will be more women in the next Cabinet. Such a positive outcome is something we would look forward to in 2018!  Image

I am a product of the education system that you inherited from the British when you took over the reigns in 1980. Kudos to you for maintaining the system for years, you really did your best. I stand proudly as a Zimbabwean wherever I go because I know I can hold my own in my chosen field, thanks to this system. Most Zimbabwean women in my circles are educated, holders of Masters degrees and even PhDs. Is this still not good enough for the Cabinet? Zimbabweans are finding jobs all over the world because they are well educated. A few months ago, you rightly pointed out that Zimbabweans are running the South African economy. A good number of Zimbabweans working in illustrious jobs in that country are women. If they are good enough to be scooped up by vibrant economies, why not our Cabinet?

The University of Zimbabwe – the oldest higher learning institution in this country – is churning out more women than men and has been for quite some time. None from there were suitable? We as Zimbabweans have always prided ourselves in our education, this year we were rated as having a literacy rate of more than 90%. Unfortunately this percent was not gender disaggregated. Had it been, then that would have been something I would draw your attention to.

Could it be that, Mr President, you meant to say that women in your party are the uneducated ones, since you were only looking within the party for these posts? If that is the case, then I understand. You were clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Your desire must have been to have a number of competent women in the Cabinet not only to adhere to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development ratified by the 7th Parliament in October 2009, but also so that Zimbabwe achieves the gender equality enshrined in our constitution. I understand if you say that in your party, there were just not enough competent female candidates. What could you do but select the best of the lot? You only managed to find 3.

Isn’t it also interesting that the issue of quality and level of education arises only when it comes to filling certain positions with women? What about the qualities and qualifications of the men in your Cabinet? Did they all go to university? What kind of men are they? What exactly was your selection criterion for Cabinet? It took you more than 40 days to come up with the list, so I assume it must have been a rigorous exercise. Were the candidates selected because of their qualities, or on the basis of them being loyal to you and/or the party? One of these days I will sit and go through each of their profiles, maybe the answers will come from there.

I look forward to your response Mr President.

Yours faithfully,

Concerned Citizen

Prioritising education on the political agenda

The  “shocking pass rates” or should we say failure rates in the 2012 Ordinary level results are just a symptom of deep-rooted problems that have been developing in Zimbabwe’s education sector over the years. Reforming the education sector should be a top priority for any government or party that seriously wants to take charge of the echelons of power. This can be done by placing education at the core of their campaign strategy. The RAU reports (“Every School has a Story to Tell: A Study into Teachers’ Experiences with Elections in Zimbabwe” and “Political violence and intimidation against Teachers in Zimbabwe” available on the RAU website documented the crisis from the perspective of politically motivated attacks on teachers and the impact this violence has had on not only the teachers, but also on the economy, especially the increase in unemployment amongst the youths. RAU also looked at the impact of exposure to violence on school children when teachers were attacked in front of pupils.

In its recommendations RAU spear-headed a campaign to have schools declared as zones of peace z and for all political activities taking place at schools to be banned. The rationale behind this is that in times of major political events in Zimbabwe such as elections, considerable amount of learning time is lost as politicians seize schools and school facilities to coordinate their campaign meetings. At the height of violence in 2008, 94% of all schools in rural areas were shut down as teachers fled violence and therefore there was no point in parents sending their children to school. In most cases, teachers and pupils were forced to attend rallies and these were done during school hours. To demonstrate that these assertions are not just historical reporting, it is alleged that as we speak some schools in Manicaland and Mashonaland East have been forced to give offices to militias or ‘war veterans so that they can coordinate their activities ahead of elections. This alone constitutes an attack on education and only a political directive can rectify that. The rationale of peace zones is derived from war situations where there is an agreement not to physically attack institutions of learning as well as medical facilities. Zimbabwe is not in a war situation, but the political situation during elections has in the past resembled ‘war’, where violence has been used as a political tool. By declaring schools as zones of peace, this allows children to continue attending school without hindrance; and protects teachers from attacks from political elements. Anything that has a negative bearing on education such as attacks on teachers is considered an attack on education. Any acts that affect the smooth running of schools/education should become punishable offences. In that light, the adoption of the new Constitution which explicitly guarantees education as a right compels government to legislate supporting laws that enable the right to be enjoyed by every child in Zimbabwe.

It is important for the Ministry of Education to carry out empirical studies on the impact of conflict on the education sector and measures to address these. Special attention should be given to solving the problems created for children due to the conflict, like mental stress, exposure to violence and displacement, by incorporating different programs of reconciliation, mutual goodwill and peace in education programs.  The link between education, peace and development is evident from the period when Zimbabwe emerged from colonial government to majority rule. At that time, education played a pivotal role in building a human capital base that is still revered throughout the world. The same period was also marked by peace and development.

While there are many factors that have contributed to the crisis in education including the decrease in donor support for education, violence is a single factor that does not require funding to change the overall outlook. It requires political will, a community shared vision that education is at the centre of communities moving from abject poverty to emancipation and that every child must be protected and supported through provision of safe schools that allow the mind to positively grow.

By declaring schools as zones of peace, the state will be taking bold steps towards redressing issues to do with community security and violence in the communities, especially violence targeting women and young girls. The campaign will ensure that the future of Zimbabwe; the youths, are not engaged in violence largely caused by idle minds as a result of a failing education system.

Creating Zones of Peace

In all the hullabaloo over the O-Level results, and the very frank discussion at SAPES over what needs to be done, it should be pointed out that one factor disadvantaging our school children, both secondary and primary, is their exposure to political violence. Education requires a safe and peaceful environment if children are to make the most of any system of learning.
RAU and PTUZ have been documenting the effects of the political violence and intimidation of recent years on teachers in particular, but also pointing out the likely consequences to the children. With the pending referendum and probable elections looming, these reports take on greater salience than perhaps people are aware.
The reports can be found by following the links below:

Pswarayi, L, & Reeler, A.P (2102), ‘Fragility’ and education in Zimbabwe: Assessing the impact of violence on education. December 2012, HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT;

PTUZ (2012), Every School has a Story. A Preliminary Report on Teachers Experiences of Elections in Zimbabwe. Report produced by PTUZ and RAU. February 2012. HARARE: PROGRESSIVE TEACHERS UNION OF ZIMBABWE and RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT;

PTUZ (2012), Political Violence and Intimidation of Zimbabwean Teachers. May 2012. Report prepared for the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe [PTUZ] by the Research and Advocacy Unit [RAU]. HARARE: PROGRESSIVE TEACHERS UNION OF ZIMBABWE;


The Lost Decade in Schools.

The Deputy Minister of Education, Lazurus Dokora was quoted as saying, ““We cannot have a situation whereby the country is held at ransom by individuals who spent three years of their lives training to be teachers but later choose to sit at home while waiting to get a place to teach in Harare…” Minister Dokora was responding to a comment on an article which said that qualified secondary school teachers are shunning deployment in rural schools.  What Minister Dokora is forgetting is that threats don’t work to solve problems, especially considering that the teachers’ concerns are mostly genuine. No reasonable person would accept being deployed in rural areas with appalling working conditions. Whilst strides have been made to improve the literacy level in Zimbabwe since independence, there has not been any significant investment in infrastructure in schools, and often, children sit under make-shift classrooms where lessons are conducted . Staff houses in some cases are non-existent. All these factors work against teachers and they are genuine excuses why one would refuse to be deployed in rural areas.  With the 2012 ‘O’ level results showing that of the 172 698candidates who wrote exams, only 31 767attained passes in five subjects or better, translating to only 18.4 percent.

rural schoolkids

But poor conditions are not the only reason why teachers don’t want to work in rural areas.

Collaborative research between RAU and the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, on teachers’ experiences with elections since 2000, revealed that teachers were politically targeted for violence, especially in rural communities, because they are influential. They were also accused of masterminding the defeat of ZANU PF’s presidential candidate in the March 2008 election. As a result, many teachers had to flee to ‘safer’ places, which in most cases meant urban schools, and even leaving the country. It is reported that in 2008, about 94% of all rural schools in Zimbabwe closed shop owing to political violence which was also directed at teachers. Since then, it has become difficult to attract qualified personnel to take up posts in areas that are considered political hot-spots. These areas include (without prejudice) Uzumba, Maramba and Pfungwe.

Whilst government, on the one hand needs to seriously invest in infrastructure development in rural schools and address poor working conditions, at the political level, it should acknowledge that political violence has impacted negatively on education. Schools should be declared zones of peace, environments that allow children to learn and develop without being exposed to violence. RAU reports highlight that 25% of the violations reported by teachers taking place in schools happened in the presence of pupils, thereby exposing them directly to violence. In focus group discussions, some teachers reported that militias rounded up teachers from their classrooms and ordered pupils to beat them with sticks.

To expect a qualified teacher to take up a position in such unsafe areas then becomes unreasonable. Under no circumstances would any reasonable person, let alone a qualified teacher, take up a post in such an area, where their safety is in the hands of militias or political party activists. The structure of violence in communities needs to be dismantled to create peace zones. To fast track this, legislation to ban all political activities in schools is a clear option that government needs to pursue. This, and a combination of increasing the number of trained teachers produced in a year and improving the working conditions should see posts being taken up more easily.  Perhaps this will be the way in which we might eradicate the effects of a “lost decade”.