Four Women Take on 18 Men in Zimbabwe’s Presidential Election

Joice Mujuru
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A breast cancer survivor and trade unionist, a liberation war icon, an author and entrepreneur and a fashion designer are four women who have already made history by contesting Zimbabwe’s presidential elections, a first for women.

They are also on the verge of shattering many more records should any one of them beat the odds stacked against them to win the presidential election.

The four who are contesting are former Vice President Doctor Joice Mujuru leading the People’s Rainbow Coalition, former Deputy Prime Minister Doctor Thokozani Khupe of the MDC-T and little known aspirants, Melbah Dzapasi of #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe and Violet Mariyacha of United Democratic Movement

A record-breaking 22 presidential candidates have put themselves forward to lead the southern African country of Zimbabwe in the historic July 30th election. This is the highest number of candidates to contest the presidential election since the country gained independence from the Britain in 1980. This is the first election without former strongman, President Robert Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabweans had known before he was toppled by the army in November last year.

The women are seeking to emulate former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf was the world’s first elected black female president and Africa’s first elected female head of state. Ironically, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf will also be observing Zimbabwe’s elections.

Editor of Real Leaders magazine, Grant Schreiber observes that, “Sirleaf’s presidency firmly establishes the importance of women leaders on the world stage and her unique position as a woman with both African and Western roots – genealogically, geographically, and intellectually – signals a new kind of 21st century leadership that has broken gender stereotypes and challenged the idea that historical animosities cannot be healed.”

Though the election is seen by many to be a toss-up between incumbent President Emmerson Mnangangwa of the ruling Zanu-PF party and opposition Movement for Democratic Alliance leader, Nelson Chamisa, two of the women contesting have name recognition, one having been vice president and the other a deputy prime minister.

Doctor Joice Mujuru

Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru is a liberation war icon who served as Vice President of Zimbabwe and the ruling Zanu-PF party. She was born Runaida Mugari in 1955. Mrs Mujuru was the first woman to be elected to such powerful positions and she was considered a potential successor to President Mugabe before she was expelled for allegedly trying to topple the president. She has denied the charges.

During the protracted liberation war against Rhodesian forces, Mrs. Mujuru adopted the nom-de-guerre Teurai Ropa (spill blood) and rose to become one of the first women commanders in the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army.

Former Vice President Joice Mujuru addressing a press conference in Harare on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Photo: Mavis Gama)
Former Vice President Joice Mujuru addressing a press conference in Harare on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Photo: Mavis Gama)

She claims to have downed a Rhode­sian he­li­copter with the ma­chine gun of a dy­ing com­rade leading to her rapid promotion. She was married to Solomon Mujuru, the country’s first black army general considered for decades to be the ruling Zanu-PF king maker until his death in an unexplained inferno at his Beatrice farm on August 15, 2011.

Doctor Mujuru insists that her husband was killed by his political foes. But Mr. Mugabe even after his former general’s death called him a “terrible guy. Very selfish. And a smoker.” He added, “A smoker, I think this is what killed him.”

Harare Magistrate Walter Chikwanha ruled out foul play in General Mujuru’s death but ruled it was an accidental house fire. The friction between Doctor Mujuru and Mugabe led to her expulsion from both government and party in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

‘Mugabe’s Daughter’

Mrs. Mujuru, like President Emmerson Mnangagwa referred to Mr. Mugabe as “father”, having been mentored by the former president for years. Mr. Mugabe appointed Mujuru at 25 as the country’s youngest cabinet minister in 1980. Her close proximity to Mr. Mugabe and name recognition means she is one of Zimbabwe’s most recognized politician.

The former vice president is confident she will be voted the country’s first female president because of her vast experience in government. “Zimbabweans know that I am a capable leader having seen me at work as a young minister and initiating projects that helped them in various ministries I worked for mostly in rural areas.”

But are Zimbabweans ready for a female president? Mrs. Mujuru responds: “I have heard some people saying Zimbabwe is not yet ready for a female president … When we went to war, women were never given guns that were written women only. We were all given the same weapons with men, so I am ready to liberate every one of us including those in Zanu PF who are oppressed.”

As Minister of Telecommunications, she has often been accused of having tried to “sabotage” billionaire Strive Masiyiwa’s efforts at establishing his independent cellphone network, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe. After many legal fights, Masiyiwa was granted a license in December 1997. This fight with Econet, according to some analysts, severely tarnished Mrs. Mujuru’s reputation as she was seen as a person who only supported the political elite and business cronies. Her association with Mr. Mugabe is also seen as an albatross by some analysts.

Doctor Thokozani Khupe

Doctor Thokozani Khupe is Zimbabwe’s first female deputy prime minister. She was also the first female vice president of Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by the late Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who succumbed to colon cancer early this year. She is a founding National Executive member of the MDC responsible for transport.

Thokozani Khupe

In June 2000, she was elected as the Member of Parliament for the high density suburb of Makokoba in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. But after the death of Tsvangirai, the party split into two after a fallout between Doctor Khupe and Advocate Nelson Chamisa.

​Ms. Khupe is a veteran trade unionist who served in the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railway Union and as secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Women’s Advisory council where she was also a general council member. She is a breast cancer survivor and founded the Thokozani Khupe Cancer Foundation which assists women to fight the disease. Doctor

Emancipation of Women

Ms Khupe says she is confident of victory noting that, “women by the way constitute 54% of the voting population and therefore not only do they deserve a seat at the table but also deserve to head that table. She adds, “We will not be silenced by violence or threats of violence. Personally, I will not stop fighting for the emancipation of women.”

Violet Mariyacha

Violet Mariyacha of the United Democratic Movement describes herself as an “enthusiastic motivational speaker, a devoted leader, highly experienced international business woman, and an immensely passionate songwriter and singer.” Mrs. Mariyacha says she has been working in the business world for a span of more than two decades and has operated in Africa, USA and Britain.

Violet Mariyacha
Violet Mariyacha

She writes and sings political and gospel songs with the sole purpose to “ignite the flames of awareness among the common people of Zimbabwe.” She started singing in 2016 releasing her first song Taneta (which means we are tired or fed up), whose objective is to “inspire and motivate political activists in Zimbabwe”.

Mrs Mariyacha is the author of a novel, Jocelyn’s Phantom Husband. In an interview on the sidelines of the Nomination Court at the High Court in Harare, Mrs. Mariyacha said she is confident of victory. “My chances are 100 percent, I am the next female president of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe needs a mother, it has been hurting for too long and we are giving mothers, fathers and everyone an opportunity for a new start.”

Melbah Dzapasi

Mrs. Dzapasi, a fashion designer and entrepreneur leads the #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe and appears to be the hardliner of the four, espousing the radical policies of former President Mugabe which his party seems to be reversing.

Melbah Dzapasi
Melbah Dzapasi

​She says her vision is to pursue a nationalistic policy that will give Zimbabweans control of agriculture, infrastructure and mining sectors.

The 44 year old Dzapasi told the state-leaning Sunday Mail newspaper that if given a five-year mandate, her party’s priority is to wage a “new economic war to liberate indigenous Zimbabweans from decades of economic exploitation.” She vowed that her movement shall resist every form of “reversal of the revolution, including the tendency to compensate former colonial beneficiaries of land and resources and even asking our citizens to pay for colonial injustices. – VOA