Monday, September 20, 2021
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Violence against women: When one of us is not safe, none of us is safe

SOME years ago, I sat with a few friends in a park on a cloudy November afternoon. We had called for the public to protest against the imminent introduction of bond notes which we believed were unconstitutional and grossly irrational.

How could the government convert a US dollar monetary system into a Zimbabwe dollar one through the fiction of a note with no value or other macro-economic backing? We laughed at how ridiculous the proposed policy was.

We had mighty markers and art note pads which we had planned to pen banners on. The streets were largely deserted as there had been threats by the police that anybody who dared attend the protest would be “dealt with.” The dark rain clouds were an ominous foreboding of what was to follow.

Within minutes of our peaceful protest, we were arrested by riot police and bundled into a menacing police truck. On an ordinary day, I know my constitutional rights like the back of my hand. On this day, all I could muster up was silence as we complied with the unlawful police orders. We spent a night in dark cell beautifully decorated with a non-functioning pit latrine, concrete beds and lice-infested blankets. It smelt just as beautiful as it looked and felt.

Our bail hearing took place the next day. I struggled as I sat behind a dock that I had in the past watched at a distance as I represented many clients prosecuted for bogus offences ranging from farmers refusing to vacate land they had purchased and owned – to journalists charged with publishing falsehoods when they reported on an illegal cyanide poaching racket.

On this day, I was on the other side, defenceless and angry.

We went through the motions of an initial remand hearing and then the bail application was made. My mother was seated in the front row with my father. She continuously held hands with my friend and co-accused’s mother. They were praying furiously throughout the court proceedings.

Challenging the constitutionality of the police’s conduct, our lawyer led evidence of how we had been threatened and interrogated the night before and asked whether we were aware that “some had gone to Chimoio and never returned.” My mother let out a distressed shriek that stunned the courtroom, followed by incessant wailing. She was afraid – of what could have happened and what could happen if I continued to speak out against this dangerous and violent government.

I had flashbacks of the sound of my mother’s crying on Friday evening when I went to visit Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marova – three women colleagues who were enforcedly disappeared, brutally tortured and sexually violated following their involvement in a peaceful demonstration against hunger. Their only crime – believing different and wanting a Zimbabwe where hunger and suffering aren’t the daily bread of the common man and woman.

Upon seeing the state they were in, I broke down inside but maintained a tough exterior. I prayed with them and encouraged them to be strong. In truth, my heart was palpitating like a drum beating as a cold chill coursed through my veins. What do you say to a woman who has endured such a horrific ordeal? I have no idea. I still don’t know. I have not managed to process it. One mother was there present. I just said sorry. I had no idea what was right to say. More chills.

Violence against women must stop. When one of us is not safe, none of us is safe. If what happened to my three sisters does not shock the conscience of the nation, we can safely say that the battle for the soul of the nation has been lost.

God bless Zimbabwe.

Fadzayi Mahere is the MDC’s secretary for education and sport


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