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Rape of women and girls is proving to be a deliberate constant in Zimbabwe.

On 3 February the Harare magistrate court concluded an ‘exceptional’ case in which Robert Gumbura, founder and supposed ‘pastor’ of an Independent splinter group of the End Time Message got a measly 40 year jail term for heinous crimes against humanity, that the state surprisingly compacted to “… four counts of rape and possession pornographic material.” But in reality, and according to proven sources, this sadist cum serial rapist has hypnotised 11 women into ‘marriage’ of convenience, raped a countless married women and minor girls, in addition to turning numerous other women into sex objects with whom he forcefully watched pornographic movies before enticing them to unwillingly suck his penis in the end. A witness who testified in court revealed additional horrific details of how Gumbura forced all girls due for marriage to first have sex with him as a condition for getting clearance to wed in his ‘church’. A 17 year old girl who was a virgin until her rape encounter with this ironic clergyman gave the following horrific testimony in court, “He got me into a darkroom, lifted me and pressed me against the wall before raping me.” Such an act, committed in times of ‘in-peace’, and committed by a clergyman, is not different from an act of rape involving one woman and 10 youth militia drugged-sponsored by high powers to intimidate women in times of violent conflict.

Gumbura’s HIV status remains officially unknown, yet the court has expediently proceeded to pass judgement on him before ascertaining this. Establishing Gumbura’s HIV status is a pre-requisite in a bizarre situation where the lives of numerous women, men and children have been put to risk. Gumbura openly bedded women in marriage to his fellow male congregants, turning the whole congregation into a haven for concurrent sexual relationships.

One woman raped is too many, and more than one is an abomination. To ‘gumbura’ is to anger, and this rapist has truly angered all reasonable people in Zimbabwe and beyond. This reality sounds stranger than fiction, and is a pointer to the highly systemic and deeply embedded challenges faced by Zimbabwean women.

Seeking to come to terms with Gumbura’s behaviour in his individuality will not make much sense, and may result in us dismissing him as crazy and insane, because his behaviour is really stranger than reality. But Gumbura is not mad, and he is not alone in this country. He is a representation of highly detrimental and deliberate patriarchal male supremacist ideologies that reign supreme at all levels in Zimbabwe to privilege the powerful at the expense of the powerless. Sadly for Zimbabwe, because of our history of colonial capitalist conquest which our nationalist political leaders dismally failed to transform at the dawn of independence, the less powerful in our society tend to be pre-dominantly female.

This Gumbura case is thus a microcosm of the insecurities faced by Zimbabwean women in the hands of criminals masquerading under the guise of religion. When religious fundamentalisms go unchecked, they work subtly well as foot soldiers of patriarchy, to convey the same messages, customs and beliefs that bring nothing good save false messages that serve to perpetuating patriarchal and militaristic hegemony. If Gumbura, one person, wielded such immense negative power to violate the bodily integrity of a countless women, putting the lives of many at risk of disease, one cannot stop imagining how many more similar horror stories remain locked in countless closets in a country where it matters more to use spiritual powers to enlarge penises than to make the lame walk , and where one’s political acumen is measured by the size of their penis.

And please, allow me to digress a bit here, because I can’t help it. It is still hard to understand, let alone imagine why Tsvangirai turned to TB Joshua for penis enlargement as his first port of call after losing a historic election before even thinking of consulting his constituency and fellow politicians for better ideas on how to sustain a meaningful alternative political discourse in the country. If God was a Woman, She would not restore sexual prowess to a man with no political clout, who for 5 years in the Prime Minister’s office did absolutely nothing to validate his campaign claims of changing the status quo once he got into political office, false claims that made half the nation support his candidature from pedestrian trade unionist to Prime Minister. He did absolutely nothing that office except to gain himself a reputation of bedding nine (maybe more) women, including young girls, and this was hardly a year after burying a wife who walked the difficult journey of political resistance with him, in which she also sustained numerous bruises and hurts (MYDSRIP Susan Tsvangirai).

Weighing the effects of rape

Rape of women and girls is an ‘egregious human rights violation’ , a deadly manifestation of gender inequality, a noxious contrivance used to uphold women’s secondary status in society, and a challenge to global peace. This atrocity has for a long time posed as a huge obstacle to the achievements of the MDGs, and to economic growth. Rape does not affect women alone. Its direct costs are huge and burdensome to the state. A Zimbabwean 2009 study estimated the costs of GBV at US$ 2 billion – calculated in the amounts for medical, transport, legal and lost wages.

The 2011 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) records 1 in 4 women as having experienced sexual violence. National studies show that up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their life time from an intimate partner. In 2010, over one third of women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported having experienced physical violence at some point in their lives, and the majority experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. But most tragically, it was revealed that 80% of the murder victims in Zimbabwe were women and girls in 2009.

The effects of rape mostly affect women; who because of their biological make-up get easily infected with HIV, they get bruised and hurt in the process, they live with permanent hurt and shame, and worse still, in a country where abortion is a crime, they are forced to live with unwanted children of rape, a permanent reminder of the erosion of their dignity. Yet despite all these negative nerve wrecking statistics and facts, rape remains an unacknowledged human rights violation, and continues to be viewed as a normal crime whose causes are often blamed on the survivors who are pre-dominantly women.

Rape should seize to be conceptualised as a sexual act and an assault on the body, it is a highly political act – an attack on the body politic, designed to touch on the core constructs of identity in order to cripple the target group – women. Rightly so, Carolyn Nordstrom has argued that ‘… sexual violence cannot be seen solely as an assault on the body, but constitutes a major political act, and touches on the core constructs of identity and ontological security of the targeted group. It is an attack on the ‘body politic’ aimed at controlling an entire socio-political process by crippling the targeted group. Rape has been used in many instances to put women undercheck – to discourage them from participating in politics and other strategic processes in public life. But this must stop. We, the women of Zimbabwe are tired!

Taneta maihwee kungokurungwa
Kungokurungwa maihwee kunge svibota
Kunge svibota maihwee sviri mupoto!

To date the media in Zimbabwe is awash with opinions highly loaded with the usual trivia arguments such as, ‘why the women did not scream when Gumbura raped them’ and ‘why they did not report to the police,’ and such sentiments are propounded even by highly professional men and women from elite circles. Like rape, ignorance knows no class, and given these levels of unawareness exhibited by media critics, the majority of whom are men, only a deeper feminist analysis may help surface the underlying power dynamics that account for gendered relations between women and men in our societies that lead to male privilege and subsequent subordination of women in Zimbabwe.

Jane Bennett contents that colonial capitalism left a legacy of gendered relations in Africa. As such gender division of labour accounts respectively for masculine and feminine identities of power and powerlessness; and gender is a significant determinant of violence in institutions where perceptions of men and women are more pronounced and hierarchically organized to privilege men against women. Gender-based violence is in turn aggravated by cultural and religious norms around constructions of masculine and feminine identities. As a result gender affects the way particular abuse happens – who gets hurt, who commits the injury, what weapons are used, and what sort of rationalizations allow the abuse to exist. Gender also affects the way women respond to rape, while also dictating the silences and normalisations around it.

Interrogating the persistent normalization of gender violence in Africa, Amina Mama argues that Africa’s political leaders, who are primarily men, have failed to include transformation of oppressive gender politics in their political ideologies. She argues that their ‘masculinist memories and nostalgia’ have wrongly guided them to re-create and maintain gendered sexual and economic conditions that reinforce structures of mainstream opinion and representation, while facilitating the abuse of women.

Patriarchy works in ways that are normal and natural, subtle ways that lie in the crevices of everyday routine, and its ideas are carried forward by its foot soldiers such as religious fundamentalisms, the media, mainstream education, and negative traditional beliefs to mention a few.

Thus religious institutions such as Gumbura’s End Time Message church can be sure sources of conflict and insecurities for women. They will appear under the guise of normal institutions seeking to restore hope to women, when in reality they deliberately and decidedly entrench the oppression of women. The establishment thrived on gender-biased customs and laws exclusion and subordination of women, and did not allow women to hold leadership and decision-making positions, in turn creating a breed of voiceless women devoid of agency to mobilise themselves to stand up against their leader turned assailant.

This however is not to rule out the church’s potential to be a source of unity and hope for women and men in society. Best practice from Liberia have proved that where democracy thrives, women can use the church as a power-house to mobilise across religious divides to bring peace and restore order in society.

Of similar concern is also noting how the justice delivery system can also function as a vehicle of discrimination and oppression, all to the erosion of women’s human rights. Firstly, the state disregards ordering an HIV test for Gumbura, which is a pre-requisite in determining the sentence. Secondly and similarly important, the state choses to have a case of this magnitude tried in a provincial court where there are penal limitations, which, according to Mujaya’s own words, assigning him to pass sentence of Gumbura in the provincial court where there is jurisdictional limit to the sentence that can be imposed was tantamount to “… sending a little boy to do a man’s job.” Political pundits have viewed this statement from Mujaya as loaded with political metaphor, especially bearing in mind that Gumbura is a ruling party stalwart, and many have argued that this was deliberately designed to save him from a stiffer penalty. And what does this say about the rule of law in Zimbabwe? It says, as long as you are politically correct, you can get away with anything. As already noted in a footnote above, Mujaya means young man, or literary ‘chikomana’, boy, what a coincidence. In this case, the unfortunate learned magistrate is a representation of how security sector institutions, processes and personnel can be manipulated, some against their will, to support unconstitutional processes.

The case was also fast-tracked the trial and thus prevented a lot of other women who could have testified from doing so, and who knows what else could have surfaced. Such latitude did not begin with Gumbura, but has been seen in many other cases, for example where cases of politically motivated rape of women have been dismissed as ‘political matters’ that the police cannot handle, and where critical case of marital rape and femicide have been referred to the public relations department for counselling rather than to the criminal court for prosecution. This culture is entrenched and systemic, in the whole institution of Justice in the country.

Zimbabwean women have cried foul to Gumbura’s sentence. True to the dot, rapists deserve to be hanged, to be castrated and maybe to have the prophet of miracles Makandiwa pray their penises to token lengths . A church priest using drugs to enhance his sexual prowess, monetary power and religious indoctrination to hypnotize powerless, defenseless and unwilling women into sex objects can certainly not be viewed as human but beastly, and his behavior has definitely nothing to do with either natural sexual impulses or with an aggressive manifestation of sexuality but an act of aggression and violence through sexual means. At a much deeper level however, in a country where real manhood, political acumen and social prowess or lack of it is equated to the size of one’s penis, and where cases of serious violation of women’s sexual rights can be swept under the carpet as long as one is ‘politically correct’, can solutions really lie only in heinous jail terms, and in cutting penises off? The reader will note, through out this analysis, Your Truly’s deliberate reference to the P word. In my motherland, mentioning the P word, like penis, is totally unacceptable, unless you want to be boxed and labeled as a rebellious prostitute, but using the P to injure women is a sign of manhood and prowess. Ahoy Zimbabwe, we cannot go on like this. Its certainly time for change, time for walking in women’s shoes, and time for demystifying harmful beliefs and practices.

But where does the solution lie?

As I see it, solutions lie more in tackling the structural foundations of gender inequality, in particular unequal power relations between women and men, social norms, stereotypes and practices that discriminate against women and girls, as well as in addressing economic disparities between women and men to ensure that women are capable of making informed decisions in both the public and private sphere. Zimbabwe deserves special mention in the area of legal and policy reform. The past years have seen successful adoption of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (2004) and the Domestic Violence Act (2006), which amongst other things deals with sexual violence offenses. Yet reality is that mere existence of these laws is not enough to end sexual and gender-based crimes. The challenge of ensuring implementation of these laws remains a very real one and points to the need for additional strategies, such as the specialist training of prosecutors and other justice delivery personnel, the improvement of remuneration and working conditions of security sector actors to weed away corruption, and the strengthening of the prosecution mechanisms to make the deterrent effect sought by adopted laws stronger.

The call is for UN Agencies, donors and other development agencies committing budgets and resources towards strengthening the security sector services such as the police and the judiciary to deliver gender sensitive services, to increase spaces of dialogue between women in the church and in the communities and the security sector actors to ensure that women have access to security services and can also freely open up about issues affecting them. There must be a clear cut separation of powers and interests between the state, political parties and security sector services institutions. Where state becomes conterminous with ruling party, and with the security sector, women’s human rights are often compromised as only the interest of the powerful are safe guarded. This brings us to the difference between human security and militaristic modes of security and only conceptualizing the former can bring positive peace to our society.

Also of importance is the state’s role in putting up a disaster management framework to ensure positive and full rehabilitation of survivors, and also to ensure their economic stability where their breadwinner has to go to jail. UNSCR 2122 calls for humanitarian aid to include support for survivors of rape, and the challenge is for UN Agencies to be more practical and start giving security sector programming a human face, moving away from concentrating funds in military oriented programmes. Denying abused women psycho-social therapy is likely to lead to a prolongation of their trauma, while undermining their ability to engage in reconciliation. The social stigmatization and family rejection which many survivors of sexual violence have to endure, only prolongs their suffering and their sense of isolation, hence the need to prioritize their rehabilitation. The Adult Rape Clinic, Musasa and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association provide psycho-social support, counseling and legal advice respectively, to women survivors of rape and associated gender based violence crimes. As I see it, even where resources are scarce, there would be no harm in diverting a fund meant to hold community dialogue with traditional leaders towards the rehabilitation of rape survivors.

The state must be pro-actively obliged to take full charge and control of religious institutions to ensure that they do not push an agenda of structural inequalities and discrimination based on gender. This means putting in place a well-articulated policy to keep the activities of religious institutions under check in the interest of public security and women’s human rights, and ensuring that churches are safe and secure spaces for both women and men. The Ecumenical Leaders Forum in Zimbabwe can be commended for initiating and undertaking peace-building initiatives in the church through training of women to champion the cause of reconciliation in rural communities in Zimbabwe. Women in the churches must be given constant support to ensure that their levels of awareness are kept in balance, and to foster the agency to stand up against abuse. If given space in the church, women can articulate and push for transformative agendas, and one best practice is from Liberia, where women united across religious divides to end the Charles Taylor dictatorship regime. Likewise, women in Zimbabwe must take seriously the project of their protection and justice.

Women also need to be empowered on the use of digital technology and other ICTs, so that they can quickly relay messages of rape and abuse.

But most importantly, such an agenda needs to be informed by the voices of Zimbabwean women themselves. It calls for women to transcend choose to transcend their individual differences, stand bold in their diversities and rally against a common enemy, and our enemy it neither Gumbura nor Mujaya, it is neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe, it is Patriarchy. Zimbabwean women have gained since the 80s, a reputation of sticking together and forging consensus on important issues, and have played an important role in galvanising attention and resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment and their agency has seen to the adoption of a number of laws such as the LAMA, the Inheritance Laws, the inclusion of gender sensitive clauses in the GPA, and the inclusion of gender equal special measures and clauses in the new Constitution. Such formidable work should continue unabated, until full rights for women are achieved. They however cannot do it alone, hence the need for a coalescence of efforts from civil society, government, donors and UN Agencies, men and boys, to create a critical mass of citizens who will speak with one voice to eliminate violence from our society.

Povo mpovo!
Povo Mpovo!
Taneta maihwee kungokurungwa!
Kungokurungwa maihwee kunge svibota!
Kunge svibota maihwee sviri mupoto!

Photo credit: Rudo Nyangulu

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