Interrogations of nation-building projects and the liberation struggles that resulted in many African countries achieving independence rarely engage the “gender question”. Consequently, attempts to understand the causes of state instability fail to engage the extent to which masculinist nationalist projects underlie the acute human insecurity confronting many African countries. This piece is the first of three exploring the role(s) of women in Zimbabwe’s (post)independence national narrative. Three women, Joice Runaida Mugari Mujuru (Teurai Ropa “Spill Blood”), Sally Mugabe, and Grace Mugabe are the subject of each. What place do these women occupy in Zimbabwe’s national fabric and historical memory? To what extent do their achievements “applaud male achievements, while appropriating the feminine iconography of motherhood to bolster their image as handmaidens of the nationalist project” (Ngoshi & Mutekwa: 238)?
It is often said that behind every successful man is a supportive woman. The truth or falsity of this statement is not the issue; however, the implication is that women must sacrifice their ambitions to further those of men. This leads to the further implication that women’s ambitions have liberatory potential and are necessarily opposed to those of men. The life and times of Joice Mujuru attest that the reality is more complex. They also highlight that women are often called upon “to mediate men’s political projects and commune with the politics of power as envisioned by men” (ibid.). Often, women accept this mediating role.
Joice Mujuru is the Former Vice-President of Zimbabwe. She is also known by her liberation war name, Teurai Ropa or “Spill Blood”. Upon Zimbabwe achieving independence from white minority rule in 1980, she was the youngest minister in the country’s first post-independence cabinet. She was born on 15 April 1958 and after completing 2 years of high school, she joined the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) in 1973. Teurai Ropa gained her liberation war name after shooting down an enemy helicopter. In 1977 she was secretary for women’s affairs for the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in addition to being a member of the movement’s central committee. She has held a range of ministerial positions in the post-independence context, including Minister of Community Development, Co-operatives and Women’s Affairs from 1988-1992, and Minister of Rural Resources and Water Development from 1997-2004. From 2004-2014 she was Vice President of the ruling ZANU-PF party and government.
Teurai Ropa was identified by President Robert Mugabe as a factional leader in 2014. Assassination plots against Mugabe were charged against her by state-owned media. She was widely believed to be the West’s preferred choice to replace Mugabe in the event of succession. Subsequently, members of ZANU-PF believed to be loyal to Teurai Ropa were expelled from the party, which resulted in her demotion from the party’s Central Committee. This assured that she would not be able to hold a senior position in both the party and government, resulting in her removal from the post of Vice President in December 2014. She was subsequently expelled from ZANU-PF in April 2015.
In March 2016, Teurai Ropa formed a new opposition party, Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF). The party is engaged in opposition coalition talks in the lead up to the 2018 general elections. Teurai Ropa has extensive business interests in the country, including its troubled diamond industry. Her corruption is no secret and she has been the subject of feminist criticism for dismissing the importance of and need for gender equality. Additionally, as a result of the intrigue surrounding her expulsion from ZANU-PF, her liberation war credentials have been questioned, painting her as undeserving of the name Teurai Ropa. Today she is considered an enemy of the country’s nation-building project, which is masculinist and centred on ZANU-PF rule and Mugabe’s leadership. It is alleged that when the helicopter she reportedly shot down was destroyed during the liberation war, she was having sex with a comrade. Her rise to power is argued to be due to her romantic and sexual liaisons vis-à-vis promiscuity.
Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru’s experiences in post-independence Zimbabwe highlight that whilst women do exercise agency and often occupy leadership positions, it is not necessarily towards liberatory ends. Women face real constraints; the absence of gender equality due to the colonial patriarchal past and a patriarchal society redirects women’s agency towards the reproduction of a masculinist and heterosexist national narrative that underlies the instability and acute human insecurity facing the country. Mujuru’s experiences highlight both the need to have women in leadership positions, to reconceptualise our understanding of leadership, and to move beyond nationalist feminism towards the stabilisation of our national spaces.
By Tinashe Jakwa
Tinashe Jakwa is a UWA Master of International Relations student.
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Tafadzwa, H, & Mutekwa, A. (2013). The female body and voice in audiovisual political propaganda jingles: the Mbare Chimurenga Choir women in Zimbabwe’s contested political terrain. Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies, 27(2), 235-248.
Posted on February 8, 2017