by THELMA CHIKWANHA | Zimbabwe
Linda Masarira is a name which needs no introduction in her home country and beyond. She is a prolific Zimbabwean political activist who has led various campaigns which gained international publicity, casting further light on the failures of the Zanu pf government in Zimbabwe.
The 35-year-old first rose to prominence in 2016 through her involvement in the Occupy Africa Unity Square protests against the overstaying of an ailing President Robert Mugabe and his regime. She was arrested and spent 3 months in Chikurubi prison for her role in the protests which gained momentum online and offline in a short space of time.
During her incarceration, Linda mobilized other women inmates to protest against the poor and inhumane conditions that women in prisons are subjected to; including the shortages of sanitary towels and access to medical services. For that act of bravery, she was held in solitary confinement in the Maximum Security Male section of the prison.
The International Woman’s Thelma Chikwanha had a conversation with Linda about women in politics and why they are opting to run as independent candidates among other issues.
First things first, what are your thoughts on Zim women politicians’ failure to make it to the top?
Women are limited by finances, gender roles, and discrimination. It’s rather unfortunate that political parties in Zimbabwe are still highly patriarchal when it comes to decision making positions. Women are always told you have the women’s assembly. It is worse for young women who find it hard to find space in the political structures; the youth leagues are patriarchal and in most cases they have less than 20 % women in their executive structures and it’s very rare to find a female youth president, SG, treasurer even in the main wing of political parties.
Most young women can’t make it to the key decision making positions on all three wings of political structures in Zimbabwe’s political parties. That is what has made young women look at the alternatives which are running as independent candidates and taking part in reshaping the future of Zimbabwe for the sake of our children and future generations to come. A number of young women including myself have to take a stand in making a difference in Zimbabwe.
Political violence is another inhibiting factor for women.
Primary elections are characterized by intraparty violence and manipulation which leads women to take a back seat.
It’s rather unfortunate that women in politics are used as cannon fodder and when they seek to claim their space they face all kinds of insults, sexual harassment, and abuse.
I founded Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance after realizing we need to be our sister’s keeper and support all women in politics regardless of the political party affiliation to emancipate women’s rights, nurture a culture of activism and to capacitate and empower women to lead.
You are running for MP for Harare Central, why now the transition from activism to politics?
I have a passion for humanity. My radicalism in activism is driven by that passion. It is not enough to speak out against corruption and injustices in the realm of activism, this only embarrasses the government and persuades it to deliver little tokens but nothing may change. It is my deep conviction that if I become part of a progressive legislature, I will be in a position to advance and seek the betterment of the human race and its environment in our nation and at most my constituency, Harare Central.
Why are you running as an Independent candidate?
I am running as an independent candidate because I seek to represent the interests of the people in Harare Central constituency and not represent the interests of a certain political party. There are a lot of issues affecting Zimbabwean citizens which are not being addressed by the current partisan legislators who are limited by the whipping system.
In my quest to clean politics in Zimbabwe and initiate a new political culture of inclusivity transparency, accountability, and integrity, it is critical to be the voice of reason in the national assembly. To be able to push for pro-poor policies that benefit the masses in Zimbabwe whose only source of livelihood is informal trading.
After a thorough introspection of the crisis in Zimbabwe, I realized that Zimbabwe needs better and capable leadership that will serve the people and not political agendas which are not committed to sustainable human development.
There is no space for young people who are analytical and who question leadership in Zimbabwe. When you question one of the opposition political parties on issues to do with ideology, principle, and values, the same leaders label you a state agent. If Zimbabwe is going to transform we seriously need to cultivate a culture of tolerance on divergent views.
How do you intend to address the issues of Women and Youth empowerment which you speak passionately about?
We need title deeds to land, mines, and property. We need farms that are specifically our own. Equal opportunities for all should be practical and realized and not just a political rhetoric or policy paper. Women should not be penalized for giving birth; maternity fees must be scrapped off at all government hospitals and clinics and should be in line with the health policy which states that maternal Healthcare is free in public institutions. The girl child should not pay fees right up to University. This will prevent abuse from men as is witnessed at higher learning institutions.
Do you think the government should be committing resources towards the purchase of vehicles for MPs given the state of the economy?
MPs obviously cannot walk to parliament or drive 323s. There are constituencies in the rural areas that have gradients and considerations of the roads that are difficult to traverse with small cars but there is no logic for government to buy very expensive cars for MPS when the economy is in the state it is in. One big car with reasonable cost is enough. Small or executive cars they should buy on their own.
It’s sad modern MPs think becoming a politician makes one a shareholder in the billionaires club.
What do you think needs to be done to solve the water and electricity problems in the country?
These things we may think of how to save them but before we talk about saving we need a functioning economy. Industries must be built and those struggling must come to life before we talk about savings. Savings come from earnings. Right now consumers have no adequate income to pay for electricity and water. Water is a right. It shouldn’t be so commercially be given to human beings. 2/3 of our bodies is water and why should we pay to be alive when life is a free gift. When the industry is functional we can also invest heavily in solar energy and borehole water so that most of the city council water is channeled to mines, manufacturing and processing industries.
You have spoken passionately about the problems among the youth like prostitution, drug abuse. How can this problem be solved?
Effective youth participation in politics. We need a youthful parliament. Right now the average parliamentarian is 77 and that’s bad. We need more youth to be in parliament so that their issues are addressed. Youths have to be the change they want to see. There is a group that must stop hero worshipping elders and take the decision to be active in politics in order for them to create their own prosperous Zimbabwe. We don’t inherit revolutions but we create our own.
What needs to be done to resuscitate the economy?
With regards to the economy, the organizational structure and culture of the ministry of finance and the Reserve Bank are one of extreme incompetence. The same team under permanent secretary Manungo and governor Gono/Mangudya have been at the helm through the 15 years of crisis. They need to go. Instead of cars for Zanu PF and the army en masse we should be repurposing and restructuring our manufacturing capacities. The bond notes was a flimsy treatment to a symptom and not a disease.
The economic problem is a reflection of the political problem. We need a paradigm shift in governance systems to resuscitate the economy.
Linda Masarira is also Founder and National Coordinator of Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance, has also organized many other campaigns including the; “Bring Back Our Women From Kuwait” where she petitioned government and the Embassy of Kuwait to expedite the repatriation process of Zimbabwean women who were stranded in that country after falling victims to human trafficking. Following this campaign, about 200 women were safely reunited with their families in Zimbabwe.