Political struggles worth it for Zimbabwean politician

Date: January 1, 1970
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In 2007, Lucia Matibenga was among 15 ZCTU leaders arrested and tortured by police when they tried to attend a rally against low wages and the authorities’ inaction on HIV/AIDS. Matibenga, the only woman in the group, suffered a fractured arm, perforated eardrum and bruised kidneys. Matibenga recounts the daily struggles of being a woman politician.

My first assignment for the MDC was contesting a Parliamentary seat in Shurugwi. My biggest challenge was resources to campaign. There were no party primary elections because all that was needed was bravery to stand up to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)’s violence.
I knew campaigning would be tough but I was confident I would measure up.  However, I had not budgeted for the magnitude of the violence. I campaigned at night, as it was just too dangerous to campaign during the day because ZANU-PF supporters would beat up anyone suspected of supporting my party.
When I lost, I mounted a court challenge because I felt strongly that the entire election process was not free or fair. Even party leaders were reluctant to support my challenge. Although I lost the case, it showed me that people have amazing willpower once they decide to support a cause.  The women brave enough to testify made me fully appreciate the sacrifices Zimbabweans were making to support the MDC.
I remember one woman telling the court how she hid her party T-shirt in a pot and covered it with mealie-meal to avoid detection by ZANU – PF militia who were going door-to-door searching for MDC campaign materials.
In 2002, I became interim chairperson of the MDC women’s assembly and was responsible for coordinating the Presidential election campaign.  Although our candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai lost, I traveled throughout the country and had the chance to meet with party supporters and discuss their aspirations.
Just a year after leadership being elected national chairperson of the women’s assembly at the second congress in 2006, party leaders decided to remove me alleging ineffectiveness. I soon realised the leadership was bent on pushing me out.  Why? I still don’t know.
I fought back, going to the courts to challenge my ouster. The courts ruled in my favour, but the leadership refused to reinstate me. However, I am proud that I registered my unhappiness. I am also sure the party learned its lesson to not mishandle any member like that again.
Some party members who stood up for me and said openly that what had happened was wrong.  Even to today, I receive phone calls from people who were at the forefront of harassing me apologising.
When two male supporters approached me from Kuwadzana in the capital requesting me to stand as a second candidate in the newly divided constituency, it was a big surprise. Was it right to make such a move after the friction I had had with the party leadership?  I had a lot of questions and concerns but after consulting widely, I went for it.
My successor in the women’s assembly was allocating fellow women candidates “safe” constituencies with guaranteed victories.  Although I officially communicated my intention to contest, my name was not on the party’s list of women candidates.
Mine was also the only constituency where there was a woman candidate and primary elections were ordered. I won resoundingly against two men and went ahead to be the party’s candidate in the March 2008 elections.
Compared to Shurugwi, campaigning in Kuwadzana was a piece of cake.  The constituency was smaller and more accessible. Although I received little support from the women’s assembly, my biggest resource was the support I enjoyed from Kuwadzana residents.
I was never sure of the outcome of the polls so, when I learnt I had won, the first thing I did when I heard I had won was to get down on my knees and thank the Lord. 
I have come to appreciate the critical role that the media plays in politics.  Initially, I was reluctant to talk to the media about my struggles with the party leadership.  I was not sure how the leadership would take it.  I was afraid speaking up would make my situation worse.
Then realised the leadership was telling its side of the story so I had to put my position across as well.  I was lucky the media gave me space through interviews and profiles.  I also learned how party members felt about my ouster through the media.
The media coverage led to the launch of “Friends of Lucia Campaign” an initiative that provided moral support that helped me survive the episode. I have learned that as a woman politician, you have to be yourself all the time.  It is political suicide to pretend to be what you are not.  You have to be consistent and once you take a decision do not look back.  You have to be principled because there is the danger of losing direction when the political stakes go high.
Above all, I now appreciate the importance of resources.  Resources, be they financial, material or human are critical.  Without resources, you cannot campaign neither can you help the poor and needy who look up to you are their leader.  This level of high expectation is because over the years, the role of politicians and legislators has been distorted or rather expanded to include being welfare officers.
I remain optimistic especially with the establishment of an inclusive government in February that has representatives from the country’s three main political parties.  I am hoping that as a politician I will now be free to move around my constituency and implement programmmes that I promised during my campaign without threats of arrest or harassment.
 Overall, looking back, it has all been worth it. I have learnt a lot of lessons about African politics and in my own small way I believe I am making a difference in the lives of Zimbabweans.
Miriam Madziwa is a freelance writer based in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on every day news.   

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