Violence prevents young women from active political participation
By Nomzamo Gwebu
As the country gears towards the national 2023 elections, young women in the country feel that the political environment, characterised by political violence and intolerance is not safe for them. They says the toxic environment is forcing young women to watch the process from the side-lines.
Nomalanga Mhlanga (30), a registered voter says political leaders in the country use violence to intimidate people and as such the electorate is not free to choose leaders they want.
“People have lost faith in elections because even if they vote, the process is manipulated by a few individuals and nothing changes. As a young woman, I feel deprived of a free environment to choose the leaders I want. What saddens me the most is that I and other women are suffering and we have a lot to lose by not participating in elections,” says Nomalanga.
Nomalanga says more than four decades after the country attained independence following a protracted armed struggle, the country has failed to hold any credible elections. She says all the previous elections were marred by controversy as a result of violence, intimidation and rigging.
“In 2018 my sister was attacked by a mob at her house in Emganwini suburb in one of Bulawayo’s high density suburbs. She was contesting to be a councillor and she became a target during the process of canvassing for support. Her house was destroyed by stone throwing hooligans who could have killed her if law enforcement agents had not intervened,” says Nomalanga.
After the attack, Nomalanga says her sister fled the country to seek refuge as a result of continued threats of violence against her. She says even some of her close relatives were also targeted with threats of violence. She says from that incident, she has vowed never to talk openly about her political decisions and to participate in campaigns.
Bongiwe Tshuma (40), another woman who is a registered voter in Bulawayo, says there is need to implement tough laws to end political violence so that women can freely participate without fearing for their lives. She says young women and girls need capacity building so that they understand the electoral playing field.
“It is important to educate girls to levels where they are assertive and have more self-realisation. This can bring a positive change to how women perceive themselves in politics and also open up dialogue on how to stand firm in electoral processes,” says Bongiwe.
Bongiwe says more effort should be put to achieve gender equity in politics so that there are more women in decision making roles. She says the current political environment is male dominated
Lungile Moyo (33), a survivor of political violence says her education was almost ruined by political violence in 2008 when she was doing her advanced level studies at a school in Filabusi, in Matabeleland South. Lungile says she is a registered voter but she has never voted because of fear.
“In 2008 when I was doing my Advanced Level studies in Filabusi, violence flared in the area as the country was drawing towards elections. At times we would be caught up in street fights as political parties fought for dominance. School authorities had to close schools after realising that our lives were in danger,” says Lungile.
Lungile says the violence she witnessed remains etched in her mind and she has told herself that participating in politics is not worth it. She says political leaders in the country treat people as their personal subjects and do not value other people’s lives.
“Some young unemployed people are ordered to burn people’s houses and harm political opponents. This is not what I want as a woman. I need a peaceful environment where I know that I am protected by the law. I need to move freely and interact freely without fear of repercussions,” says Lungile.