Let It Be Me
Last week Hon. Thabitha Khumalo, MP for Bulawayo East took off her blouse to give to an elderly woman who had been stripped by youth in Njube at a rally there. The focus in the media was that the MP took off her top not the fact that an elderly woman was stripped by hooligans, which is where the whole story is. The story is about political violence against women.
In December 2014, a young woman was stripped by touts at a kombi rank in Harare and there was an uproar from the public led by the women’s movement, leading to the arrest of one of the touts and subsequent prosecution. The same has not happened with this case. The details are that MDC-T was having rallies in Bulawayo that were disrupted by ZANU PF youth. According to Hon. Khumalo, she followed an Isuzu that was carrying youth from Magwegwe where they were holding a rally to Njube where another rally was being held and came across a group of women running away as they had been attacked by these youth. One of these women was a topless elderly woman.
The old woman ran to the police station to report the matter. Hon. Khumalo followed her and found she was being interviewed whilst only wearing a skirt - she had no blouse or bra on. Upon asking if they had a blanket or something to cover her, the police stated that they had nothing to cover her with; Hon. Khumalo graciously took off her blouse because she at least had a bra on. Hon. Khumalo in a telephone conversation said looking at the woman, who was in her late 70s, she could not continue to stand there and do nothing. “Let it be me, it was humiliating, painful and undignified for me to be in that position, but rather me than the old lady.” The fact that the police did not make any effort to cover the woman is another clear example of the patriarchal system we live in. Instead of providing protection, the police continued to violate her rights by leaving her bare chested. Hon. Khumalo said “From a moral point of view it is wrong for a woman, let alone an elderly woman to be sitting in the charge office naked while the police interview her.”
The police, instead of making an effort to go out and arrest the perpetrators after they had been given details, including licence plate numbers, they vented their anger on Hon. Khumalo, charging her with public indecency and demanding a $5 fine.
March is women’s month, it is the time when we are supposed to be more aware of women’s issues than any other time, but in this case, where is the solidarity from other women? Hon. Khumalo said that not a single woman or woman’s organisation called her to ask about what happened or to verify the media reports. There have been no statements condemning the stripping of the woman or the continuous abuse of women in the political sphere. What does this say about the state of our country? “I am not looking for recognition, but it is important to point out that when violence occurs it is mostly women who are abused.”
Is it the fact that the elderly woman was MDC and stripped by ZANU PF youth, and the issue is therefore “political”? Or is the fact that Hon. Khumalo is regarded as controversial - as she is very vocal on women’s issues, goes out of her way to demonstrate her point and is not taken seriously - the reason why there has been no solidarity? Hon. Khumalo has spoken out about the rights of sex workers and the legalisation of prostitution, this is an unpopular subject.
Regardless of this, the fact that a woman was abused in the public arena in the name of politics and another woman came to her rescue at the expense of her own dignity needs to be highlighted. Where is the sisterhood that we espouse???