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Our home and our mother: The gendering of nature in climate change discourses

By Tinashe Mawere, Henri-Count Evans & Rosemary Musvipwa

Introduction: Re/thinking climate change

Gendered scripts, gendered identities and gendered hierarchies are evident in the everyday. Gender is not inborn, but is procreated; and gendered meanings are made practical and visible through performances of the mundane (Butler 1988; Beauvoir 2010). Climate change has become an everyday discourse from which we can observe and critique the performances of gender and the re/production of gendered categories and gendered meanings. Just like nations that are recurrently configured through the iconography of familial and domestic spaces (Mawere 2019, 2016; McClintock 1993; Yuval-Davies 1997), narratives of climate change, especially those founded on Western epistemologies, have conceptualised nature and the climate within particular (white, heterosexist) familial and gendered orderings. Climate change discourses, therefore, naturalise and normalise gendered roles of feminised bodies as mothers and care givers, whose duty is based around caring for and feeding children. Within the narratives of Zimbabwean nationalism (and other nationalisms), where food and re/production are central to nationhood (Mawere 2020) feminised bodies are configured as both sources of food and sources of life (reproduction and regeneration), hence the need for their surveillance and protection is naturalised and normalised. The climate change crisis, and strategies for its mitigation, are therefore deliberately shown through the bodies of women to sensitise the importance of surveying and protecting reproductive bodies (and all feminised bodies) and to highlight the centrality (a centrality which makes surveillance and control inevitable) of feminised bodies in recovering and regeneration.

The impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme weather, affect the entire planet and the life within it. The crisis has deprived people, animals and other living organisms of food, good health and security. However, not all people have been affected equally since the crisis (just like the other current crises like the Covid 19 pandemic) has illuminated and amplified existing social classes and the power and privileges dis/associated with them. Black bodies, and mostly black women living in poor areas and disadvantaged in various ways, who (ironically) have the lowest complicity in creating the crisis, are profoundly affected. This has made them the gaze of capitalist, western and patriarchal epistemologies and mitigation processes that are focused on production and continuities. Climate crisis-induced conflicts are widespread and disadvantaged communities live under constant threats not only of droughts, floods and heatwaves, but also of ideological bankruptcy; and mis-fitting and decontextualised mitigation strategies. These problems are forms of deprivation of the freedom to survive. Unfortunately, this maintains the entire world ecosystem, which is built around the supremacy of white, capitalist heteropatriarchy. The climate crisis constitutes what Sen (1999) called ‘forms of unfreedoms,’ and adaptation action becomes an attempt to gain liberation from climate-induced deprivations. Inequality, as a form of unfreedom, is extended by the climate crisis. While it is imperative to deal with the climate crisis, it is equally vital to be careful enough not to perform and re/produce epistemological blunders that normalise and perpetuate forms of inequality and injustice, whether obvious or insidious. In line with this Pinheiro (2020) argues “A key facet of reworking and adapting our existences involves an alertness and critical sensitivity to the connections between climate change and identity vectors such as gender.” Our imaginations of nature, the climate, the climate crisis and interventions to the climate crisis should therefore be transformative.

Studies on climate change in Southern Africa have often focused on the mainstream news media and how the media have framed and re/presented the global climate crisis. This is consistent with arguments that place the media at the centre of social, economic, environmental and political discourses (Evans 2020). Considerable literature has also been written around the subject of climate change; specifically, on how and why disadvantaged populations are the ones greatly affected by climate changes (IPCC[1] 2007, 2014, 2019). A lot of literature is also available on climate change mitigation measures and adaptative measures suggested to the most vulnerable, and focusing primarily on ‘disadvantaged’ black women. For example, Babugura (2010) argued that climate change impacts were different for men and women and hence called for “gender differentiated responses”.

Although many gender scholars have critiqued the fact that ‘gender’ is often used as a synonym for ‘women’ or framed within a women-versus-men dichotomy (Djoudi et al. 2016; MacGregor 2010), the climate change policy documents that refer to gender are still based predominantly on this view. As MacGregor noted, “Rather than theorizing gender as a social and political relationship between people with masculine and feminine identities, most analyses of gender and climate change fall into the familiar trap that gender-means-women” (MacGregor 2010:124). The challenge is that if causes of inequality and vulnerability are not considered, suggested solutions will not only fail to address the problems related to climate change, but could also exacerbate underlying forms of injustices (Djoudi et al. 2016). In the same manner, if the language of climate change continues to be gendered, climate change vulnerability is likely to be seen through a gendered gaze, and solutions are likely to be both gendered and sexist, hence perpetuating existing patriarchal injustices. We believe that the gendering of climate change is heavily present in the normative language used to frame the issue, as well in how the climate change subject is aestheticised in Southern Africa.

Studies on climate change, gender and aesthetics, especially in the context of Southern Africa, are rare. Central to observe is that art has steadily risen to articulate environmental issues and artists have long been part of the environmental movement galvanised against fossil fuels and the multilateral inaction (Evans 2020).  However, it is crucial to re/think climate change discussions and focus on the language, power and gender dynamics prevalent in the narratives and aestheticisation of climate change. Such a re/thinking problematises the extent to which existing studies on climate change and climate change interventions manage to deal with questions of power and gender. It also questions how climate change concerns can adequately be dealt with outside the problems of gender and power. We argue that in order to address the issue of climate change, it is imperative to be sensitive to the gendered and sexual economies of climate change. Beyond being gender-sensitive, we believe that the language should also develop to become gender transformative. The transformative agenda entails moving “beyond individual self-improvement among women and toward transforming the power dynamics and structures that serve to reinforce gendered inequalities” (Hillebrand et al. 2015: 5). This shift is in the context that individualisation and notions of “empowerment” are often entangled with systems of racial injustice and oppression that seek to divide people (systems such as capitalism).  Such systems have underwritten a very parasitic/one-sided relationship between the Global North and Global South where the West uses paternalistic policy and strategy to maintain the status quo. We argue that the transformative agenda can be achieved by questioning the power dynamics and social structures that shape behaviours, attitudes, and norms. We further argue that language is part of those structures that build unequal power boundaries.

The Language of Climate Change and the Patriarchal Gaze

Language that feminises nature and naturalises women describes, reflects, and perpetuates unjustified patriarchal domination (Adams 1990). The official construction of climate change (especially as used in UNFCCC[2] and IPCC reports and used by major scholars of climate change), makes extensive use of the dominant patriarchal language of re/production and continuity, so as to make the subject of climate change ‘sensible’ and acceptable. This language is also extended or linked to agriculture and land use, as well as land pollution, where land is imagined as having reproductive capacity if well used, and if polluted, fails to produce, reproduce and sustain and regenerate life.

In many ways, this language of reproduction and regeneration buttresses and naturalises the prevailing gender relations and binary sexual categories in society. The use of terms such as “mother-nature” or “mother-earth” and acts of rebirthing as associated with allowing natural processes of giving life to reoccur on the damaged earth is significant to gendered identities and the complex of subordination in societies. When we consider general references to mother earth we perceive ‘her’ to be a woman, we personify ‘her’ and we take note of her ‘fragilities’ as we do human mothers. We also acknowledge all that ‘she’ does in nurturing us with her various qualities. This normalises motherhood within the parameters of fecundity, care, resource/provision, sacrifice, submission; but also situates her as vulnerable and therefore requiring surveillance and protection to enable regeneration. There is also a way in which such a language vindicates articulations that discard non-heterosexual relations as they do not fall within the ‘normative’ and ‘sensible’ discourse of reproduction and regeneration. In out-casting non-heteronormative sexualities, Robert Mugabe often referred to nature and the sensible. In his castigation of gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe, he used the example of animals where reproductive organs ‘clearly’ define sexual orientation and challenged gays and lesbians to make children if they are to be recognised and accepted[3]. The ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians has also occurred on the same terrain of the sensible and ‘natural’. Gender constructions of climate change impacts, for example, have been used to refer to ‘women victims’ and thus has worked in passivising and nominalising the agency of women in addressing the climate crisis and at the same time out-casting gender minorities.

In addition, the language of climate change, especially adaptation and sustainability discourses, has always been entrenched within the normative and patriarchal systems. The historical and cultural privileging and naturalisation of male power is implicated and acted out through notions of family (Mawere 2019, 2016; Nyambi 2012; Lewis 2002; McClintock 1993). In discourses of climate change, the earth is constructed/represented as ‘our mother’ and ‘our home’. Human beings are seen (through the processes of agriculture/consumption and industrialization/modernity) as having defiled nature and therefore risk experiencing low yields of deficient foods (consumption) and limited luxuries (modernity), making future livelihoods precarious (see Beck 1992; Foster et al. 2010, Guatarri 2000).

The need to address climate change is thus anchored in the need to preserve the reproductive and generative power of ‘our mother’ (through controlling and subordinating) so as to sustain life now and for future generations. In this way, the imagination of the climate and the language of saving the climate becomes synonymous to how nations are imagined and the language used during calls to save nations (Mawere 2019, 2016). Within the scientific domain, (IPCC, UNFCCC) reports and other scientific writings on climate change have also produced nature as feminine. The sustainability discourse itself has become a dominant intellectual force because of its appeal to common sense. Underneath the common-sense idea of allowing nature regenerative and reproductive capacity lies the embedded performance and re/production of patriarchal norms and languages.

Home and mother: Mediating the marginal and the symbolic

Reporting on the Climate Action Summit 2019 with the theme, ‘A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win’, Tarik Alam Solangi, a Research Fellow at EMRO[4], World Health Organisation, entitles the report, ‘Fight climate change: let mother earth breathe’ (Solangi 2019). In an earlier report by Sophie Yeo and Gitika Bhardwaj, entitled ‘Climate Change is Killing our Mother Earth’, there are various voices on the impacts of climate change (Yeo and Bhardwaj 2014). Earlier in the same year, in the report ‘Saving Mother Earth from Climate Change’, Adrianna Quintero, the Director of Partner Engagement at NRDC[5] says “As we approach Earth Day and our celebration of Madre Tierra (Mother Earth), most of us can’t help but be concerned about her health and the impacts that climate change is having on her and our own lives” (Quintero 2014).The above reporting on climate change is consistent with how nature has been personified and feminised.

Nature is re/constructed as our home to entail an aspect of maintenance and sustainability, as a source that sustains, reproduces us and cares for us; and a source of life. As a powerful maternal force that reproduces life, nature is perceived as in need of protection and defense. This reinforces the patriarchal ‘protection’ of women, who are maternal figures responsible for reproduction. Man has turned up to be the defender or protector of our home (nature) as well as our homes (families), hence discourses of climate change reflect a masculine project and are embedded in patriarchy. This continues the existing discourse of specific roles for each named gender (Mawere 2019; Eisenstein 2000; Peterson 2000; McClintock 1993). There have been calls for fewer emissions to allow for the next generation and regeneration of nations. These calls clearly present a metabolic relationship between nature and human beings, but the climate change discourse also presents a gendered imagining of the climate and gendered nature/human relations that hinge on the commonsensical heteronormative politics of reproduction and regeneration.

Both home and mother have conflicting identities, where they are both marginal and symbolic spaces. Ample literature has shown home and the mother as feminine. At the same time, literature has positioned the home and mother as the source of life where everyone and everything derives sustenance and where everyone turns to for reflection and regeneration. Subsequently, the home and mother have been located in the politics of reproduction and regeneration, which again feminises the space, but also calls for their protection in order to allow continuity and continuous benefits. The dominant narrative that;

women and nature are inherently linked is a tacit acceptance of their mutual exploitation. Even as we have spent decades subjugating the power of Earth, American children have been taught to address the environment as “Mother Nature.” The idea that the Earth is a parental figure because it sustains us is a comforting analogy. But what we do not learn as children…is the harm caused by gendered and sexist language that reinforce gender stereotypes and hierarchies (Milner-Barry 2015).

The re/construction of nature is a crucial aspect in understanding the gendering of climate change discourses. To invoke the protection of nature and take the subject of climate change seriously, the images of endangered nature and climate have been imagined using the images of vulnerable nations and women. Specifically, the effects of climate change have been associated with images of poor black women. From the policy documents on climate change, African women are re/presented as individualised agents that have to be empowered. Empowerment is narrowly defined as enabling women to become active participants in the ‘reproductive’ economy, or by assisting women in the roles they play in sustaining their households and communities. Empowerment strategies typically involve assisting women with microfinance, and/or with technological fixes that would make them more resilient and functional in the reproductive economy and consumer capitalism. Such ‘empowerment’ strategies are not only microcosms of broader power relations between men and women, and between the global North and South, but also work to naturalise and sustain them.

In the context of the above, most climate change narratives are normative and part of the patriarchal surveillance that naturalises and normalises gendered roles and at the same time, authorises patrols on women and all feminised bodies. Since the feminised climate and nature are portrayed as vulnerable, it is implied that all feminised bodies are vulnerable and should be watched and protected. This authorises the policing of women and other feminised bodies in societies. Narratives approximating women to nature naturalise their subordination, since nature itself is everywhere devalued and subordinated. Thus, the capitalist exploitation, transformation and even ‘protection’ of nature relates to patriarchal contexts where women’s labour and reproductive abilities are exploited for patriarchal benefits (Tiwari 2020; Merchant 1990; Ortner 1974). The devaluation of both nature and women, as well as the subsequent connection between nature and the invented qualities expected of women, was made commonsensical, leading to terms like “virgin earth,” “fertile land,” and “barren soil,” which are still dominant (Merchant 1990). In many ways, narratives on climate change enable the naturalisation and commonsensical positioning of femininity in the home and care, hence femininity is linked to reproduction and is assigned a specific space and specific duties.

Since climate change discourses position home as commonplace for femininities, it consequently naturalises home as a space for women and all feminised bodies. This is a way of trivialising women and subordinate masculinities and deterring them from participating in the public or in what are naturalised and normalised as male spaces (Mawere 2019; O’Neill, Savigny and Cann 2016). The boundaries that are drawn for women relate to their characterisation as inferior, emotional, uncontrollable, illogical, unreasonable, beautiful but destructive if not contained, hence their limitations to venture into the public space (Mawere 2019). This characterisation of women and feminised bodies is similar to the characterisation of nature, for example, during weather coverages (Milner-Barry 2015). The above calls for intersectional approaches that consider inter-alia, class, race and gender when dealing with climate change issues.

Conclusion: Climate change, aesthetics, gender and agency in Southern Africa

It is important to critique the climate change issue on how its expression and aesthetisation draws on, and re/produces dominant discourses around gender. Re/production and regeneration are part of the heteronormative lexicon prevalent in the discourse of climate change. In dealing with the subject of climate change, it is important to question on issues of representation and who has power and agency? Whom does the language of climate change give agentive power to and who is disempowered and robbed of agency? We should be careful that how we discuss climate change and how we deal with the climate change crisis does not re/produce and transport toxic knowledges and practices about gender. Studies focussing on Africa in general and Southern Africa in particular, would add to scholarly work on climate change, aesthetics, gender and probably, the African and Southern African context would offer alternative epistemologies in dealing with the climate change issue. For this reason, forms of African expression such as graffiti, songs, drama and symbolism and imagery can be important archives on African-centred research on climate change.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Eisenstein, Z. 2000. Writing bodies on the nation for the globe. In S. Rancho-Nilsson & A.M. Tétreault (eds.), Women, States and Nationalism: At Home in the Nation, 35-53.

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Endnotes 

[1] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

[2] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

[3] Speaking in Shona and commenting on gay marriages at a Zanu-Pf rally, Robert Mugabe instrumentalised the Biblical Parable of the talents and used the example of bulls and cows to evoke sensible sexual orders, “Cde Robert Mugabe speech gay marriages (2)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAw45wBj0ic

[4] Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean

[5] Natural Resources Defense Council

About the authors

Tinashe Mawere, Centre for Sexualities, AIDS & Gender (CSA&G), University of Pretoria, South Africa 

Tinashe Mawere is currently a researcher at the CSA&G. He joined the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies and the CSA&G as a Postdoctoral researcher in May 2017. His interests are on identity constructions, nationalisms, gender and sexualities and the workings of popular culture in political and social contexts. Previously, he was a Doctoral Fellow in the Programme on the Study of the Humanities in Africa (PSHA), at the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR), and a Doctoral student in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

Henri-Count Evans, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Eswatini, Eswatini

Henri-Count Evans holds a PhD in the Discipline of Media and Cultural Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His thesis is entitled: Re-articulating Media Re/presentations of Climate Change Discourse(s) in South Africa: Climate Change Politics in the Global South. He has done research work about media practice and reporting of climate change issues and sustainable development. Henri-Count Evans has co-edited the book “Knowledge for Justice: Critical Perspectives from Southern African-Nordic Research Partnerships. Cape Town, South Africa: African Minds.”, and has been section editor for the Handbook of Climate Change Resilience published by Springer under the prestigious Climate Change Management Series. He is a lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Eswatini/Swaziland. He is also the Training Development Consultant at Climate Tracker.

Rosemary Musvipwa, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Eswatini, Eswatini

Rosemary is a Journalism and Mass Communication lecturer at the University of Eswatini teaching television broadcasting, public relations and development communication. She has an interest in research about communication and sustainable development. She has a passion for empowering and mentoring youths with critical life skills, especially young girls and women with knowledge and information about their sexual and reproductive health rights (coupled with their vulnerabilities and responsibilities). She has been part of sex education and HIV life skills training projects which involved the use of theatre, drama, song and dance in high schools in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Fighting for Pure Lands: Land Purity, Polluting Figures, Male Power and Violence in Zimbabwe

by Tinashe Mawere

Introduction: Contextualizing the Zimbabwean land question

In Zimbabwe, land became a prominent political and ideological issue after colonisation in 1890; catalysed by the ‘invading’ masculine British South Africa Company (BSAC) and its violent ‘penetration’ and appropriation of land. The physical and symbolic violence that can be associated with land ‘invasion’ is gendered through the figure of Charwe, a female spirit medium housing and personifying the spirit of Nehanda, Zimbabwe’s most revered ancestral spirit. The ‘purification’ of the colonial-polluted land thus relied predominantly on the reproductive and generative capacities of Nehanda, whose bones would “rise again.”

The land ‘invasion’ led to armed struggles, primarily over land, and chimurenga became the code for each of these wars, but also a pedestal for national masculinisation and violence, as the notion of chimurenga is associated with grand masculinities and a war ethic (Mawere 2019; Vambe 2004). The First Chimurenga was waged in 1895-6 and is associated with popular ancestral figures like Nehanda, whilst the Second Chimurenga of 1964-1980 (Ranger 1967; Bhebhe 1989) is associated with the current war veterans in Zimbabwe, whose narrative has been appropriated and monopolised by the ruling Zanu-PF party. The Second Chimurenga brought independence through protracted battles between the Rhodesian Forces and the Patriotic Front armed groups, i.e. the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA).

ZIPRA was the military wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), while ZANLA was the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). In 1987, the ZAPU and ZANU merged into one party (ZANU-PF), through a Unity Accord (Bhebhe 1989). Based on the prophecy of mapfupa angu achamuka (my bones shall arise), which is ascribed to the spirit of Nehanda, the Second Chimurenga fighters have positioned themselves as the rising bones of Nehanda, or as Nehanda’s sons (Mawere 2016; Shoko 2006). This positioning imagines and entangles Zimbabwean struggles and Zimbabwean nationalism in the politics of regeneration and re/production. Those without the reproductive and generative capacities and those falling out of amadoda sibili (real men able to purify the land and restore the lost reproductive and generative capacities) (Mawere 2019, 2016; Muwati etal; Mugabe 2001), had their citizenships erased and violence authorised against them.  At the same time, fighting for the invaded land has been synonymous with fighting to restore the imagined dignity and respectability of Nehanda’s ‘raped’ womanhood, as well as to restore the masculinities and honour of national men.

Zanu-PF’s greatest challenge to power came from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was formed in the late 1990s. This strong opposition party brought about competing masculinities that challenged Zanu-PF dominance. The formation and impact of the MDC gave rise to the Third Chimurenga, led by war veterans and Zanu-PF, which is associated with the violent repossession and occupation of white-owned land. The politics of re/production that personified and gendered land became instrumental to the discourses used by the State and by Zanu-PF. I posit that land has garnered a great deal of symbolic significance, with political aesthetics playing out in physical, social, psychological, political and economic everyday spaces.

Land and the g(j)endered metaphors of re/production

In Zimbabwe, connections to land are figured profoundly in terms of gendered, biological re/production and the fecundity of the female body. In light of this strongly gendered imagining, contests over land could not be reduced to a struggle over a physical place, but a special, almost mystical affiliation to a space that inhabits history, identity and livelihood and ensures survival. Patriarchal fabrications locate land as a key marker of identity and this is why Zimbabweans are referred to as vana vevhu (children of the soil). This suggests that Zimbabweans gain complete identity by being in touch with their source, the motherland, vindicating the government’s efforts to repossess land and get rid of national pollutants. In this logic, land symbolises statehood and nationhood, whilst its absence signifies the absence of both. In discourses of land, there is a re-telling, re/production and repeated performance of naturalised power configurations, gender and sexualities that propels belonging and citizenship. Beyond the materiality of land, deeper and affective symbolic discourses ensuring the survival of patriarchy are capitalised.

Just like nationalism, the land question, which is core to Zimbabwean nationalism, “has sprung from masculinised memory, masculinised humiliation and masculinised hope” (Enloe 1989:44). It is in this sense that land is tied to both “gendered” and “jendered”[1] metaphors of re/production. “Gendered” refers to the associations of land with hierarchical differences in and performances of masculinity and femininity, while “jendered” refers to the use of the testicles, which implies the forceful and violent enactment of masculine power and patriarchy (Mawere 2019, 2016). The appropriation of land, and the language of appropriation by the state and Zanu-PF, echoes a patriarchal enforcement of gendered and sexual categories. Talking of land in nationalist terms implicitly communicates naturalised gender and sexual meanings and behaviours that are acceptable to the state. Land, which traditionally provides space for sustenance, also manifests as a space for the performance of power, and a space for struggles around citizenship and gender.

The re/construction of the Zimbabwean nation, as founded on the land question, provides a space for the institutionalisation and naturalisation of sexual categories and gendered differences, and the naturalisation of knowledge around productivity, re/distribution and survival. The Zimbabwean land question is thus imagined in terms of g(j)endered metaphors of re/production that oscillate around conventions within heterosexual-familial space, where male power and patriarchal violence are tied to land re/productivity. This has sensualised permissible and natural sexualities and has given rise to particular g(j)endered hierarchies where those that are feminised and perceived as without testicles are marginalised. In a bid to maintain what is permissible and natural, “jendered” male power is instrumentalised to rid the land of polluting figures and thereby restore land purity.  Thus, the identity of land as a political signifier and a space where violence is performed has been, to a great extent, acted out through gendered and sexualised national bodies. Thus, the discourse around land, and land and re/production perform surveillance and discipline on the genders, sexualities and power of national bodies.

In dominant ‘nationalist’ texts, there is a symbiotic relationship akin to marriage, where land acquires a feminine identity associated with fecundity and national re/production. Articulated in these texts is a naturalised connection between land and the people, but also between Zanu-PF, the custodian of the land, and the people, who are both fathered by Zanu-PF and also identified as children of the soil (vana vevhu). At the same time, Zimbabwean citizens embody a national purity which runs according to Zanu-PF’s patriarchal imaginations and dissenting voices are thus imagined as pollutants and consequently denied citizenship.

Polluting figures and g(j)endered power

The opposition party MDC has been positioned as a pollutant, a threat to the purity and the re/productive and generative capacities of the Zimbabwean nation. A discourse of protection over feminised land aligned with Zanu-PF, against the incursion of the MDC, emerged in the post-2000 period. However, it is a resurgence and recirculation of historic discourses constructing feminised land, first established by British imperial imaginings of the colonised territories as feminised sites ready for British men’s conquest. Zimbabwean anti-colonial fiction, for example, Feso and Pfumoreropa by Solomon Mutswairo and Patrick Chakaipa respectively, is replete with portraits of land as female subject needing protection by valiant sons of the soil against the white intruder. So, the shift here is the notion of some indigenous sons as traitors and unworthy of the land; in the tensions between MDC and Zanu-PF, which were either prefigured in the Nkomo-Mugabe or ZANLA-ZIPRA conflicts that resulted in the Gukurahundi, where an estimated 20 000 civilians in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland and Midlands provinces were killed by the state.

Tagging Zimbabwe with familial notions, the feminization of land and the ‘jambanja’ (violence) associated with land takeover as Third Chimurenga gives moral justification to Zanu-PF in its fight against national penetration, allegedly aided by the polluted oppositional voices like the MDC. As in war situations and family defense, enemies have to be vanquished. The attacks on pollutants are performed through the techno-politics of some Zanu-PF jingles such as ‘Tinoda kudeleta Machinja ose’ (We want to wipe off all MDC members). [2] The grotesquely technical term ‘delete’ used in the jingle conjures visual images of violent annihilation of people refusing to conform to Zanu-PF nationhood and those supporting the MDC, as one can relate ‘delete’ to how one gets rid of unwanted texts from the popular mobile cell phones (Mawere 2016). As dissent has been feminised in a nation requiring amadoda sibili and sexualised outside heteronormativity in a nation focused on reproduction and regeneration, violence against oppositional figures is authorised. I concur with Manganga (2011) that in a new millennium Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF perceive male respectability and responsibility as instrumental in the surveillance of bodies and protection of ‘national interests’ by any means necessary, and it would mean eliminating enemies. This echoes earlier sentiments by Muchemwa and Muponde (2007:2) that in the post-2000 epoch, “…outside the war ethic, driven by an excess of masculinity, individuals whose gender does not contribute to the war economy are under threat.” This is because they do not serve the projected image of the Zimbabwean nation, which needs masculine figures.

The state and Zanu-PF have thus feminised certain men who cannot perform the expected male roles and whose characters fail to act “manly”, hence their re/invention as homosexuals in a hetero-normative nation whose thrust is centred around and towards purity, fertility, re/production and regeneration (Mawere 2019, 2016). The construction of oppositional voices as homosexuals is symbolic of how some men are perceived as failing to tally with the national project of regeneration and reproduction. The conflict between Zanu-PF and the MDC thus reflects a longer history in Zimbabwe and Southern African politics; a history characterised by male-led political parties where the national project becomes a phallocratic contest between men over a feminised national citizenry, and by extension, over land.

Conclusion

Although most literature discusses land as a physical, historical and economic space, I posit that land has garnered a significant deal of symbolic significance and political aesthetics, playing out in physical, social, psychological, political and economic everyday spaces. Land, in its feminised discursive nature, is constructed as a pure source for male satisfaction and requiring strong/masculine security. The land, once taken over by white-male British settlers, was ‘bastardised’ and the wars of liberation were, therefore, an attempt to reconfigure the ‘purity’ and sanctity of land, now as a re/productive figure and also ‘our mother’. Similarly, the hegemonic nature of the Zimbabwean state has relied on re/constructing the white settlers, and ‘now’ local opposition political figures, as polluting figures whose agenda was to poison the ‘land’ and dispossess it of its food, re/production and ‘motherly nurturing’ roles.

References

Bhebe, N. 1989. “The Nationalist Struggle, 1957-1962”, in C. Banana, ed. Turmoil and Tenacity: Zimbabwe, 1890-1990, Harare: The College Press:50-115.

Chakaipa, P. 1961. Pfumoreropa. Harare: Longman.

Enloe, C. 1989. Bananas, beaches and bases: Making feminist sense of international politics. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

Manganga, K. 2011, Masculinity (dodaism), gender and nationalism: The case of the Salisbury bus boycott, September 1956. In Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni & James Muzondidya (eds.), Redemptive or grotesque nationalism? Rethinking contemporary politics in Zimbabwe, Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 133-134.

Mawere, T. 2019. Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations), the 2018 Zimbabwean E(r)ections and the Aftermath. Pretoria: CSA&G Press.

Mawere, T. 2016. Decentering Nationalism: Representing and Contesting Chimurenga in Zimbabwean Popular Culture. Thesis (PhD). University of the Western Cape.

Mutswairo, S. 1982. Feso. Harare: Longman

Muwati, I., Mheta, G. & Gambahaya, Z. 2010, Contesting ‘patriotic history’: Zimbabwe’s liberation war history and the democratization agenda, South African Journal of African Languages, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 170-179.

Ranger, T. 1967. Revolt in Southern Rhodesia: A Study in African Resistance. London: Heinemann.

Shoko, T. 2006. ““My bones shall rise again”: War veterans, spirits and land reform in Zimbabwe.” African Studies Centre, 68.

Vambe, M.T. 2004, Versions and sub-versions: Trends in Chimurenga musical discourses of post-independence Zimbabwe, African study monographs, vol. 25, no. 4, pp 167-193.

Footnotes

[1] After Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC got more votes than Robert Mugabe of Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections, one Zanu-PF youth who was leading a pro-Mugabe campaign team of more than 200 Zanu-PF supporters ahead of the run-off election bulldozed into a bar where I was among some patrons. Wielding a big Okapi knife, the youth declared “Mugabe panyanga zvejende!!” Panyanga is a Shona word literally meaning, at the horns. In the Zimbabwean everyday language, it means being at the top/helm. The Shona word for testicle is jende and zvejende literally means using testicles, but in the Zimbabwean everyday language, it means use of brute and masculine force to demonstrate one’s manhood (Mawere 2016).

[2] Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_mMYWsz_mE

(Un)masking other dangerous pandemics within the Covid-19 lockdown

By Tinashe Mawere

Introduction: Silencing ‘disobedient’ voices

On 13 May 2020, some youths from Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the MDC Alliance, performed a flash demonstration in Warren Park D, in Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital city). They were protesting against the state’s failure to provide care and sustenance for the disadvantaged and vulnerable during the Covid-19 lockdown. Later on, reports emerged that three women, namely, the Member of Parliament for Harare West, Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, who had been part of the demonstration, had been arrested and were in police custody. These women were accused of breaking the rules and regulations of the Covid-19 lockdown. The police, through a government-run and pro-government newspaper, the Herald, confirmed the arrest. In a story published in the Herald, the National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Paul Nyathi, confirmed: “the police arrested the three in Harare today in connection with an illegal demonstration, which occurred in Warren Park earlier in the day. They are in our custody and we are still making further investigations into the issue,” (Maphosa 2020). Subsequently, details emerged that the three women could not be traced and the police and government officials denied having ever arrested them. After two days, there were reports that the women had been found dumped on the outskirts of Bindura, some 120km away from Harare, and that they had been beaten up, forced to drink each other’s urine and sexually harassed by state security agents.[1]

Within this story, there are contestations, with state authorities claiming that the abduction was stage-managed to damage the national image of the country[2] while the women were claiming to have been abducted and tortured because they had protested against the government. With the Zimbabwean state having a history of abducting and torturing oppositional voices (Mukoko 2016; Wilkins 2012; Sachikonye 2011), and earlier acknowledgement by the police that the trio had been arrested, the issue remains sensitive and there have been calls for independent investigations into the matter. In the midst of all this, the deputy minister in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Energy Mutodi, posted a very interesting Tweet with regards to how the women found themselves in the troublesome situation. I posit that Mutodi’s Tweet reveals the considerable extent to which masculine authoritarianism and patriarchy remain deeply embedded in the nation of Zimbabwe.

Mutodi’s Tweet: Prototyping the sexualities of woman-public figures

Mutodi’s Tweet read as follows: “Details emerge MDC youths Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova & Cecilia Chimbiri went out for a romantic night to Bindura with their lovers who are artisanal miners. They parked their car at a police station for safety but tragedy struck when they demanded foreign currency for services” (Energy Mutodi Tweet May 20, 2020).[3]

Since stories of abduction are not new, as shown by scholars above, I locate abductions as discourses of state-making in Zimbabwe. Whether real or re/imagined, abductions are part of the ‘everyday’ and are discourses and performances of the Zimbabwean nation that should be problematised. However, rather than focusing on the raging debate about whether this particular abduction was real or stage-managed, in this work, I focus on the above abduction story as a discourse of state-craft. Mutodi’s Tweet can be located discursively within the broader politics of gender, the silencing of women, and the mis/representation of women and women’s images in dominant patriarchal texts of imagining the nation. This discursive analysis exposes that Mutodi’s Tweet re/represents and performs the prevailing and naturalised surveillance of women and women’s bodies that characterises Zimbabwe and other patriarchal societies. The Tweet was meant not only to shame and silence the three women politically, but also to silence the impetus narrative of women abuses in Zimbabwe, to silence women’s political and public participation, as well as to silence women’s sexualities and sexual liberties. Moreover, the Tweet produced the effect of cementing existing and dominant patriarchal narratives pertaining to women and their identities and also their place and space within the nation.

Normalising dominant images of women: “…went out for a romantic night…”

As a public and official figure, deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Mutodi’s Tweet epitomises the position of the state and reveals and drives public opinion. His expression that “MDC youths Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova & Cecilia Chimbiri went out for a romantic night to Bindura” should not be read as misplaced satire, but rather as satire that is re/produced within and is performing particular dominant knowledges and culture. The lack of empathy that the Zimbabwean state has towards women who experience abuses, especially sexual abuses, is revealed in the Tweet. Also revealed is the lack of seriousness and the denials that the state makes on cases of women abuse, especially sexual violence. In Zimbabwe, many cases of women abuse are not reported, while others are not attended to (Mashiri & Mawire 2013; Shamu et al 2013) because of this denial.

Since Mutodi draws attention to the women’s unexpected romantic outing, there is a clear perpetuation of dominant discourses that associate ‘obedient’ women with the home and the private space, thereby shifting the blame on the survivors of abuse for inviting trouble to themselves by venturing into the public space. The glaring patriarchal narrative in the Tweet is clear. Mutodi is simply articulating that the home and the private is the only appropriate space for women, and that public spaces are unsafe, hence women who cross boundaries have themselves to blame if they get into trouble, or if they face the precariousness of the public space. This is a continuation of the Zimbabwean state’s actions where operations that criminalise the ‘unsanctioned’ presence of women in public spaces (like streets, for example) are implemented (Masakure 2016, Mawere 2016; Gaidzanwa 1993). Following Mutodi’s Tweet, and dominant knowledge around images of women, only those women who are defiant, liars, poisonous/evil and with sexual liberties get into trouble (Mawere 2019, 2016; Sathyamurthy 2016; Gaidzanwa 1985).

To destroy the political aspirations and social standing of women, patriarchy turns to the discourse of sexuality, where it banks on the normalised script of women’s sexual purity (Mawere 2019). This is a very strong weapon, considering how female sexuality is a social taboo and how making it public erodes respectable notions of womanhood. In Mutodi’s Tweet, associating the women with an act of the ‘night’ invites the public to view them as sex workers. In a society like Zimbabwe, where sex work is stigmatised, this is a deliberate aim to position the women as social deviants and as poisonous to the nation. With such alleged impurity, the women cannot fit into ideas of archetypal womanhood that comply with Zimbabwe’s expected ‘mothers of the nation’ (Mawere 2019; Chadya 2003; Hunter 2000). This discourse of impurity, often associated with women in politics, those who come into the public arena and those with ‘voices’, associates women with negative images such as those of ‘whores.’ Considering the patriarchal identity that remains central to Zimbabwean nationhood, this robs the three women (and any other woman who dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries) of social and national standing. Associating them with the ‘night’ reduces them to the common media image of ‘ladies of the night’, which is typically associated with transactional sex and the poisoning of national men and nationhood. The same method has been used to shatter the political ambitions of Zimbabwean women like Grace Mugabe, Thokozani Khupe, and Joice Mujuru, who have been delegitimised in the eyes of the Zimbabwean public, primarily because of their perceived transgression of patriarchal rules (Mawere 2019).

The public, official and yet insensitive nature of Minister Mutodi’s sentiments reflects a misogynistic society that has, for years, normalised and typified the identities of women. Mutodi is requesting the society to pass moral, cultural and national judgements on the case at hand. In patriarchal societies, there tend to be strong sentiments that women invite trouble for themselves, owing to their wayward characters and/or failure to conform to expectations. Survivors of rape and gender-based violence are usually blamed for inviting the perpetrator, hence cases of sexual violations have been peripherised. Mutodi’s Tweet confirms the official and societal view that stories of women abuse, sexual violence and other violations are manufactured or part of the package for their deviance. This is a backlash against efforts that are being made to raise awareness of the existence and ugliness of these issues.

(Un)mothering defiant women: “…the lovers are artisanal miners…”

Considering the public and media image of makorokoza (artisanal miners) in Zimbabwe, the association of Joana, Cecilia and Netsai with artisanal miners is used to erase them from the narrative of mothers of the nation. This association confirms the women to be immoral, careless, dirty and pathogenic. This is in the context of the negative images that characterise artisanal miners in Zimbabwe.

Although artisanal miners at times possess large sums of money from their mining activities, they are frequently accused of spending it recklessly on alcohol and commercial sex workers. By and large, makorokoza are associated with social deviance, carelessness, dirt, and diseases, especially sexually-transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS. A narrative that links the three women with artisanal miners simultaneously delinks them with the imagined mothers of the nation. The deputy minister’s assertion that the women’s “lovers are artisanal miners” therefore sensualises an imagination of the three women’s contamination.

Mutodi’s Tweet can thus be regarded as a way of presenting Joana, Cecilia, Netsai and all ‘disobedient’ women not only as morally, socially and physically diseased, but also as politically diseased and inadequate to offer anything positive to the nation. This is especially true in the context where Zimbabwean ‘black’ women symbolise “an uncontaminated essence, the custodian of ancestral traditions” that co-exists with them being symbolically coded with land and its ‘purity’” (Lewis, 2004:198). To push Lewis’s idea further, in the Zimbabwean state’s macho nation-building projects that are characterised by the symbolic configuration of womanhood for masculine political projects, such as being ‘mothers of the nation,’ women’s sexual activities that are disassociated with national re/production and focused on satisfying women’s own pleasures are debased. This speaks to cultural taboos and claims that view sexual pleasure and freedom as dangerous and irresponsible for womanhood (McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982).

Mutodi was, therefore, deliberately asserting that abuses of women who are dirty and national pollutants do not deserve national attention, and ultimately, that the women do not deserve justice. He was calling for the wider Zimbabwean society to dismiss allegations that the women had been abused. As members of the MDC Alliance, their contaminated nature and inadequacy, which is buttressed by their physical contact with the ‘pathogenic’ artisanal miners, mirrors the contaminated nature and inadequacy of their party, hence inviting citizens to ditch the polluted and polluting party.

Evoking “Karma is a bitch”: “…tragedy struck when they demanded foreign currency for services”

Mutodi buttresses his assertion that the three women are defiled national bodies by locating them within discourses of transactional sex. For him, what befell these women is normal and expected, given the space they had chosen to occupy. In many ways, Mutodi is not only aligning himself with the insensitivity of the state towards commercial sex workers, but is also avowing that sex workers should not have agency and justice in Zimbabwean society, where the sexual purity of women is valued. The intention of this narrative is likely aimed at tainting the three women’s (and all oppositional women’s) social, political and national and images.

In addition, Mutodi’s insensitive patriarchal narration of what befell the three women reveals the ‘common-sense’ discourse of women, which constructs young urban women and particularly women in politics as ‘prostitutes’ (Mawere 2019; Gaidzanwa 1985) as he identifies them as providers of sexual services. This is very disturbing, especially in the context where the women made claims of sexual harassment and assault. What is apparent in Mutodi’s use of discourse is that the women got into trouble as a consequence of breaking the boundaries and demarcations of national (patriarchal) space. Mutodi’s Tweet is therefore, very significant and instrumental to the socio-economic and political control of all women, as it demonstrates the consequences of disobedience. Controlling women’s bodies and sexualities through public ‘acts’ that other citizens can witness is a very powerful metaphor of cultural surveillance and state control (Mawere 2016). Through the Tweet, the deputy minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services in the Zimbabwean state is simply acting out the control of women and their bodies and warning women and other subjects of the nation that they are under national surveillance.

Conclusion: The common narrative

Dominant patriarchal narratives suppress women’s public participation, female pleasure and female freedoms by constructing female eroticism as unspeakable (Mawere 2019; Birrell 2008; Ranciere 2006; McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982). Following the above therefore, the public space is positioned as unsuitable for women and what befell the three women who had ‘escaped’ from their confinements is a result of the taboo acts of being at wrong places, seeking erotic pleasure and ‘transacting’ their sexual ‘purity’ for money. The women’s participation in oppositional politics is equated to ‘selling out’ their bodies and therefore making them defiled national bodies who deserve punishment and who are not worth any national sympathy or agency.

Mutodi’s and the state’s reason for shaming the three women is to limit the contagious possibilities of their ‘rebellious’ bodies. It is clear that women who break spatial boundaries and occupy public spaces that are dominated by, and seen as the preserve for men, are associated with sexual freedoms and are thus seen as threats to societies since sexual freedoms have been associated with defiance and power. The erotic is a crucial source of power and agency for women and its suppression is instrumental to the reproduction of patriarchal systems (Mawere 2016; McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982). The close ties between sexuality and power make sexual pleasure and eroticism fields of political significance (McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982). Silencing women by embarrassing them through the exposition of their real or imagined sexual behaviours to the public is characteristic of Zimbabwean politics (Mawere 2019).

In a context where respect and honour for women is tied closely to their ability to keep their sexual lives private, such exposures are meant to undress (discursively and at bodily levels) the women, shame them and take away their agentive power. Mutodi’s attempts to embarrass the three women portray an image where the sexualities of the three women are contaminated. This enables him to naturalise and sensualise the confinement of “serious national women” and “Mothers of the Nation” to private and domestic spaces. This is clearly a surveillance of the three women’s and any woman’s political and public participation. What we witness in Mutodi’s Tweet is ultimately a spectacle of the other dangerous pandemics besides Covid-19 that require urgent questioning and critique. These dangerous pandemics include state repression, gender violence, toxic and patriarchal nation-building projects and many forms of physical, structural and symbolic violence.

Bibliography

Birrell, R. 2008, Jacques Rancière and the (Re) distribution of the sensible: Five lessons in Artistic Research, Art & Research: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1-11.

Chadya, J.M. 2003, Mother politics: Anti-colonial nationalism and the woman question in Africa, Journal of Women’s History, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 153-157.

Gaidzanwa, R. 1993, The politics of the body and the politics of control: An analysis of class, gender and cultural issues in student politics at the University of Zimbabwe, Zambezia, vol 2, no. 2, pp 15-33.

Gaidzanwa, R. 1985, Images of Women in Zimbabwean Literature. Harare: College Press.

Hunter, E. 2000, Zimbabwean nationalism and motherhood in Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning, African Studies, vol. 59, pp. 229-243.

Lewis, D. 2004, Revisioning patriarchal nationalism: Yvonne Vera’s ‘Nehanda’, JCAS Symposium series 20. pp 193-208.

Lorde, A. 1982, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. In Zami/Sister Outsider/Undersong, New York: Quality Paperback Book Club.

Masakure, C. 2016, ‘We will make sure they are rehabilitated’: Nation-building and social engineering in Operation Clean-up, Zimbabwe, 1983, South African Historical Journal, vol. 68, no.1, pp 91-111.

Mashiri, L & Mawire, P. 2013, Conceptualisation of gender-based violence in Zimbabwe, International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 3, no. 15, pp 94-103.

Mawere, T. 2019, Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations), the 2018 Zimbabwean E(r)ections and the Aftermath. Pretoria: CSA&G Press.

Mawere, T. 2016, Decentering Nationalism: Representing and Contesting Chimurenga in Zimbabwean Popular Culture, PhD Dissertation. Cape Town: University of the Western Cape.

McFadden, P. 2003, Sexual pleasure as feminist choice, Feminist Africa, issue 2, pp. 50-60.

Mukoko, J. 2016, The Abduction and trial of Jestina Mukoko: the fight for human rights in Zimbabwe, Sandton: KMM Review Publishing

Ranciere, J. 2006, The politics of aesthetics, Trans. Gabriel Rockhill, with an afterword by Slavoj Zizek, London: Continuum.

Sachikonye, L.M. 2011, When a state turns on its citizens. Institutionalized violence and political culture, South Africa: Jacana Media.

Sathyamurthy, K. 2016, “Femme Fatale: Tropes of deviant sexuality and empowerment” (Available at https://go.distance.ncsu.edu/gd203/?p=17783 , accessed 20 April 2020).

Shamu, S. et. al. 2013, Opportunities and obstacles to screening pregnant women for intimate partner violence during antenatal care in Zimbabwe, Culture, Health and Sexuality: An International Journal for Research, Intervention and Care, vol. 15, no. 5, pp 511-524.

Maphosa, V.  2020, “MDC-A legislator Mamombe, 2 others arrested” Herald, 14 May 2020 (Available at https://www.herald.co.zw/mdc-a-legislator-mamombe-2-others-arrested/, accessed 20 July 2020).

Wilkins, S. 2012, Ndira’s wake. Politics, memory and mobility among the youth of Mabvuku, Harare, MSc Dissertation, Oxford: University of Oxford.

Footnotes

[1] Abducted MDC Joana Mamombe and Cecilia Chimbiri speak on the painful ordeal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7VpFpemjkI

[2] Zimbabwe accuses MDC activists of made up state torture claims https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/04/zimbabwe-accuses-mdc-activists-of-made-up-state-torture-claims

[3]  Energy Mutodi’s Tweet can be found on the following link; https://www.google.com/search?q=mutodi+twitter*joana+mamombe+abduction&rlz=1C1GCEU_enZA897ZA897&sxsrf=ALeKk01n9XLS4NR76J9vP5NYrLn0yPAM8w:1597319230433&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjxosrqjZjrAhXDoXEKHXIdC0wQ_AUoAXoECAwQAw&biw=1366&bih=657#imgrc=qOaoCGXJFZxxuM

The J(g)endered nation: Zimbabwe’s heroic and macho-currencies

by Tinashe Mawere

Introduction: Heroism and national masculinities

Contestations around national heroism have been rampant in Southern Africa in general and in Zimbabwe in particular (Mawere 2016; Becker 2011; Willems 2010; Goredema & Chigora 2009; Kriger 1995). In Zimbabwe, apart from being buried at national monuments, being commemorated on specific days and having structures and institutions named after them, heroic figures have featured in national (his)tories and artistic compositions such as songs, poems, plays and novels (Mawere 2016; Chitando 2005; Mugabe 2001). A number of scholars have reflected on the contested identities of heroes and subversions of heroism and heroic acts (Mawere 2019, 2016; Ndlovu-Gatsheni & Willems 2009; Goredema & Chigora 2009).

Clear enough is that globally, national heroism has been attached to nation-craft, but in Zimbabwe, this has been very much pronounced. The connotations of heroism have been attached to notions of struggles or chimurenga[1] which is foundational to Zimbabwean nationhood (Mawere 2019, 2016; Vambe 2004). The conflation of nationhood with chimurenga, which is re/imagined as violent reactions to national attacks that are acted out by the nation’s amadoda sibili/varume chaivo chaivo (real men) is problematic in relation to the ways in which masculinities are re/imagined in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Due to its association with heroism and violent nationhood, rather than being associated with attributes and qualities that boys and men have or do not have, masculinity has landed as a field of discursive inquiry, connected to broader issues of knowledge re/production that are associated with socio-economic and political issues of dominance, oppression, inequalities and violence.

Apart from formal narratives imbibing or contesting Zimbabwean heroism and its performance and re/production of state-craft, in the face of hyper-inflation, Zimbabwe’s currency regime has performed and re/produced how Zimbabwean heroism and nationalism are re/imagined. In this work, by analysing the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s 2006 initiative, ‘Zero to Hero’, I show an unfolding spectacle of Zimbabwean heroism and masculinity. I demonstrate how Zimbabwe’s currency and its ‘chimurenga’ or struggle against the ‘targeted’ crushing and loss of its value-mirror manliness, militarism and notions of masculinities that are foundational to Zimbabwe’s imagi(nation). This ultimately adds to the configuration of Zimbabwe as a j(g)endered nation – a nation founded, performed and re/produced through ‘politics dzejende’ (the politics of the balls/violence) and the politics of gender (Mawere 2019, 2016).

‘From Zero to Hero’: Re/reading the Zimbabwean currency inside the chimurenga

From the 2000s, Zimbabwe saw unprecedented and world-record-breaking levels of inflation (Kangira 2007; Muzondidya 2009). As part of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s 2006 intervention to curb hyper-inflation, which then was at over 1000%, Gideon Gono, the RBZ governor, established and implemented some programs for curbing inflation and strengthening the Zimbabwean currency, popularly known as the Zim dollar. Some of these measures have continued to be applied to a corpus of Zimbabwe’s pseudo-currencies such as bearer cheques, bond notes and the RTGS (Real-Time Gross Settlement).

On 31 July 2006, the state, through the RBZ governor, Gono, announced a Monetary Policy Review Statement branded ‘Sunrise: A New Beginning/Zuva Rabuda (Shona)/Ilanga Seliphumile (Ndebele)’, which was also known as ‘Operation Sunrise’.[2] “Gono gave the impression that the Monetary Statement was a panacea to all the economic woes bedeviling Zimbabwe” (Kangira 2007:23). I posit that ‘sunrise’ framed Zimbabwe within the nationalist discourse of a new nation coming out of the dark tunnel of ‘foreign’ manipulation and naming it an ‘operation’, a war strategy, sensualised militarisation of the ‘sunrise’. The victorious currency announced by Gono was therefore some symbolic imagi(nation) of a new Zimbabwe that had militantly redeemed itself from ‘Western’ control. This spectacle was synonymous to the popular Hero’s Day Celebrations which also marked Zimbabwe as a ‘new beginning’ coming out of the heroic chimurenga struggles.

Gono popularised the ‘Zero to Hero’ (Mawere 2016; Kangira 2007) advertising campaign, which was meant to restore the value of the Zimbabwean currency and therefore masculinise and ‘empower’ it. This meant the slashing of three zeros from the Zimbabwean dollar denominations, where $1000 became $1 but still maintained its value. This was done “to make people believe that once the three zeros were removed from the currency, all economic problems would be a thing of the past” (Kangira 2007:23). Kangira used rhetoric analysis to show the state’s and Gono’s attempt to create a ‘common ownership of the economic crisis’ and a common bond among people to fight the crisis through his analysis of ‘together words’, buzzwords and an emotive call. He reads ‘Zero to Hero’ as a failed attempt to envision a strong and stable Zimbabwean currency.

I go beyond Kangira (2007)’s rhetoric analysis by reading the monetary re/vision as an ideological base re/producing and performing Zimbabwean masculinities and militarism, which are the hallmarks of Zimbabwean nationhood, especially in times of crises and alleged adversaries (Mugabe 2001). This reading confirms the state’s view that the apparent weakness or feminisation of the currency, which also translates to the weakening and emasculation of Zimbabwe, was a result of ‘foreign’ attacks on the Zimbabwean nation. The removal of zeros was therefore symbolic of and dramatised amadoda sibili’s politics dzejende (necessary masculine aggression) against the emasculation of the nation. Thus, the masculinisation and militarisation of the currency was a call to masculinise and militarise the nation to dispel ‘foreign’ aggression and the feminisation of the nation since a weak nation can easily be ‘penetrated’ by others. This is very sensitive in the context where being ‘penetrated’ is synonymous with being controlled.

The campaign was massive and it featured on television, radio and newspaper advertisements (Mawere 2016). The timing of this campaign was therefore not accidental, but well appropriate within the expected and intended discourse of nationhood. The new denominations took effect on the first of August 2006, in the obvious knowledge that in Zimbabwe, the month of August is regarded as the month of heroes since the Heroes Day is on the 11th of August. The struggle, rising, militancy and victory of the currency (which had been ‘imprisoned’ and puppeteered by ‘foreign’ nations) was a semblance of the heroic Zimbabwean nation which was founded on militancy nationalism (chimurenga).

It is also crucial to problematise Gono’s choice of the hero terminology. The notion of “Zero to Hero” is as controversial as the notion of heroism in Zimbabwean state-craft and which has been associated with national masculinities, ‘amadoda sibili’ and militarism, since the Zimbabwean hero is broadly re/imagined as militant (Mawere 2019; Vambe 2004). When unpacking masculinities, it is crucial to focus on how they are perceived and how they are performed and re/produced. I argue that Zimbabwean masculinities are re/presented in symbols and objects through a discursive analysis of heroism as a symbol of masculinity and the resistance, struggle and victory of the Zimbabwean currency regime as performances of heroism and therefore, of national masculinities.

The RBZ initiative therefore, was not related only to the masculinisation or strengthening of the currency, but also to a re/production of masculinities that perform Zimbabwean nationalism. Restoring the value of money became an affective and insidious reorientation on the ‘value’ of masculinity and militarism in Zimbabwe, since the ‘victorious’ currency was equated to the nation’s heroic and militant history, symbols and figures. Threats by ‘outside forces’ to the currency’s value were positioned as a manifestation of ‘foreign’ threats on national masculinities and therefore, a disruption of nationhood. Zimbabwe’s re/invention of macho-currencies amidst a ‘struggle’ against the allegedly ‘foreign’ engineered devaluation and economic lapse falls in line with Zimbabwe’s j(g)endered nationalism: a national identity that thrives on the politics of the balls and militarism. Zimbabwe’s currency regime, especially in the post-2000 era is, therefore, a spectacle of Zimbabwean militant masculinities which are foundational to Zimbabwean nationhood. Performances of heroism and nationhood (such as the masculinisation and militarisation of the Zimbabwean currency regime) help to illustrate how citizenship, gender, and sexual scripts; and cultures and knowledges of dominance, entitlement and violence are re/produced and performed.

Re/Valuing hegemonic and violent masculinities

In Zimbabwe and many other nations, men and particular performances of masculinity are given more value than women and femininity and this explains why betrayal and weakness are often associated with women and femininity (Mawere 2019, Sithole 1970). Proverbs such as uyo murume chaiye (that one is a man), which is used to praise both men and women who would have proven to the ‘society’ that they are extra-ordinary, are part of the everyday in Zimbabwe. These help to prove the different values that are associated with men and women as well as masculinity and femininity. The feminisation and homosexualisation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its leaders in Zimbabwe, the historical feminisation of the nationalist, Joshua Nkomo by fabricating stories that he escaped the government of Robert Mugabe while dressed in a petticoat (Mawere 2020, 2019, 2016; Nkomo 2001) exemplify metaphors of weakness and the hierarchical positioning of masculinity and femininity in Zimbabwe.

The performance of the masculinities of the Zimbabwean currency regime centralises male domination and masculine violence in nation-craft. Adding and violently-enforcing value to the Zimbabwean currency regime is an act of naturalising and normalising hegemonic and violent masculinities in Zimbabwean nation-craft. This aestheticisation of Zimbabwe’s state-craft invokes Ranciere (2006)’s ‘distribution of the sensible’, which is “…the system of divisions and boundaries that define, among other things, what is visible and audible within a particular aesthetic-political regime” (Ranciere 2006:1) and therefore makes politics performative. The cultural promotion of masculinities naturalises the subjugation of women and the feminisation of others in Zimbabwe’s game of power and discourses of development. The militarisation of the Zimbabwean currency, in line with the nation’s militarisation of heroes, extends militarism and Zimbabwe’s war ethic to the economic zone, turning livelihoods into real war zones. Vulnerable groups are drawn into war without consent, without being prepared and without the necessary resources to maneuver in situations of combat and conflict. Much literature has reflected, for example, on how women are abused, victimised, mis/represented and dishonored during wars and nation-building projects (Manganga 2011; Charumbira 2008; Chung 2006; Lewis 2004; Chadya 2003; Nhongo-Simbanegavi 2000; Anthias & Yuval-Davis 1989; Cock 1989). Understanding the Zimbabwean economy as a war zone (as shown by the militant and masculine Zimbabwean currency) thus enables us to re/think the position of women and other disempowered populations in the struggle for livelihoods.

Subverting national masculinities

There have been subversive voices contesting the state narrative of heroism, leading to a rejection of some of the people iconised by the state such as Chenjerai Hunzvi, Border Gezi and others (Mawere 2016). This counter narrative has also produced alternative heroes. Ibhetshu LikaZulu, a subversive group in Bulawayo attempted to celebrate Gwasela and Gayigusvu, ‘state dissidents’, as heroes during the National Heroes Holidays in 2009. Some MDC members allegedly ‘assassinated’ by security agents such as Tonderai Ndira (nicknamed Commander/Serge/Sergeant) have also been identified as heroes by the MDC. This demonstrates the complex ways in which people receive the hero status and reflects that people do not just accept dominant meanings that make no sense in their lives (Mawere 2016; Wilkins, 2012). The state-driven representations and performances of heroism and masculinities are ridiculed in the popular mockery of Gideon Gono’s intervention measure to fight inflation in Zimbabwe.

Gideon Gono was satirically called Giden Gn, after removing the three Os (the likeness of zeroes) in his names (Mawere 2016). This iconoclastic humour, analogous to Bakhtin (1994)’s Rabelaisian laughter visualises how ordinary people contest dominant heroism and the glaring vulgarity, simplicity, fictitious and irrationality of its masculinities. The laughter has continued throughout the years as the Zimbabwean government fictitiously gave value to bearer’s cheques, bonds, RTGs that it has used as currency or legal tender, with at one point in time, the 1 bond being at par with 1 US dollar. The fictitious nature and instability of the Zimbabwean currencies, is ironically reflected by the fiction and instability of the hero identity. This is shown by the state’s controversial inclusions of the likes of Joseph Chinotimba, Chenjerai Hunzvi and Border Gezi as heroes and the undressing of people like Joice Mujuru and former president Robert Mugabe as befitting heroes as a result of ugly factional fights within Zanu-Pf (Mawere 2019, 2016; Mugabe 2001).

In the context of the hardships that have been experienced by ordinary Zimbabweans especially from the 2000s, even to the extent of laughing at the folly of those who considered themselves technocrats like Gono, and the state which considered itself powerful, masculine and invincible, ordinary people have emerged as survivors. Willems (2010) discusses how a joke that was circulated at the eve of year 2007 contested the narrow definition of struggle and heroism, by reflecting how ordinary people were the real heroes, since they managed to survive economic and other livelihood challenges despite unfavorable odds. This invites us to problematise notions of heroism and masculinity in Zimbabwe and the kind of nationhood they re/produce and perform. The heroism and masculinity of Zimbabwe’s currency has proved to be fictitious and simplistic as reflected by gross economic instabilities. This also ruptures notions of heroism and masculinity that are at the center of Zimbabwe’s national construction.

Conclusion: Many ways to kill a cat

Zimbabwean masculinities are re/presented and re/produced in the popular, in symbols and objects that are part of the everyday. Heroism has broadly been coined with Zimbabwean nationhood and masculinities. I have argued that Zimbabwe’s currency regime has been turned into a war zone where the nation expresses or performs and re/produces its masculinities and nationhood, naturalising and performing hierarchical and gendered identities. In many ways, these masculinities have been re/imagined in silos of violence and have violated the livelihoods of ordinary people, especially women who are culturally given liminal spaces in a nation where violent masculinities are normalised and central for livelihoods. The masculinisation of Zimbabwe’s currency regime is therefore an ideological warfare to its actual dispute with the West (foreign powers), but also a performance and naturalisation of its gendered script in nation re/construction. In the midst of state performances of heroism and masculinity, however, it is possible to rupture dominant knowledges and to re/think subversive and dissenting, bottom-up heroism and masculinities that offer positions of refusal and give agentive power to those that are dominated and at the mercy of state manipulation. The failure of the state’s and Gono’s monetary strategy, ‘Zero to Hero’ is laughable and undresses state pretentions. This failure urges us to re/think masculinities and militarism as foundational to society and central to state-craft.

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Footnotes

[1] This is a veneration of military masculinities in Zimbabwe and originates in the Shona ancestor, Murenga Sororenzou, who was a hunter, great warrior, war genius, war-song composer and nation-builder (Vambe 2004).

[2] https://www.flickr.com/photos/sokwanele/228321813