AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

The Real Housewives of Harare
Dan Moshenberg | May 22nd, 2013

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Memory Gumbo is a mother, an “ordinary woman”, living in Harare, Zimbabwe. Tsitsi Dangarembga is an internationally recognized writer and filmmaker, living in Harare as well. Both agree on at least one thing: That “No to loitering,” sold to the public as a 'crackdown’ on sex workers, has nothing to do with sex workers. In plain language: The current campaign against loitering has nothing to do with loitering. It’s an attack on women, and it’s part and parcel of Zimbabwean history, colonial and post-colonial. 

It’s election season in Zimbabwe, and so, as before, the State has engaged in ‘urban renewal’ by ‘cleaning the streets.’ Under British rule, today’s Zimbabwean women fought for the right to move about in public. The colonial administration used the “immorality and prostitution of native women” as an alibi for draconian, repressive measures against “native women”, and the women refused to go quiet into that good night: “From the Salisbury women’s beer hall boycotts of the 1920s to the rock-throwing of “Anna alias Flora” in 1933, from the relative freedom of mapoto liaisons to the organized accumulation represented by Emma MaGumede and by the Bulawayo property owners, ordinary women constantly wrung whatever gains they could from a range of meager opportunities.”

In 1983, three years into independence, the State launched Operation Chinyavada, Operation Scorpion. 3000 or so women were rounded up, essentially for walking down the road. In Mutare, 200 women factory workers, on their way to work, were arrested. They were held in a football stadium until their employer came and effected their release: “The assumption that any unmarried or unemployed women are probably prostitutes seems to have all but gone unchallenged, in a country whose leadership once claimed it hoped to emancipate women from traditional restrictions based on gender hierarchies.”

Since those halcyon days, the State has dipped into the ‘cleansing’ operation and rhetoric repeatedly. In May 2005, when the State launched Operation Murambatsvina, Operation Drive Out the Trash, prominent among the ‘trash’ were sex workers. From the colonial days to the present, women on the move in public have been attacked as sex workers. And from the colonial days to the present, women, individually and collectively, have rejected the attempt.

Memory Gumbo rejects it: “You can’t go to the shops after 8pm because they assume everyone is a hooker. It’s plain harassment, simple.” Tsitsi Dangaremba rejects it as well: “Women were part of the liberation struggle and we have been working with the rest of the nation to build this country and therefore we expect to be treated as equal as full citizens of this country and also enjoy our citizens’ rights.”

So, when Al Jazeera tells you “Zimbabwe cracks down on the oldest profession,” don’t believe it. The target is, as it always has been, “ordinary women”. Simple.

Photo Credit: woman protesting in Harare against a 2012 spree of arbitrary arrests by local police (Deutsche Welle).

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Director of Women's Studies Program at George Washington University and blogger


7 thoughts on “The Real Housewives of Harare

  1. This is not the time to try to repress women. In fact it is necessary for men to acknowledge that women need the freedom in order to help save humanity from the wrath of Climatic disaster. So stop the foolishness and f…… Grow up. Cause only women can avert total distruction.

  2. Well said Moira, and oh so true! Even if they were sex workers, what the heck is wrong with a sex worker, it is the oldest profession on Earth after all. Those same men arresting them are the ones that make use of their services. Any bets that Mugabe has made use of sex workers’ services, especially when he was in England? This is all just another Mugabe ploy to hold onto power.
    As for Al Jazeera, I’m really disappointed as I viewed them as the last of the main stream media one could trust but, alas, no more.

  3. “The assumption that any unmarried or unemployed women are probably prostitutes…”

    Attractive looking African women suffer this stupid assumption world over. This is why I hate France and/or Paris,. Only in London, or New York that African women are not assaulted by the vile opinion of stupid ugly white men. But for restraint, one comes very close to spitting in some lewd idiot’s face.

  4. Let’s face it, many men all over the world really don’t like women. In this case, it’s institutionalized. Thoroughly disgusting. Real pride these females have to stand up to the colonial powers.

    But it is often just too much for sensitive girls to fight back. Then margalized females accept those definitions the powers stick them with: Dad says I’m stupid for I am a girl, he keeps saying so, he must be right; the church must be right, that miscarraige was an abortion attempt, so lock me up, I’m crazy; After 9 pm, my t shirt is a bit small, arrest me because I look like a pro, but after you force me to give you a blow job. Does this happen to
    the “protected” girls: almost always, no.

  5. We have grown up in a Patriarchal world and unfortunately educating men on women’s rights is just not enough. It needs to change in the way fathers treat their wives so that sons can treat their wives and sisters with respect. But how do we solve this problem when the role models of a country are not the respectful fathers? We need better role models for our sons.

  6. This is total discrimination against women. Men should be arrested too since women hook up with them. Its high time that African Authorities stop the perpetration of violence and condemn all forms of violence against women and know that they are expected to serve as protectors…women have shed alot already and we will champion our own cause even if no
    one else did. Enough is Enough!!!

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