The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
SHE has been suspended three times so far by her own political party, undergone disciplinary action but remained resolute and bounced back to lead as the Secretary for External Affairs in the ZANU PF National Youth League.
This is the story of Cde Sibongile Sibanda, a young, ambitious mother and female politician who never let hurdles she has faced in her journey stop her from participating in politics.
Cde Sibanda was schooled at Mpopoma High school in Bulawayo and later went to Umguza Technical College to study computers and business studies as she wanted to be a business woman eventually, while participating in politics.
“I joined politics in 1999 and rose through the ranks from being a cell member, moving to be branch Commissar then at district level where I was a secretary for administration then later became a youth chairperson. I was then elevated to deputy secretary of disability and in 2009 I became a national youth committee member,” she said.
In 2004 she was co-opted into the provincial youth executive in Bulawayo. Soon after, her political light started to dim and she was suspended in 2005 for some misdemeanours and served her five year suspension.
“I went back into mainstream politics after serving the five year suspension and returned to the party in 2009 when there were elections and was elected to be a first committee member. I fell ill that year; I suffered a stroke and later returned to active politics in 2011. I was reinstated to my previous position,” she said.
Despite the hurdle of suspension earlier, Cde Sibanda was elected into the national executive upon her return.
“I am very proud that I went through an election and won it with a wide margin. It was tough but I managed to win the elections. I had to work hard for that position because I didn’t know what the election would bring so I put my best foot forward. After rigorous screening and a lot of ground work I sailed through and bagged the position,” she said.
While Cde Sibanda was basking in her glory of winning elections and leading the youths, another suspension came and she had to step down again and serve her time away from party activities.
Luckily again, she was reinstated after serving her suspension and served as the national youth secretary for external affairs.
A dark cloud would soon fall on her political career after she was suspended again for the third time in September 2018 and later reinstated in 2019.
“The journey has not been easy as we face many challenges as women. There are times when you would want to contest in elections and the pull her down syndrome would step in and women let you down and they do not even vote for you.
As a woman in politics, I have realised we do not support each other genuinely, but also there are times when we have to stand alongside the men to show that you have capacity to lead equally with men. You need to stand firm as the journey of politics is not an easy one,” she added.
Cde Sibanda said despite her several challenges she has encountered in trying to participate fully in a male dominated field; she has never stopped working hard in politics.
“I bounce back in active politics because those I represent testify for me through the work that I do, that I am a hard worker such that when it comes to delivering, I put my best foot forward. I do not let the presence of men stop me from shining. My loyalty and dedication to the party speaks for itself and I live by that despite the challenges that may be affecting me at that point,” she said.
Cde Sibanda said it never crossed her mind to one day leave politics and let other women down.
“It may have been a nasty experience getting suspended multiple times, but it never dawned to me that I must quit politics as I had faced many challenges and try something else. I was not mobilised into the party, I joined voluntarily,” said Cde Sibanda.
Asked on how she handles intimidation that some female politics complain about, she said leaders must not be very assertive.
“As a female leader, you must not be too soft. You have to show your detractors that you can stand your ground for what you believe in and have passion for. I also encourage female politicians to research around their areas of interest and beyond so that they participate equally with others. You need to have information at your fingertips so that people do not disregard you,” she encouraged.
Cde Sibanda said had she not stuck to her dreams and love for politics she would have tendered a resignation upon her first suspension but said she was grateful that her party encourages women’s political participation by allowing those who will have erred to correct their mistakes unlike disregarding them when they actually have a role to play.
Ms Priscilla Maposa, Gender Links Country Manager said the media is a critical partner in highlighting women’s participation in politics.
“We aim to strengthen the capacity of the media to positively portray women as credible and effective political leaders. The media plays a great role in promoting or destroying women’s participation in politics and being gender sensitive in their reportage,” she said.
She added that the media through their reportage can improve the status of women.
“We want to work with our media partners to ensure that at least we work towards archiving the 50 percent target, this is not something we can achieve with one election but we can start by lobbying for the 30 percent and move on until we get to the 50 percent,” added Ms Maposa.
She highlighted that women are lagging behind in decision making structures both as politicians and as officials at national and local government level.
“Looking at the past three elections, in 2008, the percent representation of women in Parliament was 14 percent, it rose to 32 percent in 2013 because of the introduction of the quota system, the 60 reserved seats, but as of the last election the percentage representation of women has dropped to 31 percent. At the local government, women’s representation in the past three elections was 18 percent,16 percent and 14 percent respectively,” she said.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 17 speaks of equal participation of men and women in decision making structures and equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. It also speaks of the provision of reserved seats for women which is aimed at increasing the participation of women in the political sphere.
Zimbabwe through the National Gender Policy seeks to achieve a gender just society where women and men enjoy equality and participate as equal partners in the development process of the country, a process that is currently underway.
Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) notes that women’s participation in decision making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account.
“Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision making, the goal of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved. Any society like Zimbabwe benefits from the increased representation of women in political parties and elected offices,” said Mrs Fadzai Traquino, National Director WLSA.
WLSA is holding programmes aimed at increasing women’s effective and full participation in the electoral process by amplifying their voices in the implementation of electoral reforms.
“For the elections that we have had in Zimbabwe for a prolonged period, one of the key issues that keeps popping up in most local and international observer reports is the gender inequality gap that has become a barrier for women’s political participation and part of it is to do with legal and policy framework which has not created an equal playing field for participation. We are empowering aspiring female candidates as we prepare them for 2023.
“Some of the challenges realised include women lacking support from families, how patriarchy remains a barrier, lack of confidence and lack of finances to run an adequate campaign,” added Mrs Traquino.