The Nordic Africa Institute


Linda Masarira – Zimbabwean gender activist and politician who refuses to be silenced

Linda Masarira.

Linda Masarira campaigned and ran for president in Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections. In August 2023, she was excluded from the final presidential ballot after an intense court battle. Photo: Heinrich Böll Stiftung

Date • 8 Mar 2024

International Women’s Day Profile: Linda Masarira

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, NAI Postdoctoral Researcher, Shingirai Mtero (SM) sat down to interview Linda Masarira (LM), one of the two women who campaigned and ran for president in Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections. Masarira began her political career as a trade-unionist and transitioned into mainstream politics as a gender activist and champion for gender equality. Masarira has faced significant resistance as a woman in politics. She has endured targeted gendered harassment and political imprisonment External link.. In August 2023, Masarira was excluded from the final presidential ballot after an intense court battle External link.. In this interview she reflects on her experiences and explains her intention to contest in Zimbabwe’s presidential elections in 2028.

SM: You chose to campaign and run as a presidential candidate in Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections. As a woman in a very highly contested and male-dominated race, what challenges did you face?

LM: Thank you for that question – it is actually a very pertinent question. One of the biggest challenges that I faced as a woman in Zimbabwe, is misogyny. There is a general dislike of women and a view that women are only good enough to be a wife, or to take care of children. And the minute a woman wants to be opinionated, she stops being a person and is portrayed as a creature. Someone who wants to be a man, someone who is wayward and uncontrollable. What then happens is that time, effort and money are spent to denigrate and discipline you. Gendered misinformation is spread about you. If you follow social media you see that misogynistic insults, abuse and harassment has become the order of the day, not only for myself, but for most women in politics in Zimbabwe. This is very detrimental to the political career of a woman in this part of the world and you will find this is one of the key reason’s women stay out of politics.

The second challenge I faced was the sexualisation of my political career – this is informed by questions of morality. There is a persistent sexualisation of women in politics, where everyone wants to know your sexual affairs: who are you married to? how many children do you have? and with whom? This hardly ever happens to male candidates. These issues are only raised when it’s a woman who wants to run for president or a woman wants to run for parliament. It is done to discredit you, as ‘good’ women are supposed to be loyal to only one man or married to one man in their whole lifetime. The methods used to tarnish my name were directly linked to my womanhood, no one really questioned my professional capacity. And it is clear that what affects my opponents the most is that I am a woman... this is why I have been discriminated against, this is why I went to prison, this is why I have been elbowed out of male-dominated parties, because I am a woman who refuses to remain in the background, and I refuse to be silenced.

Lastly, I faced financial challenges. Resource mobilisation is difficult in a political environment where you need recommendations from other political actors to access financial support. These other political actors actually represent ‘the patriarchy’ that is blocking women’s political participation in politics. There are people who wanted to support my campaign financially but they were told not to by ‘the patriarchy’. So, in the end I found myself campaigning with very little financial support, even from other women.

SM: In the lead up to the elections you experienced a significant legal set-back, please tell us about that experience and your eventual exclusion from the final ballot.

LM: I was not the only presidential candidate who was initially barred from the race. Another woman candidate, Elisabeth Valerio was also disqualified. We both took the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to court to appeal this disqualification. Valerio was successful in her appeal External link. and I was not. Her verdict came out before mine, and when it did I was very happy, as I thought that the law of precedent would function, as it normally does in any other case in the world. On the day we went in to get my verdict the court room was full, people we ready to celebrate and congratulatory messages were in order, some had even been sent in advance. But when we left, we were sad, I had tears in my eyes. I was hurt, as I was prepared to run for the presidential seat, against all the odds. I wanted to prove that I could do it. And I knew people would vote for me.

When I think about it and reflect, I realise that lawfare was used to discriminate against me and exclude me from the ballot. Because I had a similar case with Valerio who was also denied the ability to pay for her nomination fees in local currency. In fact, I had gone to the ZEC offices to pay my nomination fees three days prior to nomination day and I was told I would only be able to make my payment on nomination day. But unlike Valerio, my case was intentionally staggered and delayed. They only gave us a hearing date one day before the closure of the electoral court. We did not receive the full judgement for another full week, which meant the electoral court was now closed. So, we had no means to appeal to a higher court.

It was clear lawfare. The people who did not make it to the ballot was myself and Saviour Kasukuwere External link.. In my view, we both had a higher chance of garnering more votes, and possibly stealing votes from the key parties, and they both were not willing to gamble with that.

SM: The 2024 theme for International Women’s Day is “Invest in women: Accelerate Progress,” which highlights the importance of gender equality in all spheres of governance. As a woman in politics, what are the most significant obstacles you face that have impeded your progress in politics?

LM: Resource mobilisation and finances have been the most significant obstacles to my progress. And this is primarily because politics in Zimbabwe, and in Africa, is highly monetised. We do not follow people because of political ideology or follow a leader with a particular trajectory, instead parties monetise the elections to ensure their hold on power. You will see that donations of grain, fertiliser and maize seed are used in rural areas to maintain political support and votes. And slowly over the years, opposition parties also started to pay people to attend meetings and distribute other resources during party primaries. This has led to the monetisation of the political economy in urban areas as well. So, if you call for a political meeting people are expecting a ‘freebie’, they expect to be given something to eat or drink or transport money and this has become the norm. So those political parties with donor funding tend to spend their money in this way. This creates a challenge for those of us who do not have access to large funds. But that does not deter us, we continue preaching a message of hope, and mobilising women to understand that they are important and that they can lead.

Patriarchal beliefs that exclude women from politics have also impeded my progress. We can’t have the government, political parties and other civic society organisations saying we are doing well in terms of democracy because the number of political parties is increasing, when these parties are male-dominated. These parties have hardly any women in their governance structures, they also have no women in their top executive positions. So, I will continue to assert that there is no democracy without women. In reality, the hope and the future of this country lies in the hands of women, because we are the majority. Until we have gender balance in these parties, it is not yet uhuru for women in Zimbabwe.

I also have to return to the matter of gendered misinformation. It has really impeded my progress in politics. And this gendered disinformation doesn’t only come from internet trolls, it comes from mainstream newspapers and established journalists who I have had to take to the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and the Media Commission to have them retract some of the stories they have published that are untrue and damaging to my political career. It is important to say that we have made progress here. I now have a positive working relationship with some of these editors. We work together, and I continue advocating for more positive reporting on women in politics and to instil a sense of confidence in women leadership in Zimbabwe.

SM: Have civil society organisations played a role in accelerating your progress in politics?

LM: In terms of capacity building they have been doing very well. They have helped tremendously in building the capacity of women political candidates and assisted women to be elected into public office.

The only criticism I have is when it comes to raising awareness at the grassroots - about the importance of voting for women and educating people that woman are equally capable of holding positions in public office. It is in that case where I find them wanting. The type of work they do is too elitist, it is usually done in hotels, and very few can access the information and the hotels they host these meetings in. The work they do should cascade to the grassroots, to ordinary citizens. And perhaps they are limited by funding conditions, that limit their scope, but it is a disservice to not reach the grassroots.

SM: Indeed, politics is hostile to women, however women such as yourself, continue to fight for equal representation. You have stated that you will contest in the presidential race in the 2028 elections, what motivates you to continue? Perhaps you could also tell us about Zimbabwean women leaders who have inspired you to continue with your journey

LM: I will continue to contest because it is important to fight for equal representation. Section 17 of The Constitution of Zimbabwe External link. expressly states that there should be gender equality in all organs of the state. The government doesn’t fully adhere to this section of the constitution. There seems to be a notion coming from different sources, that women are being cry-babies, they want to be handed positions on a silver platter. But I argue that gender equality is in the constitution of this country, which is the supreme law. The law enshrines gender balance. In fact, by numbers, we are the majority, but we are treated as a special interest group – this is an oxymoron! So yes, I will run for the presidential race in 2028 because it is my right. I am a fighter and I make sure that I win. I will set that precedent for younger women and future generations and show them that women can lead, and women will lead.

The women leaders who have inspired me in my political journey…the first is Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Zimbabwe’s current Ambassador to Sweden. She is a powerful woman and activist. She encountered so much resistance in her fight for women’s equal participation in politics in parliament and she never gave up. There is also Lucia Matibenga, a trade unionist at heart, she inspired me as the president of a trade union to venture into mainstream politics and continue fighting for labour rights. And of course, Comrade Mama Margaret Dongo, one of the fiercest war veterans. She left the ruling party, started her own party and ran as a presidential candidate in the late 90s. These three women inspired me and showed me that it can be done. My generation now has the responsibility to prove them right, and show that the advocacy they started did not die, the struggle continues unabated.

SM: Would you like to share any final words, to young Zimbabwean women who may be hesitant to get into politics?

LM: To the younger women I would say do not be discouraged, never allow yourself to be limited by societal, religious, or cultural values. Yes, you may face resistance because you are a woman, and you may need to take some time away to re-strategise and build up your resolve, but if you believe in yourself, you can emerge as the leader that the world has been waiting for.