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The woman in me
Grace Kwinje
April 10, 2007

"I will go before the King, even though it is against the law. And if I perish. I perish" . Esther 4:16

HARARE - 'What sort of woman are you Grace Kwinje?- 'Who do you think you are?- 'What are you trying to prove?-

Questions asked by more than five baton stick wielding riot police officers as they beat me up on that fateful day at Machipisa Police Station in Harare on the 11th of March.

This was round one out of many.

Yet it was about the woman in me. It was about me as a woman and what I stand for or represent.

Each blow epitomised what they feared and hated in my defiance against them. This translated into the most brutal assault or dare I say attempted murder on me, on my person, my being; that woman in me.

I did not respond I stood still and took each blow as it came. I did not cry. I did not beg for mercy. None of the comrades present on that day cried or begged for mercy, none denounced the party or tried to negotiate themselves out of this horror of horrors that will never be erased from our memories.

Neither will the physical or emotional scars ever heal. No amount of therapy can heal what we went through on that day.

Sekai Holland a 64 year old grandmother was called a 'whore-, 'Blair-s whore- to be precise. 'No I cannot be Blair-s whore he is my son- she said. How dare she respond thus?

Associate herself with the defiled Tony Blair? And so Sekai was danced on, interestingly by another woman. 'Iri hure raBlair rinoda varungu,- translates to 'this Blair whore loves white men-.

Sekai married for 40 years to an Australian was severely assaulted several times. She broke a leg an arm and three ribs. Why because as a journalist she made the double 'choices- of marrying a white man and belonging to the opposition; for that she had to suffer.

She had to be punished for going against the 'norm-, the 'expected- by ZANU PF.

That woman in her was under attack verbally and physically. Her age? Not an issue.

The two young women we were with were not spared. The young 'whores- according to the officers had to be taught a lesson.

Together with Sekai and myself we were beaten on the buttocks. 'Rovai mazigaro- 'beat up the big bums- they shouted.

My black beret fell off and I got a beating for my blond hair. -Hure rekuHoliday Inn rovai." "A Holiday Inn prostitute beat her up-. 'Look at the color of her hair.-

The 'sins- were many. I colored my hair blond in protest after Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede denied me a travel document on the basis that it was a 'state security document- and not a 'right.-

I was slowly being rendered stateless in my own country.

And so as is the case too in opposition politics the attack on us women was more on our sexuality, we were assaulted, humiliated, demeaned in whatever way they could think of.

Comically again, amongst us victims were some of the worst male philanderers, but the issue with them remained political, exposing the misogynistic character of our society.

We were treated this way because we are women and nothing else.

As I reflect on, I do not regret the woman I am and the hard choices I have to make.

It is for these that in my life I have often been persecuted, socially, sexually or mentally and this time I have paid an insufferably heavy price that has left deep scars on my body and soul.

I challenge oppressive systems in all their forms not just to do away with Robert Mugabe-s injustice, but also primitive actions by those in our midst that still place us women in the odd position, of being underdogs even in the struggle for a democratic and just society.

It is a double battle for both our political freedom and emancipation, none of which can be achieved without the other, otherwise it-s a half-baked revolution, similar to the one we got at independence.

Zimbabwean women in politics have stories to tell. Opposition politics? More stories.

Over the past months I have seen myself in and out of jail on various dubious charges mostly to do with organising and leading illegal demonstrations.

Once I was placed in solitary confinement at Rhodesville Police station for 48 hours. The aim here I suppose was just to traumatise me. As I sat there in that cell on my own I was afraid.

Afraid of many things to do with being tortured, raped or even being killed. By the grace of God I came out not touched.

A female freedom fighter can be killed at any time. In the wee hours of March 12 the military police came for me at Braeside Police Station, where I had been dumped half dead already, the night before.

A search for me by family and friends was in full scale at this time.

I was in a cell with two other women. One of them was actually nursing and praying for me as I was in great pain and bleeding. We heard the sound of cars outside. Foot steps then the jail door opened.

The officer in charge, Makore pointed at me and said 'uyu Kwinjeh- to four military intelligence officials. I held on to the two women I knew I was in danger.

Once again in the fence of Braeside police station, I was tortured by the officers. They said they had been given orders to kill and not negotiate with civilians. This was not a joke because by this time comrade Gift Tandare-s body lay cold somewhere.

May his soul rest in peace. I did not know this. The rest I leave to God and his mercy for me on that night.

They asked me all sorts of questions as they beat me with short 30 centimetre really painful baton sticks. I fainted several times but each time they got me up and tortured me.

Until in the end I could not stand that is when they asked me to remain seated and stretch out my legs and they beat the soles of my feet. How I got back in the cell I do not know. All I know is my life was spared.

They stayed on vigil outside the fence waiting for further 'instructions-. Thank God some officials from the Lawyers for Human Rights found me before the 'instructions- came the next day.

And then it was drama after drama. Released to hospital under riot police guard; then no charges; re arrested while trying to leave the country then back to hospital under riot police guard.

Eventually with Sekai Holland we made it for medical treatment here in South Africa.

I thank the sisters and brothers for the solidarity that came in the form of prayers, demonstrations, night dresses, cake, books, fruit and water.

Above all for taking the risk of being associated with this kind of woman, by visiting us at the Avenues Clinic in full view of the police and CIO operatives.

I will end with a quote from Paolo Coelho-s 'The Zahir-, "I don-t regret the painful times; I bear my scars as if they were medals. I know that freedom has a high price, as high as that of slavery; the difference is that you pay with pleasure and a smile, even when that smile is dimmed by tears.-

And so the woman in me will fight on. Aluta Continua.

* Grace Kwinje is the deputy secretary for international relations in the Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change party

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