Linda Masarira is a name that divides opinion in Zimbabwean politics. To some, she is bold, tenacious, courageous and a goal-getter while to others, she is a political nuisance who thrives on controversy and noise.
However, the 39-year-old former trade unionist is no toddler to politics. She has come of age.
Masarira, president of the Labor Economists and Afrikan Democrats (LEAD), has been in the political arena for quite a while. In the recent by-elections, she competed in the Harare Central Constituency but lost to Murisi Zwizwai
All her life’s losses have not deterred her from being a voice of reason. She has used the vilification she gets from her nemesis to climb up the political ladder in the country.
Online, she remains determined that one day she will win souls and build a political legacy that will be entered to the political history of Zimbabwe.
However, Masarira did not just emerge as a budding politician overnight, she is coming from somewhere.
Early Activism Career
Masarira’s political activism journey began in 2002 when she was still a computer technician for a local company.
The abuse within the organization became unbearable for a then young who started challenging the men.
“I was the only female technician. That is the first time I realized that society looks at us differently. The male counterparts will always want to supervise the work that you do even though we had the same qualification,” Masarira told 263Chat.
She would go on to form a worker’s committee within the organization, which died a futile death because she lacked support.
When she then joined the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), Masarira thought the institution would be different. Unbeknown to her, this was the beginning of a terrible ordeal for her life which, however, would go on to shape her political career.
At NZR, she quickly made her mark and formed two workers’ unions that are Trainmen Workers Union (TWU) between 2008-2013 and the NRZ workers’ committee between 2014 and 2015 in fighting against poor remuneration and late payment of salaries.
In 2015, she became a victim of the infamous ZUVA judgement, which laid off hundreds of workers.
This lit up the fire within her. Determined to get her terminal benefits, Masarira formed the Association of Railways Terminated Employees (ARTE) and managed to ensure that all Zuva judgment victims got their benefits.
She succeeded. “ZUVA judgement made me realize that I was a victim of trade and gender justice. I then made a vow that this was my time to start working for the benefit of others. I started doing full-time activism and advocacy for women and those whose rights were being infringed upon by the late Robert Mugabe,” Masarira said.
“I decided to be the change, to be a development advocate. But I realized that it was not going to be easy. The abuse by state security institutions, arbitrary arrests by Mugabe and the deteriorating standards of living, were all major factors to me being in politics full time,” she added.
Masarira The Political Activist
Masarira became a full-time activist. She cofounded Tajamuka/Sesijikile, a social movement that was a nightmare for the late former President Mugabe, advocating for Mugabe to step down on accusations of violating human rights and dictatorship.
In 2016, she and her colleagues started the Occupy Africa Unity Square Campaign which protested against the deteriorating socio-economic environment. She was arrested and spent 89 days in jail.
While in prison from July to September, Masarira was transferred to Chikurubi Maximum Prison for men, after being accused of inciting female prisoners at the separate women’s facility to protest against poor living conditions, food, health and sanitation.
This, she says, made her even more determined to fight injustices.
Fast forward to 2017, Masarira was fed up with party politics after a brief stint with the Tendai Biti led People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the MDC-T. She was dismissed from the MDC-T led by Thokozani Khupe, over what she termed patriarchal dominance.
“They felt intimidated by a woman, to date, they do,” she said.
Masarira accused Khupe of undermining her capabilities and not giving her a chance.
“She never appreciated the work that I did for her, she then fired me over trivial issues. Because of the polarity and toxicity that makes us not embrace each other, we have reduced ourselves to people who will use any opportunity to speak vitriol to anyone whom we think is different from us,” Masarira. Added.
Turning A New, Purple, Leaf
Masarira then went on to launch Harare Central’s independent campaign dubbed #PurpleCampaign, which gave birth to her political party, LEAD.
The party would lead her to be one of the most abused women in politics in Zimbabwe. But she says she remains vigilant, resolute and determined to deliver a better Zimbabwe.
“I am unmoved by attacks on social media though at times it used to affect me and my family. I had to talk to them about how politics is about,” she said.
Despite the vile, she remains courteous and often uses her social media to discourage hate speech, especially to women in politics.
“I continue to tell the people that before you write a piece of false news about someone, also consider that the person is married, and has a family. I might be a tough cookie, but it doesn’t mean that my children and mother are as tough as me.
“In everything that you do, just try to put yourself in my shoes and feel what my family would feel reading what you have written,” Masarira added.
Instead, she prefers cohesion of ideas and constructive criticism.
“Politics is all about ideas, if you want to criticize me, do so on the ideas I am putting on the table. There is no need to shame me because of my looks. Did I create myself? I was created by the same God that created you,” she further stated.
“Instead of trying to pull me down, you should tap from my well of wisdom and learn how to make Zimbabwe great again,” she stated.
Grateful For Rendered Support.
During her early days as a political activist, Masarira said she got help from the Institute of Young Women’s Development, an organization working towards empowering women to take up public political spaces.
“I’m a product of IYWD, I would not be where I am today if it was not for the mentorship programs that I went through with them. They moulded me to believe that we need feminist transformation in our country,” she said.
However, the former trade unionist is displeased by the slow pace at which the implementation of Constitutional Amendment 2 is going, especially, on gender balance.
“It is sad that after nearly nine years since we adopted the constitution, section 17 that speaks of gender balance has failed. We are nowhere near achieving gender balance in every sphere. We continue to have men sitting with patriarchal gatekeepers discussing quarter systems yet the constitution is clear on 50/50 representation.
Masarira believes a key barrier to achieving higher representation levels for women is how women’s roles are perceived in societies.
“Sexism, harassment and violence perpetrated against women in their everyday lives find an echo in political life where women face severe obstacles if they wish to exercise their most basic right of having a say in how society is organized and who should govern,” she said.
In Zimbabwe, over the past few years, there has been an increase in attacks on politicians, and reports of widespread sexist elements in attacks on female politicians, including Masarira.
Gendered slurs used against female candidates, sexist character assassinations launched on women in politics and sexual harassment of female elected representatives have become well-known features of politics.
“These phenomena create inequalities in the pre-conditions for women’s and men’s political representation. I know this because I have lived it,” Masarira noted.
n 2017, women politicians worldwide joined the #MeToo movement, sharing their stories on social media to denounce the sexist attacks and harassment they endure.
These testimonies revealed that such experiences obstructed women’s efforts to enter the political arena.
Sexist violence against women in politics is a violation of fundamental rights, as it constitutes an obstacle to fully and equally participating in political and public life.
By extension, it compromises the foundations of democracy and the exercise of democratic institutions.