By Loveness Nyathi
These days all mornings are slow. Even the emergency taxis, 18 seater mini-buses to the city, from the townships take time to fill up. I am happy today that I get into a taxi that is almost full. There will be no meandering around the houses in the township in search of more people. As I sit in the taxi, I concentrate on my mobile phone hoping, in no time the three vacant seats will be taken. However my attention is drawn to a conversation that is going on in the kombi.
“Omama yibo ababelooter kakhulu (women were the worst looters),” says one of the men seated at the back seat, with three other passengers.
They are discussing events that took place between January 14 and January 16, 2019, following fuel hikes announced by president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, masses of people took to the streets, looted shops damaged property leading to some loss of life.
At first, I am not sure of the validity of that claim. I just wonder to myself how women could do such a thing. I convince myself, there could be reasons.
“One woman who lives next to Emaphowulwini ( a bus stop in Gwabalanda, Bulawayo), got home, in a rush carrying huge groceries; and when she got home her husband met her by the gate and told her to return the loot wherever she got it,” another man, also from the back seat, adds and laughs hard.
That answered some of my questions.
Women as the providers at home took the chance to get themselves basic food stuffs that they could not afford to buy from the shops and their husbands could not provide them with.
The economic situation in the country is hard: high prices and huge shortages.
The majority of women, most of whom are on the streets, vending to look after their families, could have taken the opportunity to get food for their families, risking the consequences that may occur.
It is not as if that is new. I recall that during the protests and looting a hashtag, “Thwala okukwanisayo mama uzazeubanjwe” (Carry what you can mama, you will end up getting caught)” had a picture of a middle aged woman pushing a fully packed trolley of groceries with the help of her child trying to runaway from a Choppies shop in Entumbane Suburb, Bulawayo.
In interviews, one woman, who spoke anonymously in New Luveve, Bulawayo, said one of the two women who were arrested and jailed for two and a half years at Mlondolozi prison for looting “was trying to provide for her children”.
After looting goods worth RTGS 3000 at Choppies Luveve and hidding them in a brother's mortuary located in the same suburb, “the single mother of four knew it was a crime,” she said.
Patricia Tshabalala, an activist and a Mpopoma resident who runs an Orphanage in the same suburb, said women looted because most of them are widows, some are ‘small houses,’others were abandoned by their husbands and many are old women taking care of orphans so they are facing difficulties.
"Most women survive by vending even married ones because husbands don't work,” she said. "Women are suffering and they need to be respected at some point and I know many were jailed for looting during the January shutdown.”
A Cultural Studies academic at a university in South Africa Mr Khanyile Mlotshwa concurred with Tshabalala noting that, “women are the actual bread winners of most families in Bulawayo”.
“The deteriorating socio-economic situation is affecting mostly women because in all due respect, women are in reality the bread winners of most families in that they are the ones who go out in the streets and try and see how they can get food to the house,” he said. “The idea of a man as the bread winner went to the dust bins of history alongside Bulawayo's factories".
Mlotshwa added that the point that, “for example, vendors are the most visible people 'working' out there, explains why women will be the majority in protests”.
“I refuse to call them looters, but I take them as protestors, people with legitimate political issues to raise and have to create their own platform to stage this politics in appearing in spaces where they are outlawed,” he said “The Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has admitted that it is likely to get some revenue from vendors than from 'properly employed' people.
Women and the youths make the majority of vendors, vending is feminized in Zimbabwe. That is why women would be branded as the face of looting. But I call them the face of the people's politics."
He also added that if one would recall the stay away that people attribute to the charisma of Pastor Mawarire in 2016, they would realise that the stay away succeeded because “vendors and other informally employed people stayed away from the city and that is how the city looked abandoned”.
“And the majority of these informally employed people are women,” he said. “Men want to be employed in factories that are not there. But women go out and try and create something to sustain their families, including their men.”