Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first lady is accused of assaulting Ms Engel, a 20year old South African model, with an extension cord after finding her in a hotel with her sons, Robert Jnr, 25, and Chatunga 21.
Ms. Engels shared pictures of her wounded face on Twitter and said that Mrs. Mugabe’s guards looked on and did nothing to help her as she was brutally attacked. This story addresses many things; most of which stem from the entitlement of African dictators and their relatives, friends and associates who also enjoy the spoils of power.
It also speaks to womyn and patriarchal power.
Grace Mugabe is married to a man who has served as president for thirty years; one of the longest serving Presidents alive. She has access to a lot of political power; in fact, some argue that she is the seat of power given that her 93year old husband appears (from the pictures I have seen) to be unable to move around ably, let alone run a country.
But here’s a womyn who walks into a hotel, finds her intoxicated sons with a young womyn and proceeds to beat the womyn up. While I don’t know for sure what happened in that room, all the reports indicate that Grace Mugabe assaulted Ms. Engel simply because she was not happy to find her in her sons’ room. Given that Mrs. Mugabe’s sons have bodyguards, it would have been extremely difficult for the young lady to force her way into that hotel room uninvited. She was clearly there as the guest of the two Mugabe boys who are both older than the young lady. Which means that regardless of the circumstances under which she was there it would have been preferable that she holds her grown sons accountable for having a guest against her wishes instead of attacking the guest. Unfortunately, logic does not usually win the day in a patriarchal society.
Men are able to evade responsibility for their actions because womyn are easy targets; men are perpetually infantilized (“boys will be boys”) and usually have social, structural and political power behind them. Even when this power is held by womyn, it is usually exercised to protect men (and powerful womyn) from facing any consequences for harming womyn.
The ANCWL in South Africa stands out as another example of womyn with access to power protecting men from punishment for assaulting womyn. Remember Zuma’s rape trial? They are now protecting a Minister who assaulted a womyn in public from being disciplined. Their excuse this time is that other people have done worse and should be disciplined first. As if this should excuse the assault. The perpetual infantilization of men where they are allowed to be boys forever and allowed to evade the consequences of their actions is the logic behind victim blaming in rape culture. Men are never held accountable so the womyn who are their victims must have done something to deserve it. Ms. Engels supposedly forced her way into the Mugabe boys’ room without being invited in. It can’t be their fault that she was there when their mother walked in.
Now seeking justice, the young lady sees the full force of patriarchal power brought to bear to defend her abuser. Last I checked the news, Grace Mugabe had left South Africa together with her husband and sons. She did not appear in court as the Minister for Police had earlier indicated.
This is why I have issues with the type of feminism whose sole purpose is to get more womyn into positions of power. To what end? What is the purpose of having these womyn in these spaces if all they do is model the patriarchal power and abuse that already exists in those places? Our focus should be on uplifting womyn and men who are capable of questioning patriarchal power and how it is used to abuse womyn. Otherwise then our feminism becomes about acquiring female as well as male oppressors, which makes no sense.
An analysis of power beyond just who holds it, to how it is used/ abused is necessary if we are ever going to get the feminist leadership we deserve and protect the interest of the most vulnerable not just the male, rich and powerful. As illustrated above, womyn are just as capable of using sexist power structures to harm other womyn and protect men from punishment for harming womyn.
I hope that the young womyn in question gets the Justice that she needs, although that is highly unlikely, and I hope that someday Grace Mugabe and her family are held liable for the damage they have done to Zimbabwe and the people they have exercised power over.