Chipo Dendere, a Zimbabwean and postdoctoral fellow in political science at Amherst College in the US, notes that some women seem to have been drawn to Grace precisely because of the misogyny she faced.
Now, she warns, “Women are going to be afraid to speak out when they recall Grace Mugabe. I think she will be used against them … There’s a sense of people saying: ‘Women, you gave us these problems.’”
Dendere points not just to protest slogans such as “We don’t want prostitutes in politics” and “Leadership is not sexually transmitted”, but also to previous elite attacks on both Grace and the other prominent Zimbabwean female politician, Joice Mujuru.
She was vice-president to Robert Mugabe, until he ousted her, and boasted impressive credentials as a fighter in the liberation struggle.
Even those were undermined by sexist attacks: she was accused of performing witchcraft to down an enemy aircraft, to capture and manipulate her husband (who had led Mugabe’s guerrilla forces during the liberation wars of the 1960s and 70s), and to defeat political enemies.
Yet young women in Zimbabwe have been trying to carve out a space for themselves, through activism such as the #shevotes campaign encouraging registration and voting.
Many more took to the streets at the weekend to voice their demands for change. They believe they have a right and an opportunity to determine their future – even if they are realistic about the prospects of actually doing so.
The kind of change these women want does not stop at seeing off the Mugabes. It means seeing off the powerful old men who ousted them as well.