PRISCILLA Misihairabwi-Mushonga is one of the most vocal and theatrical MPs who make Zimbabwe’s rather lifeless Parliament tick.
Last year, she performed several “stunts” in the National Assembly that included waving used women’s second-hand panties, displaying sanitary pads, and “smuggling a baby” into the august House.
The legislator also challenged male MPs to a fight outside the National Assembly when they heckled her as she was contributing to debate.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Standard last week, Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC Proportional Representation) defended the “publicity stunts”.
She promised more theatrics in Parliament as long as they assisted her to illustrate her points to the House.
To her, an MP who cannot perform “stunts” and remains mum throughout the five-year long parliamentary session is not worthy to be representing any constituency in Parliament.
“Any politician that says they do not want to get attention is lying because the essence of representation is to make sure that people notice you,” she said.
“If you remain quiet in Parliament for the whole year, you might as well not be a legislator.
“I do seek to make people notice me and to shock them out of their comfort zones because mere talk does not get people to look up.
“It took me waving sanitary pads and used underwear to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa — who was engaged in conversation with someone else during debate — to get noticed and to send home a point that they were too expensive for women.
“It took me bringing a baby, King, into the House for them to realise children and female MPs have breastfeeding rights.”
The veteran women rights activist said men tended to respond to action rather than words.
“People laughed when I brought the dirty and smelly second-hand panties in the House, but it sent a message that there is an economic crisis in the country, resulting in women resorting to buying second-hand undergarments,” the MP added.
“It is a continuous war and one has to continue sustaining their argument.”
She said her campaign to have a room reserved for breastfeeding legislators in Parliament had been a success.
“Three weeks ago, the Speaker spoke to me and said he had found a room for those MPs who want to bring babies to breastfeed, while they are doing Parliament work,” the Matabeleland South legislator added.
“King did not have to stay more than 10 minutes in the National Assembly to prove that point.
“He has been one of the youngest legislators. I think any baby could have been in the House. But King was fortunate because he has a mum who is an MP.”
On daring men to a fist-fight, Misihairabwi-Mushonga said although she did not believe in violence, her challenge to the interjecting male legislators was serious business.
“Violence is wrong and there is no justification for being violent. But in the heat of the moment in Parliament, I ended up responding in that manner because I realised that when men are intellectually defeated, they often resort to physical fighting,” she said.
“What happens in Parliament is that some men try to belittle me and other women using sexist comments because they are physically better endowed than I am, and at that point, in my anger, I then challenge them to the physical arena.”
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said there was a lot of sexual harassment in the House as male MPs were fond of making snide remarks about women’s dressing and hairstyles.
She said being a female MP was very difficult, adding that was the reason why most female legislators were single women, She said they had to be tough and do anything to survive in Parliament.
“Women in politics come with a certain persona, and that is why the majority of female MPs do not have long-term partners, or are not married,” the firebrand legislator said.
“It takes a lot to be a female married MP because you worry about many things, like taking care of kids, meals, while male MPs do not have to worry about all those things.
“I had to shed off some of my responsibilities like being a secretary-general of [the Welshman Ncube-led] MDC because there were too many things to do.”
She said her responsibilities had become too much for her when she was appointed Regional Integration minister during the Government of National Unity and at the same time, she was traumatised after she lost her husband, Chris Mushonga, during a botched robbery.
“I was traumatised, and because of my responsibilities as a minister and secretary-general of the MDC, I did not take time to deal with the trauma.”
“There were also issues of inheritance that troubled me, and when we did not do well during the 2013 general elections, I ended up having a serious breakdown.
“The doctors recommended that I quit politics, but I chose to shed off some of my responsibilities such as being the secretary-general of MDC.”
On her experience as a minister, Misihairabwi-Mushonga said President Robert Mugabe was a complex character.
“In Cabinet, Mugabe had intellectual capacity to bring things together,” she said.
“There are two personas of Mugabe: the one that we know where he castigates opposition MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai at the National Heroes’ Acre, and the other persona of Mugabe, who managed to deal with people of different ideas in Cabinet and listened to opposition views.”