The Vice-President Resigned Over a Sex Scandal. Now Women Want Real Reform

Leaked calls allege that Zimbabwe’s vice-president Kembo Mohadi was having affairs with members of his staff.
March 4, 2021, 3:47pm
Women holding a flag of Zimbabwe take part in a demonstration of University of Zimbabwe's students, on November 20, 2017​.
Women holding a flag of Zimbabwe take part in a demonstration of University of Zimbabwe's students in November 2017. Photo: -/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, Zimbabwe’s vice-president Kembo Mohadi resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations. Mohadi is accused of having affairs with several women, some of whom were state security agents assigned to his office.

Over the past two weeks, online news site Zimlive has leaked several calls that are alleged to be of Mohadi using government resources to arrange sexual encounters with subordinates. In one of the leaked calls, the former vice-president appears to suggest that they use his office for sex. “There is no other place, we will have to do it in the office,” the 71-year-old Mohadi is alleged to have said.

Mohadi’s decision to step down shocked a nation not accustomed to political resignations, no matter how grave the accusation. In a statement, Mohadi – who became co-vice-president in 2017 when President Mnangagwa ascended to power through a military coup – said he was stepping down for the sake of the presidency.

“I have been going through a soul-searching pilgrimage and realised that I need to deal with my problems outside the governance chair,” he said. “I am taking the decision to step down as the vice-president of Zimbabwe, to save the image of my government.”

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The statement represents a significant climbdown from Mohadi’s initial reaction to the revelations. Just days before his decision, the former vice-president issued a statement denying any impropriety.

“I wish to clearly state that I am innocent and a victim of political machinations being peddled through hacking and voice cloning,” Mohadi said, adding that his right to privacy was being infringed upon. 

Soon after the allegations became public, women-led organisations in Zimbabwe began putting pressure on Mohadi, calling for his resignation.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, a network of women’s rights activists and women’s organisations, wrote a letter to the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, calling for it to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Investigations into the alleged incidents surrounding the former vice-president must occur if he is to clear his name,” Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma, executive director of Women in Politics Support Unit, told VICE World News.  

Sitabile Dewa, an executive director of Women Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence, an organisation fighting for equality in leadership positions, said Mohadi’s resignation is a positive step towards eradicating the rampant abuse of women by men in positions of power, but more needs to be done. “It has set a good precedence for future persons in authority who may abuse their positions,” Dewa said.

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“The scandal was a gross violation,” she added, “hence our outcry on [Mohadi] to be called to account in response to the abuse of office. The office of the vice-president should be exemplary in upholding high standards in respect to women’s rights. All those found on the wrong side should face the consequences.”

According to a recent study by Transparency International Zimbabwe, 57 percent of women in the country reported being pressured to offer sexual favours in exchange for job opportunities, medical care and even school placements for their children. 

“[Mohadi’s sex scandal] reaffirms our position that sexual abuse in its many forms is used as a weapon by men to assert power on women, weaken and threaten them too,” Dewa said before adding that Mohadi’s alleged behaviour is one of the major drivers pushing women out of politics. 

“It shows that the political space is unsafe for women and exposes the vulnerability of women in politics and public spaces,” she continued. “This has led to a hostile environment for women where they are harassed, demeaned, and threatened thus discouraging them from active participation in leadership and decision-making processes.”

Despite the accusations of sexual misconduct, Mohadi’s party, the ruling Zanu PF, are standing by him. Yesterday, Mohadi attended a Zanu PF national meeting. Addressing the media after the event, Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya-Moyo said that Mohadi is still the ruling party’s second secretary – a position he has held since 2017 – despite leaving government.

This would be a good opportunity, Dewa said, for Zimbabwe to consider implementing a Sexual Harassment Act.

“Lack of a legal framework that protects women in politics deters them from actively, freely and fully participate in politics,” she said.

Sifelani-Ngoma agreed, adding that Mohadi’s sex scandals have exposed the weaknesses in the Zimbabwean criminal justice system.

“There are power dynamics at play which indicate weak appreciation of sexual consent, sexual harassment and exploitation,” Sifelani-Ngoma said. “This is precisely why people in similar circumstances do not speak out.”