HARARE – Jane Nicola Watson, the MDC legislator for Bulawayo constituency, says she clinched a proportional representation seat in Zimbabwe’s 8th Parliament because race was no longer an issue in the southern African country.
A founding MDC member, Watson is one of three white MDC MPs in Parliament after an election in which the opposition won only 68 of the 210 seats contested.
The 58-year-old said the white community pulled out from participating in the country’s politics following victimisation .
“It was a learning curve as a lot of white people who were supporting MDC got politically burnt out and were not able to carry on participating in the politics of the country after the formation of MDC,” Watson said.
“We were intimidated a lot and called names and many of us withdrew while others left the country. I decided to remain relevant and in touch with the people in Zimbabwe.”
Watson, who is the Bulawayo treasurer for Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, is in Parliament, thanks to the newly-introduced proportional representation that imposes a women quota.
Since independence, the country’s 75 000 whites, who form less than one percent of its 13 million population, have been expected to steer clear of politics in a tacit quid pro quo for being allowed to stay.
But that changed with the 2000 vote, when four whites won parliamentary seats. Since then, more and more whites have openly engaged in politics, and currently the MDC has quite a handful of white members.
Mugabe says the MDC is a front organisation for British settlers and the MDC whites have particularly aroused his anger. He calls them mabhunu.
Watson said she does not feel as if she belongs to a minority race saying she is a full Zimbabwean who was born and bred in Bulawayo, relating and interacting with black people.
“I think the Zanu PF legislators look at me in Parliament and try to understand how a white person was voted into Parliament,” she said. “I know that I am still a new MP who is still trying to find her feet in Parliament, who is doing her best to represent the people of Bulawayo.”
Watson said politics runs in her family as her parents were prominent liberal politicians in the 50s and 60s during the Federation and Ian Douglas Smith’s regime.
Smith was the first native-born prime minister of the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and an ardent advocate of white rule, who in 1965 declared Rhodesia’s independence and its subsequent withdrawal from the British Commonwealth.
“My father was Wilson Eastwood, he was minister in the federal government in the 50s responsible for ministry of Transport, whilst my mother Dorcas was an MP for Bulawayo Hillside constituency in the 60s,” Watson said.
There are two other white MPs in Parliament, Eddie Cross of Bulawayo South and Senator Norman Micheal Carter of Bulawayo Metropolitan.
Watson is an accountant by profession and worked for a leading accounting firm for 20 years in Bulawayo before quitting to pursue a career in politics.
She was educated at Townsend Girls High in Bulawayo and Bulawayo Polytechnic.
In Parliament she seats in the portfolio committee of Foreign Affairs and Education.
“I am enjoying my time as an MP as I am working very well with party colleagues like our chief whip Innocent Gonese who is helping me a lot in carrying out my parliamentary duties,” she said.
“In the party structures, I have a good understanding with Nelson Chamisa who is our organising secretary and also my other party colleagues from Bulawayo province who I usually travel with to attend parliamentary sessions.”
She admitted the July 31 poll was a disaster for the MDC.
“The MDC did not perform well in the elections as a result of multi facet factors,” she said.
“One of them is the rigging machinery from Zanu PF which was in full force, and there was a fear factor amongst the population of political violence, thinking that there might be a repeat of 2008 incidence. It is a fact that fear is still entrenched in our society.
“I know that in the rural areas food was used as a weapon for political patronage by Zanu PF forcing people to support Zanu PF candidates instead of MDC candidates, this also contributed to our down fall in the elections.”
She believes that MDC under Tsvangirai will be able to assume power in the next elections under a free and fair electoral environment.