(N.B: This post has been looked over by my lawyers and was also sent to the main party of concern on 18 September)
I did not want to bring this issue into the public domain, but now it appears that it is the only way that I may finally get some closure.
As you will know from a notice posted some months ago, Her Zimbabwe has been in the process of closing down as an institution. In the notice was cited a range of reasons why the organisation was closing, including burnout and lack of collective agreement on a range of important issues around the direction the organisation was to take.
As you may also know, I resigned from Her Zimbabwe as its Director in 2016 because of this very same reason and some friction between certain board members, funders and secretariat about the direction that they saw Her Zimbabwe taking. When I founded Her Zimbabwe in 2012, I sought for the platform to focus on identity navigation and articulation, as well as consciousness-raising. Instead, at least to me, it felt like the platform was becoming more of a gender and technology organisation without a deep and collectively shared ideology and politics among its secretariat and board members.
After my resignation, in my capacity as a board member, I had proposed to the board that Her Zimbabwe perhaps think of taking a hiatus and ‘finding itself’ again. Or if this was not possible, for the institution to continue and go through a process of rebranding to better reflect its new identity while keeping the name of Her Zimbabwe separate from this new entity. This was opposed by two of consistently present board members [a total of four of seven board members, myself included, attended this meeting] and I took it – as well as many other encounters – as a sign that my thoughts on the direction and possibilities of the entity no longer held much weight. After some months, I decided to resign from the board.
The decisions to resign from both the secretariat and the board were very difficult decisions for me to take as I still felt strongly about the initial vision of the organisation. These decisions had effects on my physical, emotional and mental wellbeing as I saw something that I had begun from a place of passion become institutionalised and far removed from its core purpose; to share and tell women’s stories with critical analysis and a desire to form an informed online archive of our existence. However, I realised that I probably should step away and allow the organisation to take whatever shape and direction it saw best fit, even providing the organisation with some consultancy opportunities in other work that I took on in the ensuing time.
Late last year, however, it came to my attention that Her Zimbabwe was to be taken over by the organisation of one of the two board members I have discussed previously, who directs a fairly prominent organisation which describes itself as making use of new media, satire and culture for innovation, youth activism, democracy and human rights. This organisation’s Director sat on the board as the HZ’s chairperson and sought to take the organisation of Her Zimbabwe as a project of his own. This information had been sent to funders, but not to me, even though I remained Founder of the organisation – a recognised role in the Trust Deed that all trustees had signed – and had an explicit right to be consulted about sources of funding for the organisation as per clause 12.3 of the Deed. In the hopes that I might do something to raise the issue of the illegality of this process, I was asked by a few concerned parties to consult with a legal firm to understand if the process the trustees (three board members, including the two I have previously mentioned, had assented to this) were undertaking was indeed above board.
As suspected, it turned out that it was not. And this is when I communicated with this board chair and the other involved board member (who was to take on a Special Adviser role in this new constitution of Her Zimbabwe) to inform them that I was aware of the process that was occurring and its illegality given that Her Zimbabwe was a registered Trust and organisation, and could not simply be taken over as a project of another organisation without proper steps taken of dissolution of the Trust and distribution of its assets to an organisation of similar standing, as per the Trust Deed that all Trustees had signed in 2014.
I was then told by the board chair that, “As it stands in 2018 Her Zim has no funding and no staff. It is no cash cow. The board has been dissolved and bank accounts closed.” This email was sent to me on February 22 and in the ensuing almost 7 months, no documentation or evidence to prove this had been supplied to me, though I had requested it on several occasions. As the Deed of the Trust informs, it is essential to follow the processes of closure of the organisation to avoid any unnecessary liability or harm, but this organisation has not seen fit to supply this information either as documents proving that the Trust’s bank account no longer exists, or that NSSA have been informed of the closure of the organisation, bearing in mind that lack of deactivation of these procedures holds former staff at great liability. [N.B: Upon sending this notice to the involved organisation last week, I finally received a letter dated 26 June in which the remaining signatories on the Her Zimbabwe bank account had requested closure of the accounts related to the Trust. No such evidence had been provided to be me previously, and still – at the time of writing – I do not know if the bank has written back to inform the parties that such closure has been finalised].
This has worried me for many months and caused me untold stress as my name and reputation remain closely associated with Her Zimbabwe, and more importantly, the various clauses of Her Zimbabwe’s Deed of Trust – which was the ultimate governance guide of the organisation – have been clearly ignored and disregarded. It has also concerned me that while this organisation made clear that they had engaged lawyers to settle the winding down of the Trust some months ago – as per dissolution clause of the Trust Deed – these lawyers have provided no communication to my lawyers, or evidence of this process taking place. Furthermore, in failing to follow the mandates of the Deed, this same organisation told me that they would be keeping the assets of Her Zimbabwe, something which constitutes a conflict of interest as a Trustee cannot take on possession of the assets of the organisation. [N.B: After receiving this letter last week, they became more open to the idea of releasing these assets.]
The assets of the organisation that I myself was able to keep were as a result of unpaid salary owed to me and constituted a 4-year-old Macbook Pro and 4-year old camera at the time, all of which had been depreciatively valued to the amount of money that I was owed. All other assets that I still held in my possession, I returned to the organisation.
Many conflicts of interest have existed between Her Zimbabwe and this organisation, with the most prominent one being that Her Zimbabwe’s main funder at the time moved to make Her Zimbabwe sell off assets and work from this organisation’s co-working space/ hub, where in essence Her Zimbabwe was paying rent to one of its Trustee’s organisations. These conflicts were raised by other funders but could not be acted on as the main funder at the time felt that the co-working space was more conducive to Her Zimbabwe finding other funders.
Women’s labour continues to be undermined or abused by men in our sector with the power to silence us, which is why I feel it is important to speak up for myself, my convictions and principles. I am not able to say the name the organisation at this time as the Director of it has stated that if I do, he will, “consult my lawyers and come up with measures to reply to this public attack on my image and the reputation of many others”. Even though nothing I state is untrue, I take this is threat as more unnecessary back and forths and distractions to follow. The lack of respect that this organisation has shown, especially as it claims to champion human rights and egalitarianism, and its unwillingness to back their own words with evidence is unacceptable and It would make no sense for me to have run a platform that sought to amplify women’s voices while myself not being willing to amplify my own against such injustice. There are many examples of men usurping women’s collective labour and this is another example of of this, hence my need to speak up against it.
Seven months is too long a time to wait for evidence of something that someone themselves stated as fact and my frustration, and the sheer mental energy that I have expended in waiting for evidence of this information is cruel and unfair. Now that this information is in the public domain, I hope and trust that the organisation and their lawyers will comply with the process and close a painful and traumatising chapter for all who have loved Her Zimbabwe and wished only good things for it.