Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise conducted their fifth annual assembly at a secret location in Matabeleland South between 27th and 29th August. Over 400 delegates converged from Bulawayo, Mutare and Harare with a large contingent from rural areas. WOZA has a membership base of over 70,000 members. Congress delegates were community-based leaders elected to represent their constituencies. They gather once a year to elect their leadership management body affectionately known as ‘Mother WOZA’.
The assembly is known as ‘Sheroes’ as it honours modern-day Sheroes. It is planned annually to celebrate the courage of ordinary people doing the extraordinary at the same time as the Government of Zimbabwe talks about their ‘heroes’.
Last year’s congress could not be conducted due to the prevailing security and health situation. This year’s theme was ‘real people with real needs – demanding bread and roses.’
The aim of the Assembly was to:
· Review WOZA’s activities during the past year.
· Discuss and review a proposed strategic plan for the upcoming year.
· Elect national and regional and community leaders for the coming year.
· Launch the WOZA-authored ‘A guide to understanding the Constitution’ booklet in three languages and to prepare members for the constitutional consultation beginning in September through to the February 2010 referendum.
· Conduct an initial consultation on the constitution-making process and obtain minimum principles as regards content of the new constitution and a review of the process so far.
Preliminary nomination processes for all leadership positions were conducted in August. Elections were then conducted at congress for positions that were unopposed.
With regard to the government-led constitutional process, members at the congress resolved to continue to observe the process as it unfolds and to remain mobilised to protest attempts to fast-track the Kariba Draft or any other unconsulted draft.
The booklet ‘A guide to understanding the Constitution’ was distributed to members and stocks are already low. The booklet is to aid people to contribute in consultations as well as to help members decide on their minimum standards and principles for a constitution. WOZA prepared the booklet to empower people with issues to debate publicly prior to the public consultations and to empower them to speak out during the consultations.
Following the consultations it was clear that members felt that the current environment is not conducive to a genuinely consultative constitutional process. Some of the key ‘wants’ those present identified as being necessary before a genuine constitutional consultation can be held are:
· Repealing of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and free media by removing restrictions on freedom of expression;
· Healing by design and not by presidential decree – the beginning of a genuine truth recovery and national healing process
· Security sector reform and the resigning of current politicised police bosses.
With regard to the content of a new constitution, the ‘non-negotiable’ factors include:
· clear separation of powers and independence of the judiciary
· a shorter term of office for the executive and a majority age of 65 years
· dual citizenship and protection of the right to citizenship
Members would also like to see a constitution that guarantees rights to education, health, housing and shelter, right to language and culture and caters for equality with augmented access for disadvantaged groups. It was felt that the bill of rights should include protection of the following rights: socio-economic, prisoners’, women’s, sexual orientation, property and political choice.
As members reviewed the previous year, many testimonies about the political violence were shared as well as the testimonies of members imprisoned in 2008 in Chikurubi and Mlondolozi prisons for peaceful protest against political violence.
WOZA continue to have to operate in the underground as nothing has changed as regards the security situation in the country despite promises for peace in the global political agreement. Security concerns led to the delay in releasing this statement. WOZA, a social justice movement of human rights defenders refuse to legitimise the Public Order Security Act and so conduct their meeting in secret. In fact police presence at the congress venue resulted in an early closing of proceedings to avoid unnecessary arrests.
WOZA introduced a new structure style in 2007 and this system was reviewed at congress. It has brought increased expansion at multiple levels. As a result 37 leaders, three of whom are male, were elected to represent WOZA in organised operational areas. It is unfortunate that for security reasons names must be withheld until there is genuine change in Zimbabwe.
The new leaders of WOZA/MOZA are now ready to continue their mobilization of Zimbabweans to demand social justice and look forward to continuing their mandate of peaceful protest until there is a genuine transition that will bring about a ‘livable peace’ and dignity for Zimbabweans.