Anti riot Police deployed here, there and everywhere at street corners, attempt to disturb the Bulawayo Valentine’s Day protest. The police officers actively chased women away from each other as they tried to gather. A further two landrover vehicles with over 10 officers also drove helter skelter jumping from their truck to scatter groups of women. A 8 tonne truck was also stationed in Herbert Chitepo Street with a contingent of officers jumping in and out of the vehicle to scatter women.
WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, on foot to participate in the protest were followed by a double cab with 6 officers from the law and order department. These officers took countless pictures and video footage of the 2 leaders as they awaited the 1115am start time at one of the start point. They then followed the protest taking footage of the whole activity.
As Williams and Mahlangu started the protest the 8 tonne truck made a show of trying to bump the activists attempting to open the banner. The drive also kept hooting to try to disturb them. Eventually a sufficient number of members drew close enough so that the protest march could move towards the government complex, Mhlahlandlela. Once the protest started, many police officers were looking down at their shoes, embarrassed at their previous behaviour. The big truck drove away leaving the peaceful protest. Two other protests, one near the High Court and another in Joshua Nkomo Street managed to start and proceed without disturbance. All three protest groups with over 1250 members finally arrived at the government complex.
A police cordon at the entrance of the Mhlahlandlela Government complex blocked the activists from delivering the petition to the Resident minister Eunice Moyo. The protest programme continued. Four leaders, including Williams and Mahlangu made pavement speeches citing the reasons for the protest and made demands for free primary school education delivered by 30 December 2014. As the speeches were about to come to an end, two over 80 year old grandmothers, took the floor to tell the police that ‘they did not want to be herded like cattle as they dispersed’.
After the closing slogan – umkhonto wo thando – Zhii (the love spear rules), Williams and Mahlangu led the crowd in dispersing, toward the nearby bus terminus to catch their commuter buses home. A small delay in the crowd dispersal occurred when two police trucked blocked the road near Ross Camp, the provincial headquarters of the police. This caused the members to have to walk around the trucks to get to commuter ranks.
WOZA leaders decry the waste of resources used to deploy over 150 police officers from early morning, to monitor and disturb peaceful women from handing out roses and constitution pocket books to Bulawayo residents. “There is a severe shortage of police officers to do the work of arresting criminals and investigating looters of public funds. However police officers are never in short supply when there are peaceful women exercising their democratic rights by marching to ask for love or demanding that constitution be activated”. Said WOZA National coordinator Jenni Williams