Five hundred members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) in two separate protests marched to Parliament to commemorating Valentine’s Day and WOZA 10th Anniversary under the theme – Shosholoza for love! The first protest arrived and was stopped 50 meters from the Parliament door by 8 baton stick and shield wielding Riot Police who refused to allow them to pass.
The activists took the opportunity to sing their love songs to the police and chant their slogans. Four leaders took the opportunity to address the gathering on the constitutional reform requirements of members and the role police should have been playing instead of stopping the peaceful activists.
A 20 minute impasse was broken up by the arrival of a police Landover. The second protest arrived and was also blocked. A senior officer then began to demand the activists disperse and pleas to allow one person to hand over the Woza Moya newsletter with demands fell on deaf ears. He then threatened to use ‘minimum’ force to disperse the gathering but before he could give any orders, a bigger vehicle arrived with over 30 riot police who did not speak to the officer but started to use their shields to push the women and men away from the road. One officer with the tear gas gun cocked the weapon in the air making as if to shoot it.As they pushed members away, some police officers began to beat the peacefully dispersing crowd and this cause pandemonium and people started to run away at speed.
One of the participants was beaten by 4 police officers at once taking turns to slay her across the neck and shoulders. She apparently was being beaten met with this level of severity for telling them -‘the thieves are going free while you beat us’. After they set up her she then told them off saying – you are now the ones starting violence.
Ten members had to seek medical attention for soft tissue bruises and lacerations caused by baton stick injuries.
WOZA call on the police officers to be more professional. It is illogical to beat people as they are actually dispersing and a sign that police officers have too high an appetite for violence. WOZA also wish to draw comparison between the semi professional behaviour of police at parliament who go through the motions of engaging protest leaders whereas in Bulawayo the police offices just jump from their truck and thump anybody in sight showing a greedy appetite for violence. On 7th February the Bulawayo edition of the protest was violently dispersed by police officers and over 30 members had to seek medication for abrasions and bruises.
An opinion by Lawyer Andrew Makoni WOZA counsel 2009 on the role of police from the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23)…..the legislature is aware that processions inevitably interfere in some way with other people’s movements, hence the provisions of section 29 (1) (c) which prescribes what a police officer may do if a regulatory authority has not received a notice of the intended procession more than 48 hours before the gathering, where such notice is required. In terms of this subsection, an officer may restrict the gathering to a place or guide the participants along a route. This section does not give the police the power to arrest in the event of an unlawful gathering but the power to regulate the gathering. Neither does the act provide police officers with the right to brutally disperse peaceful human rights defenders.