On 15 April 2010 Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) leaders Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Celina Madukani and Clara Manjengwa were arrested and spent six days in detention in filthy conditions in Harare Central Police holding cells after a protest over Electricity supply and high costs. Upon their release on 20 April, instructed their lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) to petition the Supreme Court as the conditions constituted inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Section 15 (1) of the constitution.
They were also seeking an order compelling the government to ensure that holding cells at Harare Central Police Station meet basic hygienic conditions. Part of the petition was that their detention also resulted in gender discrimination and called for alterations in structure and procedure to cater for women prisoners.
WOZA cited the co-Minister of Home Affairs, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Attorney General Johannes Tomana as the respondents. The state respondents were represented by Advocate Goba and Ms Mashiri from the AG’s Civil Division.
Advocate Lewis Uriri, Advocate Taona Sibanda, all member lawyers of ZLHR, Dzimbabwe Chimbga and Bellinda Chinowawa of ZLHR represented the activists.
The activists spent their time in custody in a dark smelly corridor surrounding 10 cells that that they could not occupy due to human waste scattered all over the floors.
Five Supreme Court Judges namely, Justice Vernanda Ziyambi, Justice Rita Makarau, Justice Paddington Garwe, Justice Yunus Omerjee and Justice Anne-Mary Gowora convened the court in Harare Central police stations and conducted the inspection of the police cells. The inspection was to provide visual verification as to conditions and during the inspection the 4 activists were called upon to respond to questions. After an hour long inspection the court reconvened with a reading out of the observations and presentation of the Heads of argument and state response. After the lengthy arguments the court reserved judgement at 4:20 pm. Current trends indicated that a ruling will be granted within 6 months.
WOZA leaders observed that great attempts had been made by the Police to remove the ‘human waste bomb’ that had been apparent on the first floor cell unit during their arrest. But the respondents who ordered this clean up as a way to ‘rig’ and tried to make Harare central suddenly ‘habitable’ should realise that no amount of floor polish can dignify the undignified conditions that prevail. However the cleaning up has gone a long way to remove the offensive smell that permeated not only the cell chambers but wafted its way into the charge office.
WOZA recognise this as a significant victory for activism but wish it would not have been at the behest of a legal battle but out of common decency. Nevertheless WOZA thank the police for this clean-up effort which will be felt by staff and detainees alike. As the police continue to disrespect constitutional right to freedom of assembly and arrest WOZA members it is most likely that during these visits members will continue to check that the new standards of cleanliness observed with the Supreme Court judges inspection continue to be adhered to.