WOMEN of Zimbabwe Arise members numbering 150 made it to the steps of the City Hall Mayors office but senior ranking police officers blocked their access to engage the Mayor and the Mayor did not attend to address the aggrieved members, his voters. This was the third day of protest bemoaning the Bulawayo water woes.
Four of the five protests were disrupted at the start of their march by police officers who grabbed their banners and placards and threatened to beat the members.
The 3 days series of protests followed meetings with council officials in their suburban offices. Since 1st November, over 800 members conducted deputations or sent delegations to council officers to lodge complaints about water problems. Officials at most of these centres referred members to Council officers in Tower block where technical staff work and to the Mayor at City Hall. As a result the Monday protest was to Council Tower block, Tuesday to the Government complex where the Ministry of Water is housed and then the final protest to City Hall.
WOZA has been communicating with the Council PR Department and received a letter dated 29 October 2012 (BMN/W1/27), from the Town Clerk. This is the last paragraph in full, “Bulawayo City Council is committed to entering into a dialogue with you and your members to discuss more issues regarding the water crisis and water shedding. Council is available to provide further information to clarify issues on water raised by your organization.” Following up on this as a genuine invitation WOZA found their way blocked by Police on all 3 days of the protest campaign.
Those that made it to the steps of City hall on 14 November 2012, were greeted by very senior uniformed and those wearing plain clothes. The officers’ primary objective seemed to be to disperse the protest and attempted to take WOZA leaders Jennifer Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu to the police station which is located across the road to discuss the water problems. When asked if they had a mandate to act officially for city council they failed to give a plausible answer.
Dispersing the protest, Williams advised members gathered that negotiation with police to secure an address by the Mayor had failed and that the invitation issued by the Town clerk a false promise of dialogue. The WOZA leader then advised members to mobilise the ‘recall petition processes for Bulawayo councilors to be recalled by the electorate as they had failed to meet members or deal with the water crisis.
WOZA demands included the following
1. City council and the Minister of Water must convene public hearings and come up with a consulted plan of action on the water problems.
2. Members demand an END to water load shedding that extends beyond 24 hours and keep to timetables.
3. City council must supply water purifying tablets
4. City council must devise more effective methods of supplying residents with clean water in an orderly manner.
5. There is already an outbreak of diseases and the health delivery systems cannot cope with the queues and demand for drips and medication. The Health Department must also have a disaster management plan in place for all residents to inspect and be able to input to.
6. Demand increase to 100 litres per family per day from water bowser allocation, 40 litres is not enough for a family of five.
7. Stop charging penalties; we are already penalised by the water crisis.
8. Please help control fairly the access to boreholes and stop unscrupulous opportunists pretending to ‘own’ the borehole.
Demands to the minister
9. Firstly we have to make these demands through the Mayor due to centralised power and lack of access.
10. Honourable Mayor, tell the Minister that he must be accountable. He has made many empty promises but not delivered a single promise. He promised the water crisis would be dealt with by the first week of October but a month later we are thirsty. He must explain what he has done with the money he told us he had in his pocket.
11. We demand that the minister also conduct a consultative process and come up with a comprehensive plan to bring water to Bulawayo. We demand this be done in a non partisan way separated from anyone’s political ambitions.
12. Honourable Mayor we demand that you tell him and all your councillors that we are tired of being used as political tools. We demand constitutional devolution so that we can determine our own destiny. We are sick and tired of perennial problems and politicisation of our basic rights. Bob Marley sang these words, “you fool some of the people sometime but you can’t fool all the people all the time.’
Although the officers tried their best to be professional and no members were beaten, they still violated rights to freedom of expression and assembly of the participation and barred access to elected city officials. WOZA would like to nonetheless commend the officer commanding Bulawayo Chief Inspector Rangwani for finally realizing that arrests and beating will not deter the WOZA members. We applaud his effort to professionalise police response and encourage him to continue on this path to respect for democracy.