WOZA leaders briefly arrested in Bulawayo

AT noon on 12th September 300 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were prevented from conducting a peaceful protest to The Chronicle in Bulawayo. Three small groups that managed to arrive at the Chronicle but were quickly dispersed by Riot Police with raised baton sticks. In 5 parts of the Central business district Riot Police were standing in groups of 4 carrying baton sticks and obviously ready to stop the protests as they began.

A block away, WOZA national coordinator, Jenni Williams was standing alone when 4 police officers surrounded her. One of these police officers had arrested Williams on 21 September 2011 while shopping in an Electrical shop. On that day, 30 minutes previously he had also arrested Magodonga Mahlangu. Both activists were then charged with Kidnap and Theft, charges that are still being prosecuted in 2012.

On the 12 September, he once again refused to give his name but asked, “Jennifer what are you planning here?”  To which Williams replied, “What are you doing here beating people?” The other police officers then started to lecture Williams on the need for WOZA to notify police before any protest. A legal argument ensured. One the officers then announced that the Officer Commanding of Bulawayo, Central Assistant chief Inspector Rangwani wanted to see Williams. The police officers then escort her to the station on foot.

As they began to walk, Magodonga Mahlangu arrived and asked Williams what was happening. It was at this point that a further legal argument ensued. Williams advised Mahlangu that it seemed she was under arrest. The officers said she was not but then refused to allow her to go and reschedule the meeting with the chief Inspector.

As the two arrived at the police station, eight members entered the station in solidarity bringing the number ‘arrested’ to 10. They were taken to the chief inspector Rangwani’s office and they were told he would be arriving shortly. Lawyers were deployed to represent the activists but were denied access. A two and a half hour circus then ensued with the activists being told they were being charged but some officers refusing to charge them, mentioning the letter of complaint filed the week before. The arresting officers then stage-managed the separation of Williams and Mahlangu from the other 8. The 8 and other activists outside were rounded up by a Riot squad and force marched to the bus terminus.

The WOZA leaders who were now back in the OC Rangwani office were still unable to access their lawyers. Finally two senior officers seated themselves in the OC chair and surprisingly asked the two if they had wanted a meeting with the OC. Williams then asked the whereabouts of OC Rangwani, the officers admitted he was on leave. The WOZA leaders then stood up and said, ‘as we are told we are not formally under arrest we are now leaving and will be submitting a further letter of complaint.” Williams then left her phone number for a meeting to be scheduled and the two activists walked out of the police station.

WOZA wish to draw attention to the disparate police response between the police at Parliament in Harare and the Bulawayo police. On 12 September it was obvious that the WOZA leaders were arrested to prevent their exercising their right to protest. This right is provided by constitutional law buttressed by Supreme Court ruling of 2010 after legal action taken by Williams and Mahlangu. ‘Once again police in Bulawayo have acted overzealously and acted to discriminate against WOZA members from Bulawayo which is regional and tribal discrimination.

See the complaint against the police at http://wozazimbabwe.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/WOZA-complain-of-police-harrasment-ZRP-Jomic.pdf