Protest delivers complaint direct to Police Office in Bulawayo

AT 11am 300 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) marched to Police Officers in Southampton House.  November 29th is Women Human Rights Defenders Day an appropriate day to deliver a letter of complaint about police harassment.

This protest is the second in respect of the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence under the international theme: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women! But WOZA will use a shortened version – PEACE NOW!

As the 5 separate protests arrived on the pavement outside Southampton House, WOZA national coordinator Jenni Williams was arrested and moments later Programmes Coordinator Magodonga Mahlangu was arrested. Undeterred, the two leaders encouraged members to join them on the pavement. Once most members were present, the command to ‘sit and observe non violent discipline’ was chanted and members sat down. The arresting police officers quickly backed off to the door of Southampton House blocking entrance.

The activists then engaged police to request the Complaints Desk officer come downstairs to receive the letter of complaint.  Various police officers came back and forth trying to coerce Williams and Mahlangu to go into the building to deliver the letter but sensing a trap they declined. The letter of complaint calls on the Bulawayo Commanding Officers to investigate the behaviour of police officers on 13 November 2012. WOZA also call for the arrest of police officer Mukoshi and his colleagues who participated in this violence and perpetrated cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment inflicted on WOZA members. WOZA has given the police command 7 days to investigate this matter or they will take up the matter by other legal means.

Included in the 20 minute protest programme was speeches and testimonies by various members who had been beaten by police. Three of those beaten testified and described their injuries and the insults and abuse by police. A huge crowd gathered and bystanders also aired their sympathy and booed the police for insulting members for speaking isiNdebele language. In defiance of the unofficial ban of the Ndebele language, the activist only sang Ndebele songs: Thina silwela amalungelo (We are standing up for our rights) and Lamulela Amapholisa bayasitshaya (help us by intervening, the police are beating us)

At this time 2 more senior officers attended and said they could not accept the letter referring the activist to Bulawayo District Police chief based at Ross Camp. They ignored requests to receive the letter as they have done on several occasions. Williams and Mahlangu then requested their escort to Ross Camp several city blocks away but the two officers contradicted each other. Seeing the indecision, the two leaders announced that the procession would move to Ross camp.  The procession then reformed and began to march.

Along the route at the St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and members decided to kneel and pray as they walked past. It was as they were kneeling that a truck of Riot police arrived and jumped from their vehicles beating several members kneeling in prayer. Serious injury was averted by the arrival of another senior officer who then insisted Williams and Mahlangu get into the van. However the junior officers refused to open the tail gate of the van and there was no female officer to assist the two into the vehicle. The senior officer then suggested that he wanted to drive only the two leaders to deliver their letter to the District Commanding Officer at Ross Camp.

Further pandemonium resulted as an overzealous officer then tried to arrest a young man and members had to surround him to prevent his victimization. Calm was then restored when the senior officer said he should be released and Williams was asked to calm the members down with the promise that no arrested would be made.

Williams and Mahlangu then asked the protest participants to sit quietly and await their return from the District Command Office. They were escorted into a police double cab but as they were pulling away the District Commanding Officer arrived and agreed to officially receive the letter of complaint and sign for it. Williams and Mahlangu then announced the end of the protest 45minutes after it started and members quietly walked to the Bus terminus without being disturbed.

After supervising this dispersal, Williams and Mahlangu then headed back to town to run some errands but this proved difficult as over 6 plain clothed officers followed them and monitored them, seemingly wanting to secure a late arrest. However Williams and Mahlangu managed to lose the officers and avoid further harassment.

Background note: In 1982 to 83, the North Koreans trained the Zimbabwe Army Fifth Brigade and they were deployed into Matabeleland and Midlands and perpetrated a massacre of mostly Ndebele speaking people who were perceived to support the opposition party of late Joshua Nkomo. This campaign was called Gukurahundi, a Shona language word meaning the first rains that wash away the rubbish. During those tragic years, the massacre went unreported as then primeminister Robert Mugabe was feted internationally. Mugabe has since owned up by calling the massacre a ‘moment of madness’. At present many of the 20000 people estimated to have been killed remain unaccounted for and their bodies have never been located.  complaint police harrasment to ZRP 13nov incident