WOZA launches report on political violence against members

Earlier this month, WOZA launched a report on political violence against its members in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a consequence of exercising their constitutional rights through nonviolent civil disobedience, WOZA women have often been the target of unprovoked assaults, and other violations by state agents seeking to silence their voices. About six months ago WOZA decided it would be worthwhile to attempt a systematic documentation of the political violence suffered by WOZA women.

A partner organisation was identified to do the technical process but the questionnaire was developed with input from members who were then trained them to do the actual interviews. The results were then analysed by the technical partner.

The aim was to record the nature and extent of political violence against WOZA members; who the perpetrators were and the types of violations and injuries faced. It is a fact that many WOZA women have participated in the activities of different organisations before WOZA was formed in 2003. Hence the research did not begin with 2003 violations but predated the formation of WOZA to 2000. A section on violations pre, and post, independence was also included, in this way the women’s experiences as a whole were tracked.

The preliminary report
Data from 2,200 questionnaires completed is still being analysed. The preliminary report takes a sample of 397 interviews from members in Bulawayo and Harare and analyses only some of the sections. It gives some of the background describing the socio-economic status of WOZA members. It reports on the number of arrests they have experienced, the number and type of violations, and the perpetrators of the violations as well as injuries they have suffered.

WOZA has conducted over 100 protests on various issues of civil rights and social justice in its five-year existence and up to 3,000 women have spent time in police custody. Many have been detained more than once, most for 48 hours or more and 112 members once spent five days in police cells. These women, front-line human rights defenders, are willing to suffer beatings and unbearable conditions in custody to exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms. They continue to suffer torture and other forms of cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment.

For example:
* A high proportion (73 per cent – 291 women) has been arrested at least once. In total, the 397 women reported 615 arrests. On average each woman was arrested 1.5 times. The maximum number of arrests for those in the sample was eight but other members have recorded over 25 arrests.

* A high percentage have been assaulted in various ways – many seriously enough to seek medical attention and some have been hospitalised for various periods.

*Even higher percentages have been treated in cruel and inhuman and degrading ways by police officers who arrest them. There have been many cases of insults and death threats and several incidents of abduction.

* The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) were the most common perpetrators mentioned, with all branches of the ZRP mentioned by 52% [205 cases] of the sample.

These types of violations have become commonplace in Zimbabwe as the government seeks to prevent Zimbabweans from protesting against the continuing devastating mismanagement of the economy, extensive and malicious corruption and disregard for the welfare of the people. They have been reported on as well by other organisations including Amnesty International and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

The reason WOZA hastened to release this preliminary report is that Zimbabwe’s future now hangs in the balance in the hands of the SADC-mandated mediation efforts. The road to a better future lies through a legitimate election. This can only occur if the process and the political climate in which it takes place are fully free and fair. An essential component of the climate is the absence of violence.

Already regional leaders have stated that they expect that the elections due in March next year will measure up to the SADC standards and be “free and fair”.

WOZA’s message is simple. This type of repression, the sustained, deliberate and malicious state violence perpetrated to silence free expression continues. People are not just hungry – they are afraid to get up and say they are hungry. No legitimate election can be held in this environment.

WOZA is thus challenging friends in the region – whether they are governments, NGOs or social movements – to help document violations and call for an end to violence. For as long as state-sponsored violence continues, no legitimate election can be held. We urge you not to allow the validation of an illegitimate election. Hear us loud and clear – we demand meaningful peace and respect for the civil rights of all. We demand it and we deserve it.

To read the full report, click here. Preliminary report on political violence against WOZA members