Approximately 300 WOZA members marched through the streets of central Bulawayo this afternoon. The aim of the march was to draw the attention of preoccupied politicians to people’s needs, namely bread and butter issues; or as WOZA likes to put it, bread and roses issues – bread representing food and roses representing the need for lasting dignity. No arrests have been reported at the time of this release although police were seen to respond after the demonstrators dispersed showing intention to arrest participants.
The protest also sought to test the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) recently signed by Zimbabwe’s politicians to determine whether freedoms of expression and assembly truly have opened up. The MoU stated that there would be freedom of political activity and security of persons and prevention of violence. It further followed that there would be statements calling for an end to violence but Zimbabweans have yet to see this in word and deed.
The representative group of women and men marched to the offices of the Chronicle, the state-owned newspaper. As the peaceful activists marched, they distributed a newsletter detailing their demands (to read a copy of this newsletter, see July 2008 Woza Moya). By completing the march without incident, WOZA members have finally laid to rest the ghost of the International Women’s Day protest on 8th March 2008 where over 50 members received medical attention for the brutal beating they received from riot police when attempting to reach the Chronicle offices.
As they marched the members sang an Ndebele song with the words: “we are going to Pretoria – even if they arrest us or beat us and even if they have not invited us.” Signifying the need for representation at the negotiation table to ensure a lasting solution to the crisis in the country or else the only other option left to Zimbabweans is going the unofficial way – by border jumping as political or economic refugees. These are the bottom line choices for the negotiators.
Today’s march is also the first protest conducted by WOZA after the 28th May demonstration in Harare that resulted in 14 members being incarcerated in remand prison for several weeks.
WOZA intend to organise more protests over the next few weeks to press for civic representatives to be involved in the talks and to continue to ‘test’ the politician’s commitment to a non-violent solution.