WOZA declares a national disaster and demands food for all Zimbabweans in Bulawayo today – 9 arrested

Hundreds of members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) took to the streets of Bulawayo this morning, marching for several blocks to Mhlahlandlela Government Complex to declare a national disaster and demand immediate food aid for all Zimbabweans. Nine members have been arrested at the time of this release.

WOZA at Mhlahlandlela Government Complex, Bulawayo todayOn arrival at the Government Complex, the group of approximately 200 sat down outside the gates whilst a delegation of four elderly women went in to request that the Regional Department Heads of all the service departments come out and address the crowd on what is being done to alleviate the humanitarian crisis facing the country.

The group sat peacefully waiting to be addressed for 45 minutes before five riot police approached the group. Two leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, were arrested and taken to Drill Hall, which is across the road from Mhlahlandlela. The rest of the group were forcibly dispersed by being beaten with baton sticks. At least one member is receiving medical attention for the beating she received. Williams and Mahlangu were later taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station, where they are currently being held.

It appears that a group of seven women were arrested before the demonstration began as they were sitting waiting for the signal to start. They were apparently sitting near some black market foreign exchange dealers and were arrested along with them. They have also been taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station. Lawyers are still trying to verify reports that the group had been beaten inside Bulawayo Central.

The peaceful protestors had begun their march near the High Court and processed several blocks to Mhlahlandlela, singing and handing out the October 2008 Woza Moya newsletter to passers-by who rushed out into the street to receive them. A copy of the October 2008 newsletter with the group’s demands can be found below.

The demonstrators also paused at two intersections to sit down whilst chanting in Ndebele – ‘ayihlale phansi ihambe umthetho’ (sit down and maintain discipline). As during their last demonstration two weeks ago, this was sang both as a way to ensure that the activists maintained non-violent discipline and also as a message to politicians to sit down and respect the deal. Other songs sang include a WOZA favourite – ‘this is an issue that men are failing to solve’.

The protest was further to a previous peaceful protest on 29 September where the theme was ‘actions speak louder than words’. The political impasse continues a month after the power-sharing agreement was signed and the crisis facing people in their daily lives deteriorates dramatically every day. The power-sharing deal mentions grave concern for the humanitarian crisis facing people and yet still nothing has been done. People and children are dying of starvation whilst the politicians continue to talk.

WOZA therefore continues to demand immediate action regarding the formation of a new government that will begin to work on solving urgent social issues, like food, electricity and water. Recognising that the situation in the country is now a national disaster we also demand that ALL Zimbabweans receive access to food aid and also seed and agricultural inputs.

In other news, both groups of members facing trial this week have been removed off remand. On Tuesday 14th, the decision on the application for review of the case of Cynthia Ncube and Trust Moyo was not ready. Whilst the decision from the High Court is pending, they were removed off remand.

The ‘Chikurubi 14’ due to face trial in Harare Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday 15th, were also removed off remand. The docket was not available and although the State tried to insist that they were ready for trial and were trying to get the group further remanded for trial, the Magistrate upheld the resolution that she had made on 26th August that if the trial did not take off on the 15th October, the group would be removed off remand.

We also ask that you call Bulawayo Central Police Station on +263 9 72515, 61706 or 63061 and ask for the immediate release of all WOZA members including Williams and Mahlangu and that they not be mistreated in custody.