Today at noon the streets of Bulawayo came alive with the voices of human rights defenders as they commemorated the United Nations International Day of Peace. The words of the songs rang out – ‘its time to expose this false peace‘ and another ‘Lord, hear our cries‘. These songs were silenced however as riot police swooped, beating women and men alike, to disperse them from reaching their target at Mhlahlandlela Government complex. Fortunately the strategy of multiple protests starting minutes apart outwitted the police and the last protest managed to reach their target. No arrests have been reported to date but WOZA leaders are still verifying whether everyone returned safely to their homes.
Several activists required medical attention for injuries sustained during the chaos however. 20 year old Prisca Dube, chased by riot police into a pile of broken glass, had to continue running, leaving a trail of blood behind in the street. Her bloody slipper and four stitches to the sole of her foot are proof of the false peace in Zimbabwe. 30-year old Frances Vale had to be driven to hospital as he was unable to walk after being beaten by four riot police at the same time; he has a fracture to his arm and doctors are still waiting to check his leg and lower back. Nomuhle has a sprained ankle after a police officer stood on her foot. Twenty other members are also seeking medical treatment at this time for the brutal beatings they received at the hands of police.
The peace day protest attracted over 1,300 peace activists who marched to deliver a set of demands to the inclusive government under the theme – social justice can deliver peace of mind. Today’s march follows the peaceful protest in Harare yesterday where over 1,000 WOZA members handed in a petition to United Nations. The demands can be read in the September copy of the Woza Moya newsletter.
Five separate protests started simultaneously in different locations in the city; four merging to form three groups that would complete the last city block to the government complex. The first sign of police was as the four protests started to make their way to Mhlahlandlela; a pickup truck carrying police attempted to drive through the protest, scattering people. 10 police officers then proceeded to beat the peaceful group, forcing them past the government complex.
Meanwhile the last group, seeing this in front of them played for time, sitting down to calm the activists, chanting – sit down and maintain discipline (Ayihlale phansi ibambe umthetho). This smaller group managed to control their fear and ignoring the site of their comrades being beaten, advanced upon the target. Many of those who had stepped aside when the police ran past rejoined this group. One of those who managed to side step the beatings was Jenni Williams, who proceeded to the government complex. They chanted slogans and left the placards and demands behind before walking peacefully away.
A police vehicle was deployed to locate WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu after a police officer said they should stop beating just anyone and look for the leaders to beat.
Their arrival at the complex was met with rousing congratulations of bystanders – ‘you have beaten them 10 zero’ was one such comment. Unfortunately by this time, a senior ranking riot police officer had arrived at the scene and was heard to say, “you have not beaten them hard enough that is why they regrouped, beat them harder.” This resulted in the beating of Frances and others. A group of men watching Frances being beaten tried to mobilise people to beat the police in retaliation. This action was quickly stopped by WOZA members who explained: ‘we are non-violent activists and any history should write that the people who disturbed the peace with violence were Zimbabwe Republic Police officers, not peaceful human rights defenders’.
People were over eager today to receive the fliers and many stepped into the protest to hear the message. One bystander shouting at the police to stop beat a woman was pacified by another bystander saying – they may have been beaten but they delivered a truthful message.