Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have finished an eleven-month long programme of social justice consultations, which saw them holding 284 defiance meetings with approximately 10,000 Zimbabweans nationwide. In the WOZA way, most meetings were carried out in defiance of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
The response from the communities visited was overwhelming, especially in the rural areas. Although rural residents have been branded the regime’s most unwavering supporters, so desperate are they for change that they were willing to walk for several kilometres to a meeting just to be heard.
Areas covered include Bulawayo, Harare, Chitungwiza, Gwanda, Victoria Falls, Binga, Gwanda, Matobo, Insiza, Kezi, Hwange, Tsholotsho, Turk Mine, Binga, Chimanimani, Mutare, Masvingo, Nyanga, Nyazura, Rusape, Buhera, Bikita, Kadoma, Kariba, Mvurwi, Shamva, Norton, Chegutu, Gweru, Marondera, Karoi, Sadza, Guruve, and Chivhu.
“I am not valued” People’s disappointment was clearly evident in every meeting, bemoaning the fact that government has failed to fulfil its promises.
Said Mbuya Motsi from Chimanimani: “the people we chose to lead us have forgotten us and we have become ghosts in our motherland. The situation we are in right now is the same as a person who goes to bed but can not change sides, you need to change sides and turn now and again, without which one is most likely to wake up all sore and stiff”.
A dejected Jonathan Zimbe from Dzivarasekwa, Harare went on, “I do not feel part of Zimbabwe. I am not valued and I have no role in influencing the state.”
During the consultations the issue of lack of adequate medical services and ‘dying with dignity’ was raised countless times. Residents in Bulawayo’s Pumula suburb complained that ‘corpses are piling up like sacks of maize in mortuaries – you can barely recognize your dead’. In Victoria Falls people are now afraid to take sick relatives to hospitals because they get abused by hospital staff that shout at them, “what the hell do you want us to do with your sick ones?”
What was also clear in all the meetings was the outspokenness of the elderly. At the only health facility in Ratanyane, a mission hospital, old people are no longer accepted. “How can a nation be a nation without old people?” they queried.
The young are equally dissatisfied. In Ratanyane, Maphisa, young married couples complained of being unable to get their own land or permission to build houses so they are forced to live with their in-laws in overcrowded conditions.
In Chegutu, illiterate adults are still waiting for the free education promised to adults who missed the opportunity to be educated during the war of liberation. Nationwide, the crescendo of voices reminding leaders to deliver the free primary and affordable secondary education promised at Independence cannot be suppressed.
Injustices – past and present In Mleja, Dewe, Datata, Njube and Magwegwe, people are still upset about the desecration of the Njelele shrine in Matobo, Matabeleland, which they say angered the gods. They want those that dismantled it to appease the ancestral spirits and return the stolen pots. Another issue that caused great bitterness and anger in most areas in Matabeleland was that of Gukurahundi. Most people want those responsible to make a meaningful apology and compensation to be paid to survivors. Other calls were for psycho-social support for survivors, death certificates for the ‘disappeared’ and an overwhelming longing for people to know what happened to their loved ones. Another injustice, Murambatsvina, was also raised with calls for the perpetrators to be held accountable and victims to be given compensation and housing.
In Turk Mine, people also objected to being forced to go to ZANU PF meetings and chant slogans by the police. In Madwaleni, the situation is also similar, as one of them aptly put it: “People in Zimbabwe only have one right in their lives – to talk about ZANU PF.” Parents from Pumula, Bulawayo added that they eagerly waited for their children to come back from the Border Gezi National Youth Service, patriotic and empowered, but their children came back from the camps brainwashed and rude, pregnant or with sexually transmitted diseases.
Despite the eagerness of people to share their views, WOZA members were almost arrested and constantly harassed during the consultation period, at times having to avoid youth militia and state security agents. The most recent incident being the harassment of two members in the Chivhu area three weeks ago as they tried to talk about social justice and discuss with locals what their vision of a new Zimbabwe would be. Police forced nine villagers to sign statements hoping to charge WOZA leaders after the consultation. The villagers argued that they were only being consulted on a Zimbabwe that would dignify them and that they were very happy to be consulted by WOZA, which is not a political party. One elderly lady even insisted that her statement reflect that in South Africa the elderly receive assistance from the state and that she wanted similar support. Despite the reluctance of the villagers, police insisted on taking the WOZA leaders to court – only for the Prosecutor to refuse to press charges.
WOZA carried on amidst the harassment, spurred on by the despair of a nation which has ‘received nothing but distrust and fear from our leaders’, as one resident of Warren Park testified. WOZA’s mandate is to hold Zimbabwe’s leaders accountable because people “were promised silver and gold where as up to date they were paid by words without meaning.” (Matshobana)