Five hundred members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) conducted a prayer vigil at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Bulawayo on Saturday 31 March 2007. Although there was a heavy police presence there were no arrests.
The activists gathered to pray for peace in Zimbabwe. This day was chosen to commemorate the night of the 2005 parliamentary election where over 250 women were arrested and many brutally beaten by police in Harare as they conducted a prayer vigil.
Today’s prayer has special significance as political violence is on the increase with hundreds of activists arrested and injured. Prayers focused on the need for citizens to refrain from retaliation and for police to refuse to harm people.
As the pray opened, Nkosi Sikelela iAfrica was sung followed by a prayer that Zimbabweans will continue to choose non-violence and love over violence and hate and use peaceful resistance to hold this government and politicians accountable for bad governance.
The vigil went on for one and half hours with singing and powerful prayers calling for lasting peace in Zimbabwe. Several women took the floor preaching and quoting scriptures such as Matthew 5:9 ‘Blessed be the peacemakers’. Women also testified as to how they were assaulted on election night by police in Harare but called on Zimbabweans to remain committed to peaceful protest. The vigil was closed with Timothy 2:1 ‘You then my child be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus and what you have heard from me through my witnesses and entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well. Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.’
Initially the participants had gathered in the Church but were moved across to the hall when it became free at 2:30 pm. It was as members were moving over that police details, including PISI officer, Abraham Dapi who is well known to WOZA, arrived. Today, seeking to be surreptitious, Dapi and other officers arrived by commuter omnibus. They did not go into the hall but sat on the church wall and observed. More police officers from the Law and Order department came and their numbers swelled to over 15. A Law and Order officer, Sergeant George Levison Ngwenya, manhandled the WOZA security at the door, asking what was going on in the Hall, threatening her whilst holding her by the scruff of her neck.
As the prayer vigil was drawing to an end it became obvious that police officers were in position and waiting on further instruction. As the members disbursed, Archbishop Pius Ncube came and shook hands with each member, one by one, as they dispersed giving encouragement and reminding people to disperse peacefully. The police officers just continued to observe close by.
After all the members had dispersed, the leaders, including Jenni Williams, began to leave. After shaking hands with the Archbishop they made to walk out of the church grounds. As Jenni left she greeted the police officers who are well known to her. Sgt Ngwenya commented that she had been in a meeting to which she replied that there had been a prayer service. ‘Who were you praying for’ he quipped – ‘For you’, she replied. Ngwenya then roughly pulled one of the prayer organizers aside and asked her when Jenni had become a Roman Catholic. (Williams is not only a Roman Catholic but was in her home parish, St Mary’s)
As Williams and other leaders walked away, police were seen rushing to get into their blue pick up to follow Williams. Fortunately a WOZA security vehicle was quick to pick up Williams and the other leaders and speed away.
WOZA would like to commend Archbishop Pius Ncube for his courage and for the encouragement to members who they knew would have to walk past police officers known for their brutality. We also pay tribute to members of WOZA and MOZA for braving the Public Order Security Act (POSA) and the harsh repressive environment, and their courage to come out in hundreds to pray for peace. We call on the families of police officers Dapi and Ngwenya to give them ‘tough love’ and take them to church to pray for guidance.