More than 800 members of Women Of Zimbabwe Arise and Men Of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA/MOZA) today marched to Parliament in Harare to launch the People’s Charter. Two groups started at different locations in central Harare, converging on Parliament at the same time. Upon arriving at Parliament, the two groups were met by riot police and arrested.
Police held the group of approximately 350 people, who were sitting peacefully, for more than an hour in front of the Parliament buildings before unexpectedly releasing them. WOZA/ MOZA members were made to sit for more than an hour under police guard whilst riot and uniformed police were seen conferencing and seemed to be in a dilemma as to what to do with the group. Several people, including parliamentarians, came out of the Parliament Buildings to observe the proceedings and to read the placards the group was holding, and many took copies of the Peoples’ Charter.
Members had come from all around the county to join the march – from Bulawayo, Mutare, Chegutu, Gweru and some rural areas. After the brutality with which police attacked WOZA members in Bulawayo two weeks ago, members had braced themselves for a similar response. They were surprised however upon being told that they could go back to their homes after being warned that they were demonstrating illegally and that they were not allowed to walk or even sit like they were doing! What was even more surprising was that Jenni Williams, WOZA’s National Coordinator, was invited to address the group before they dispersed.
At one stage a senior police officer asked the group who the leaders was and when he was told everyone is a leader, he then took five members from the main group, including two men and an elderly woman on crutches, loading them onto the back of a police vehicle and taking down their names. A Human Rights lawyer who was on site questioned this and some time later the five were made to rejoin the rest of the group.
The response to the People’s Charter from Zimbabweans all over the world has been overwhelming and today was no different. Pedestrians in downtown Harare rushed to receive copies of the Charter from the marching groups and in fact, the only WOZA items that remain in custody tonight is the People’s Charter and placards including those calling for 2008 Parliamentary and Presidential elections.
The reaction of the Zimbabwe Republic Police today was a victory for WOZA’s non-violent strategy and for the power of social justice. The WOZA leadership would like to commend the Zimbabwe Republic Police for showing that they are human beings also requiring social justice in their lives. However WOZA would also like to warn them that if they are turning over a new leaf it should be apparent every day, not only today but also in the future.
Having successfully launched the Charter in Harare and Bulawayo, WOZA is now planning to roll out launch demonstrations across the country. We will be coming to a town near you! Join us in demanding a socially just Zimbabwe.