Heavy police presence ignored as hundreds march but 20 arrested and released

Twenty members have been arrested in Bulawayo around noon on 22 August 2011. These arrests followed protests to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Company over poor service. Five hundred members, in four separate protests managed to converge on the Power station to deliver 63 000 signatures that remained after police seized the million signatures on the ‘anti abuse of power’ petition signatures. As they marched they distributed flyers. They also delivered ‘red cards’ and 4 mock coffins symbolising the need for ‘parliament to bury ZESA’ or remove the monopoly.

Town looked perfectly normal until 11:30 am when large contingent of police were deployed. Over one hundred police officers, many in full Riot police gear conducted arbitrary ‘stop and search’ of anyone walking. Other officers stopped every commuter omnibuses enroute into the CDB and searched handbags and people’s pockets. The police officers told some members that they were looking for WOZA material.

Plain clothed Criminal Investigating Officers were also present in their large numbers in the vicinity of the protest.  This dragnet resulted in 10 members from one area were arrested as they waited for their demonstration to start. Due to heavy presence of police around town, two of the four processions had to relocate members to their plan B beginning points. These last minute changes resulted in some members being too frightened to March or getting lost in the relocation.

As the 3 protests arrived at the Power stations officers, they dropped off the coffin and red cards and the petitions before dispersing. The fourth protest arrived as the ZESA office staff, were taking in the petitions and coffin, as the peaceful activists arrived carrying the 4th coffin, the staff actually thanked them for the coffin and took it into the office.  Passersby commended the activists for dealing ‘with ZESA’ and said at least the police ‘allowed’ them time to dance at the ZESA office.

After the protests two more groups, bringing the number of arrests to 20, with at least two members being handcuffed. Lawyers have been deployed.

WOZA national coordinator, Jenni Williams who participated in the procession issued this comment: ‘I wish to pay tribute to WOZA members for showing determination to deliver a strong telling off to ZESA despite being searched and intimidated’. With the huge presence of police, who were thoroughly searching each person, I did not expect any procession to get started, but members strategised. They sneaked into town all their reds cards, flyers, petitions with 63 000 signatures on petitions, 4 huge cardboard Coffins and placards and managed to march and deliver their message.

WOZA would also like to thank members of the public for saving at least 5 members from arrest by plain clothed police officers by tipping them off that the officers were talking about arresting them.  A similar protest on 10 May 2011, to the power station resulted in over 50 members being beaten.

Members of WOZA and MOZA did research on 1434 households last year and found that:
1. The average home spends 101 hours per month without ELECTRICITY that is over 15% of the hours in one month. This year power cuts have doubled.
2. Most people spend 3/4 of the cost of the ZESA bill buying alternative fuel so they can cook food!
3. More than 50% of homes pay a fixed charge, if they don’t pay they are cut off, they don’t get any discount for power cuts and are charged interest on back bills and estimate bills.
4.  Of the 1434 homes, only 42 homes had prepaid meters. These are some of the reasons WOZA are giving ZESA a red card – they are a danger to our pockets and they don’t have customer care or improve their service.  Millions of Zimbabweans are being robbed. ZESA is abusing POWER and parliament must remove the power monopoly. WOZA members want prepaid meters and affordable, fair electricity service, with actual bills and proper load shedding timetables.

more pictures available on WOZA facebook page and You Tube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfIXW1tUx5s