WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and 10 other women were arrested in Bulawayo on Wednesday, September 21while attempting to commemorate the International Day of Peace with hundreds of WOZA women and men. As well as those arrested, over 20 others were injured after being beaten by riot police.
A planned peaceful demonstration did not take place due to heavy police presence all around the city centre. Several separate groups had intended to set out from various starting points and converge on the Mhlahlandlela government complex to present their preliminary report on transitional justice to the Governor of Bulawayo Province. But police patrol cars were circling around all the start off points and members of the riot police, in full riot gear, assaulted anyone suspected of being a demonstrator. It is unfortunate that members of the general public were also attacked by the police who were beating people indiscriminately and shouting ‘uraya’, meaning ‘kill’ in Shona. One male bystander was hospitalised as a result of the beatings that he received and remains in Mpilo Hospital. Over 20 members required medical attention for injuries sustained during the beatings, and several were sent for X-ray as they appeared to have fractured bones. It was fortunate that all proved rather to have suffered severe bruising, which in itself causes great pain and reduced mobility.
The arrested members were all due to be charged with criminal nuisance under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. As is WOZA practice, those arrested refused to secure their release by paying ‘acknowledgment of guilt’ fines. As it was, the prosecutor declined to press charges against ten of the women and they were released without charge.
However, further charges were laid against Williams and Mahlangu. They now face the astonishing charges of kidnap and theft. These are based on allegations made by a former WOZA employee who had been previously dismissed. He later returned to WOZA premises, broke in, and stole a substantial amount of property, some of which was recovered when a sympathetic relative led WOZA members to the place where the property was being kept.
It is probable that the malicious allegations have been used by the police to lay charges without any investigation of the true facts of the matter or genuine suspicion of guilt, merely to punish the WOZA leaders for successfully mobilizing members to defend their rights. Officer George Levison Ngwenya of the Bulawayo Central Law and Order department, who has been previously named and shamed by WOZA for his brutal handling of arrested WOZA members, may be using these spurious allegations as his way of getting even. Having failed in the past to secure convictions of WOZA members on charges related to activities in defense of human rights, he may now have devised a new strategy of seeking to pin common criminal charges on the women.
On Friday, September 23, Williams and Mahlangu were brought to court on these charges, refused bail, and remanded at the notorious Mlondolozi Prison, part of the Khami prison complex, until October 6, a period of two weeks. Lawyers have filed an urgent application to the High Court appealing the denial of bail.
The theme for this year’s celebrations was to be ‘PEACE AND DEMOCRACY: MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD’. WOZA notes with great concern that the arrests of its members occurred on a day that was meant to celebrate and encourage peace and democracy. WOZA asks where is the peace when the general public is beaten? Where is the peace when non- violent protesters are beaten? Our voices shall not be silenced, and we will continue to work against all odds to establish genuine peace and democracy in Zimbabwe.
WOZA is also very concerned about how Williams and Mahlangu will be treated in Mlondolozi Prison. The last time that they were detained in the prison in 2008 they were subjected to abuse at the hands of the prison authorities.
We ask that our friends and supporters phone the authorities at Mlondolozi and ask them not to mistreat Williams and Mahlangu and to respect their rights as remand prisoners as laid out by the Zimbabwe Prisons Act.
Regional Prisons Headquarters (Bulawayo): +263 9 71458/71468
Mlondolozi Prison: +263 9 64228