ONE thousand five hundred Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) members participated in peacefully marching to hand over a list of demands to local and national government on Thursday 19th in Harare and in Bulawayo on Friday 20th September. These peaceful protests were met with the arrest and brief detention of nine members, and over 30 members are nursing wounds inflicted with police baton sticks. Ten of these members had to be taken for medical attention and 3 underwent X-rays to verify level of injury. WOZA leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were arrested on both days in both protests.
The consultation to determine key demands took place as the new cabinet and council began to take oath and begin to work. After compilation of these views, WOZA leaders then planned the launch protests to coincide with the United Nations declared International Day of Peace commemorated on 21st September. Over ten thousand members provided their demands for WOZA to submit and follow up in terms of lobby and advocacy engagement.
WOZA has commemorated International Day of Peace in preceding years, however this year, WOZA members wanted to bring a deeper understanding of the kind of peace required as it has been a word too cheaply used in the last year. WOZA decided on peaceful protest as the means to launch their demands so as to test the new government and police commitment to new constitutional clauses. A test failed by 100 percent.
The 600 members marching in two formations, found it hard to start their procession as police officers quickly beat them. The few who managed to regroup and marched to the Parliament of Zimbabwe found that police officers still blocked access to parliament and did not respect member’s right to petition. When the activists tried to disperse, orders barked in the Shona language to ‘bata munhu’ (grab that person) resulted in violent use of force to arrest three WOZA leaders curtailing their right to assembly outlined in the new constitution. As Magodonga Mahlangu tried to climb over the closed tail gate of the police Landrover. She asked for it to be opened so she could better enter the gate and the response from the senior ranking officer was to bark the order for them to ‘kanda munhu’ (beat the person). Police officers then beat her on her head and back further defeating her attempt to climb in. When she objected four police officers roughly picked her up handling her all over her body and threw her into the vehicle.
For the next 3 hours, the drama shifted to the Harare Central police station. The trio were repeatedly asked why they had been arrested and different police departments refused to ‘process’ the trio for formal charges or detention. Most of the blame was heaped on the police reaction group who had arrested the trio without considering if any offense had indeed been committed. After a tour of several offices and hours of waiting, a law and order police officer politely asked the activists and their two lawyers to accompany him. Arriving at the front entrance of the station, he merely pointing outside and said please go.
In Bulawayo the 10 am protest at the offices of The Chronicle newspaper in 9th Avenue was the venue for over 1000 WOZA members. Marching in 10 different formations all converged at the public media outlet and sang songs and chanted slogans in line with the objective of describing the kind of peace needed in Zimbabwe. As the protest program was coming to an end, the police reaction group swooped trying to beat members causing chaos. WOZA leaders managed to pull the members back to the Chronicle entrance trying to calm members down so as to disperse the protest peacefully. As the protest was dispersing some police officers demanded the members sit back down. Senior officers then attended and contradicted this order causing more chaos and delaying the protest dispersal. As Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu tried to explain to the senior officers that their junior officers had blocked the dispersing process by threatening to beat anyone who did not sit down, an order was given for Jenni Williams’s arrest. Magodonga Mahlangu and 4 other members then got into the police vehicle and hundreds of members followed to the police station.
As had happened in Harare, the activists arrival at the police station brought a contradiction. The officer commanding Bulawayo Central Chief Inspector Musvuti said he had merely wanted to discuss with Williams the need for WOZA to apply for permission to conduct a protest. Although the Chief Inspector now seemed to be genuine about engagement, Williams refused to allow the meeting to continue citing the forceful manner she had been brought to the station and the scenes of police violence visible from the Chief inspectors office balcony. The hundreds of members, who had followed the arrested leaders, had thronged the vicinity of the police station and were being beaten with over 50 police officers indiscriminately wielding their baton sticks. One member collector Mutete was violent beaten on the head and pushed in front of an oncoming vehicle by and officer who shouted in the Shona language ‘uraya munhu’ (kill that person). In a clear case of gender discrimination, police commanders had stationed two groups of police officers at the road corners and their task to ban the free movement of any woman to the police station entrance.
The majority of bystanders applauded both protests. In Bulawayo a man was overheard commenting. “Amapholisa kawekele omama laba abakwenzayo kuhle kakhulu. Akakho olesibindi sokutshela uHulumende ngesikufunayo, yekela basikhulumele (The police force should leave these women because what they are doing is good. No one is brave enough to tell the Government about our demands, let them do it for us)
WOZA recognize that it is positive that the police have not charged or detained in police cells members arrested during the last five protests. It is unfortunate that despite this positive development, the police reaction group continue to beat and arrest members casually bringing them to the police station and presenting them for detention. WOZA call for the urgent retraining of members of the police reaction group in respecting human and constitutional rights when dealing with crowd control situations. WOZA call on police command to audit the methods under which orders flow through command channels and on too many occasions orders and contradictions as officers seek to throw their superior power and egos around.
WOZA declare their peace day campaign a victory. Many police officers took time to read the Woza Moya (Come Holy Spirit) newsletter reflecting the demands and the placard messages. The Police officers will have discovered a very relevant demand for ‘A public plan of action as to how the police force will be transformed into a police service and the setting up of the independent police complaints mechanism as stated in the constitution.’