On Tuesday 10th February, approximately 600 members demonstrated for several blocks to Parliament in Harare. Whilst riot police stationed outside Parliament looked like they might try to beat and arrest the group, they decided against it and the demonstrators dispersed without incident.
As they marched, the peaceful protestors sang Baba, tuma mweya (Father, send the holy spirit to heal this nation) and handed out red roses, Valentine’s cards, candles, matches and flyers to passersby. The group also briefly stopped outside the UNDP offices to give UN workers roses and Valentine’s cards to thank them for all their efforts in assisting people through the humanitarian crisis. When the group reached Parliament, they also delivered red roses and Valentine’s cards to a number of Senators and Members of Parliament that were standing at the entrance. They also left their placards and flyers at the entrance before dispersing.
In January 2009, WOZA and MOZA launched a new campaign – Take the Step/Qhubeka/Yendera Mberi, designed to encourage Zimbabweans to continue with the civic participation that they demonstrated in March 2008. The campaign is based on the premise that in March 2008 Zimbabweans began a journey towards a new socially just Zimbabwe, a destination that has still not been reached, despite the formation of a unity government. Life in Zimbabwe is incredibly hard and we are still in the darkness. WOZA is urging Zimbabweans not to just complain however but to light the darkness through their actions and by continuing to be active in demanding social justice. By allowing love to light the way, we can reach a socially just Zimbabwe. To demonstrate love in action and to literally light the darkness, WOZA is giving Zimbabweans candles and matches as part of the campaign to encourage them to take the step of joining the movement. Candles and matched distributed in the demonstration today were finished very quickly due to their popular demand. WOZA will therefore gratefully receive any donations of candles, matches and roses for the campaign. More information on the Take the Step Campaign can be found below.
For the last few weeks, members have been mobilising in underground meetings for the first public demonstration of the campaign, Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is traditionally an occasion that WOZA has used to urge Zimbabweans to choose love over hate and marks the 7th anniversary of WOZA’s birth.
Members in Harare decided to hold their Valentine’s protest before the swearing in of the new unity government, which is set to happen tomorrow, to test whether the so-called unity is genuine and will open space for the people of Zimbabwe to dialogue with their leaders about the priorities facing government.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation process excluded the voices of ordinary Zimbabweans. Furthermore, when Zimbabweans spoke through the ballot in the 29 March 2008 election, SADC chose to ignore the results and the killing and mutilation of Zimbabweans that followed. This week SADC orders resulted in the passing of a power-sharing amendment to the constitution leading the way for a complicated dual power system of governing Zimbabwe.
Whilst it is too late for Zimbabweans to input into this awkward inclusive government, people can put pressure on them to prioritise humanitarian issues, like food access, the health delivery system to prevent further loss of life and the emergency situation regarding the collapsed education system. As we march we will be saying telling politicians ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.
Eight women were arrested whilst dispersing from the demonstration and spent two nights in custody in Harare Central Police Station. Two lawyers who happened to be passing Parliament after the demonstration had dispersed were also arrested for holding their cell phones. Police insisted they were trying to take photographs and arrested them. The group of 10 spent two nights in police custody before being taken to court and released on free bail. The entire group, including the two lawyers, were charged under Section 37 1 a i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act – ‘disturbing the peace, security or order of the public’. They will appear in court again on 4th March 2009.
Those arrested were Nelia Hambarume, Clara Bongwe, Auxilia Tarumbwa, Gracy Mutambachirimo, Linda Moyo, Keure Chikomo, Edina Saidi and Kundai Mupfukudzwa. The two lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) were Roselyn Hanzi and Tawanda Zhuwarara.
Three of the women were beaten in police custody and all had to seek medical attention. The one woman, Auxillia Tarambwa, 35 years old and two months pregnant, was blocked by a plain-clothed policeman after she had dispersed from the demonstration and told to get into a police vehicle. She refused to get into the vehicle because she was not sure if they were police or not. When she refused, the policeman slapped her and when she got to Harare Central Police Station, the same plain-clothed officer beat her again, this time with a baton stick. She was taken to a clinic upon release and has received pain treatment for extensive deep tissue bruising. Two other woman, Linda Moyo (aged 29 years) and Grace Mutsambachirimo (aged 22 years), were beaten on the soles of their feet with a baton stick by the same officer, also for refusing to get into the vehicle.
All of these developments took place during the swearing in of Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister and the new unity government.