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Rural WOZA members released without charge

The WOZA members arrested and detained at Filabusi Police Station today were released without charge just after noon. Police returned all the t-shirts and scarves that they had confiscated but kept all the placards and copies of the People’s Charter to submit to provincial leaders.

Minutes before the peaceful protest was about to begin, a police vehicle arrived at the Post Office, the starting point of the demonstration. An officer armed with an AK 47 assault rifle alighted and approached two members. He said to them – “you are always talking about rights, but why don’t you say what rights you are talking about.” He then ordered them into the vehicle and drove them to the police station. Approximately 150 other members decided to follow and hand themselves in. Police stopped recording down their names after an hour, saying they were tired.

When the female officer in charge asked them why they were there, the women briefed her on the hunger in their homes, their inability to pay school fees and the fact that they were no longer allowed to dig for gold to help themselves. She apparently sympathised with them saying she also found it hard to make ends meet in her home. She then called the District Administrator to attend the ‘meeting’. He listened to the complaints; telling them food aid would soon be coming and that they should set more affordable fees, as parents. He accepted the People’s Charter and placards, saying that he would pass them on to his seniors and that a reply would come to them soon. They were then told to go home.

When lawyers attended shortly after their release, police denied that any women had been arrested – they had merely had a meeting with them. The lawyer did overhear some police officers planning to locate the whereabouts of Jenni Williams who was in the area to monitor proceedings however. Fortunately Williams was able to leave in the company of the lawyers before they could make good their plan.

WOZA declare a victory for non-violent protest and acknowledge the ‘sisterhood’ from the officer in charge who treated the WOZA activists with respect. We look forward to the promised food aid, hopefully without any political strings attached, from the District Administrator to be fulfilled.

WOZA launch ‘Occupy for Devolution’ series in Bulawayo

WOZA launch ‘Occupy for Devolution’ series in Bulawayo More than six hundred members of WOZA conducted street occupation sit in protests as part of a campaign to pressure for a devolved system of government to be included in the constitution draft. Nine separate protests were conducted simultaneously at 11 am Saturday 2 June 2012 around the western suburbs. Members’ occupied traffic controlled intersections, traffic circles and main roads by sitting in for over 10 minutes bringing traffic to a halt. The  placard-bearing activists also passed out leaflets calling for a devolved system of government and asking motorists and passers-by to make noise or ‘hoot’ for Devolution. The scenes of the protests where loud and noisy as motorists ‘hooted’ their support.

At the protest on Khami road Ntemba traffic roundabout, the 200 protesters were just completing their activity when a small black vehicle without number plates arrived and plain-clothed police officers jumped out of the vehicle and began to assault the members with sticks bearing thorns. Eight members suffered the beating with one having to be taken to the clinic as thorns were imbedded in a wound in her neck.

The demands of the protests are the release of a completed draft constitution that gives power to the people. As talk of a second GNU increases, WOZA demand an end to elite occupation of our systems of government and a devolved power and accessible provincial government and councils. WOZA make the charge that Bulawayo, Matabeleland is DYING because of centralized decisions which kill it. The elite have killed Bulawayo and now they are killing other parts of Zimbabwe.

The system required should include the following rights:
– The right to select our own provincial and council representatives.
– Powers to make local decisions, based on our views about control and use of our local resources. And how we want resource distribution to develop the local economy and create jobs for locals.
– MPs and Councillors who will be accountable to us, the electorate, and the right to recall them.

The protests will continue and citizens of Bulawayo and other cities are asked to make noise in the street – Hoot or whistle to demand your human right to a livelihood.

WOZA members believe that a devolved system of government is necessary to save the city from sure death. Bulawayo is WOZA’s home town and members have been watching as it becomes closer and closer to death by marginalisation and neglect. Once Bulawayo was the industrial hub of the country, but centralised decision making has been used to sideline many business, social and political initiatives that would have raised the resource-rich province to great heights. This neglect has nothing to do with the current economic downturn as in early 1920s, the then Government refused to initiate a programme that would have brought waters from the mighty Zambezi river into the dry arid earth of Matabeleland and created an industrial and agricultural oasis. Recently public statistics quote the closure of more than 80 businesses and the loss of over 20 000 jobs. Over one million Zimbabweans are said to live in South Africa, with the majority being Ndebele speaking people from Matabeleland forced into economic exile by marginalisation.

WOZA selected this form of protest to make a point that public spaces are spaces for public expression. Since last year Bulawayo police have been taking occupation of the streets with large deployment of riot police, water tankers and other instruments of protest repression. Bulawayo residents along with WOZA members have grown weary of the constant and indiscriminate ‘stop and search’ of pedestrians and commuters. Most of the time Police officers manning these points will directly tell people that they are looking for ‘WOZA women’ with placards or WOZA material. see the hoot for devolution flyer

Bulawayo members march to demand Draft release

Two hundred and fifty members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) marched in five separate protests at 2pm 10th September 2012 in Bulawayo. The march was to demand the release of the Copac draft constitution, calling for the second all stakeholders and referendum without any further delay. All five protests managed to reach the targeted destination which was The Chronicle newspaper. WOZA routinely target this state controlled paper in order to test if their protest and the issues will be covered. The peaceful protest brought 9th Avenue to a standstill with everyone attempting to photograph and encourage the activists to demand the draft constitution.
Although riot police were deployed they did not reach the 9th Avenue officers of the newspaper before the protest dispersed. WOZA is conducting a head count to ensure no arrests were made.

Meanwhile two members were ordered by the court to erase their graffiti did so at noon on 10th September 2012 along the Luveve road in Bulawayo. The two faced cruel and inhuman degrading treatment by law and order officers who were present. One of the police officers, Z. Moyo forced the two to remove their hats whilst and paint over the phrases in the blazing hot summer sun. They then made them remove other phrases not in the court order and threatened to make them remove more phrases during the afternoon. The prosecutor advised them that they were only to fulfil the order of the court for two phrases namely ‘no to a snap elect…’ and ‘go register to vote’.

Painting trial update

Nine members arrested during a graffiti road writing exercise on 2nd July 2012 have been sentenced in four separate trials held in Western Commonage Court in Bulawayo. Eight of the nine members were convicted and given harsh sentences with one being acquitted. The women spent three days in custody in Bulawayo central police station. The graffiti exercise was conducted to popularise the constitutional reform content. Members wrote phrases in non-permanent paint called ‘road liner’ paint but the magistrates found them guilty of ‘disfiguring property’ namely the tarmac road.

The charges were Section 47 (2) (d) of the Road Traffic Act 13:18 which reads “making marks on the road without a reasonable cause which is liable to a level 6 fine or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months. They were defended by Paul Moyo a private lawyer deployed by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Miriam Ngcebetsha and Ottilia Dube were ordered to remove their phrases at 11am Monday 10th of September before being sentenced on 12 September 2012. They will remove the phrases in the company of the prosecutor with traffic police officers stopping the traffic as they perform this sentence. They painted the phrases – ‘no to a snap elect…’ and ‘go register to vote’. The phrases are located in Matshobana (at the Rio bus stop/turn off) along the Luveve road after the flyover (6th ave ext).

Some of the phrases written on the road are “Devolution of power; No to death penalty; Fire Chihuri, Tomana and Mudede; Boycott snap election and go register to vote.” Many roads in Bulawayo and Harare still proudly carry these messages.

In the first week of August, just after the trials began, an unidentified police officer contacted WOZA to warn members to expect the worst from the trials. He said the Police Commissioner (Augustine Chihuri) was very unhappy with the audacity of WOZA to call for his firing defending himself by saying he was legitimately appointed by the president. The Police Commissioner is alleged to have ordered harsh sentences. Additionally the commissioner ordered that Law and Order department police officers attend every trial and report on progress. Apart from the obvious attendance by these police officers in court it was difficult to substantiate this order as the judiciary is supposed to be independent. However the handing down of the harsh sentences seems to confirm political interference. In further confirmation of political intervention, city council staff were deployed along the Khami road (11th Ave extension) to paint over the phrases to prevent the dignitaries driving that route from ‘seeing and reading’ the phrases.

Eunice Moyo, Mpikelelo Moyo and Teresia Phiri were given one month imprisonment or $100 fine. Their phrase is ‘no to death penalty’.

Sibongile Lumbile was sentenced to two months imprisonment, one month suspended for five years on condition that she does not commit a similar crime, or $100 fine which she paid. Phrase which was incomplete is ‘Devolutior’ (she was arrested before she could finish writing the N in the word.

Catherine Dhliwayo was acquitted of all charges but Vigilant Lunga, Violet Dube who handed over their paint splattered clothes to investigating officers who brought these as exhibits, were sentenced to six months imprisonment, three months suspended for five years on condition that they will not commit the similar crime within that period or 105 hours of community services. Violet Dube will serve these hours at Western Commonage Court and Vigilant Lunga at the Western Commonage police station. They were also ordered to go and erase the phrase that they wrote on the road. Phrase is ‘Devolution of power’.

WOZA thank Mr. Paul Moyo and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights for legal defence. WOZA pray for a successful reduction of the harsh sentences from the High Court in the case of the four members who have submitted appeals.

WOZA wish to recognize the contribution of the members to furthering the constitution reform agenda. “You suffered the terrible conditions in the cells and harassment of police officers but won gender equality and many constitutional reform victories which are seen in the draft. May Zimbabweans appreciate your sacrifices when the draft constitution passes into law!”

News update – members assaulted in Harare Central Police Station

At 9pm yesterday the group of 56 and 10 babies were finally given their supper. Many members had blood on their heads and clothing, evidence that they had been assaulted by police. They had been kept in the Law and Order department where obviously they had been assaulted.

Eye witnesses at Kuwadzana also confirm that police arrived at the scene firing shots into the air. One member was also hit with a rifle butt as she was loaded onto the police vehicle.

A message was delivered by Law and Order officers that if anyone other than Jenni Williams tried to deliver food they would be beheaded. However all those who delivered food this morning were not harmed. Williams is on a hit list to be eliminated as a dangerous person.

Lawyers are preparing an urgent application.

Please phone Harare Central Police Station on +263 4 777777 to demand that officers stop assaulting WOZA members and that the mothers with babies are released.

Justice delayed is justice denied

WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu returned to court today, January 16 2012 in order to hear the magistrate’s ruling on their application to dismiss their case without being put on their defence.  After a fortnight of waiting,  WOZA expected the magistrate,  Mr Goodluck Sangweni, to rule in their favour,  since the state had presented no evidence that could support the charges of kidnap and theft.  However,  to everyone’s surprise,  the magistrate said that he believed the aims of justice would be served by putting the accused on their defence.

The defence lawyer, Kossam Ncube, asked for the magistrate to give his reasons for this unexpected decision.  Explaining that there is no appeal process, Ncube advised that he would seek to apply to the High court to review the Magistrates decision and needed a written copy of reasons for dismissal of the application.  The magistrate then agreed to present his reasons in writing on Friday, January 20. WOZA are intrigued to find out the reasons he has, and  expect Ncube to speedily apply to the High Court for review.  The review procedure is followed when there appears to be either bias or irregularity in the proceedings of a case.

WOZA Shosholoza for love at Parliament but get bashed by police

Five hundred members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) in two separate protests marched to Parliament to commemorating Valentine’s Day and WOZA 10th Anniversary under the theme – Shosholoza for love!  The first protest arrived and was stopped 50 meters from the Parliament door by 8 baton stick and shield wielding Riot Police who refused to allow them to pass.

The activists took the opportunity to sing their love songs to the police and chant their slogans. Four leaders took the opportunity to address the gathering on the constitutional reform requirements of members and the role police should have been playing instead of stopping the peaceful activists.

A 20 minute impasse was broken up by the arrival of a police Landover. The second protest arrived and was also blocked. A senior officer then began to demand the activists disperse and pleas to allow one person to hand over the Woza Moya newsletter with demands fell on deaf ears. He then threatened to use ‘minimum’ force to disperse the gathering but before he could give any orders, a bigger vehicle arrived with over 30 riot police who did not speak to the officer but started to use their shields to push the women and men away from the road. One officer with the tear gas gun cocked the weapon in the air making as if to shoot it.As they pushed members away, some police officers began to beat the peacefully dispersing crowd and this cause pandemonium and people started to run away at speed.

One of the participants was beaten by 4 police officers at once taking turns to slay her across the neck and shoulders.  She apparently was being beaten met with this level of severity for telling them -‘the thieves are going free while you beat us’. After they set up her she then told them off saying – you are now the ones starting violence.

Ten members had to seek medical attention for soft tissue bruises and lacerations caused by baton stick injuries.

WOZA call on the police officers to be more professional. It is illogical to beat people as they are actually dispersing and a sign that police officers have too high an appetite for violence. WOZA also wish to draw comparison between the semi professional behaviour of police at parliament who go through the motions of engaging protest leaders whereas in Bulawayo the police offices just jump from their truck and thump anybody in sight showing a greedy appetite for violence. On 7th February the Bulawayo edition of the protest was violently dispersed by police officers and over 30 members had to seek medication for abrasions and bruises.

An opinion by Lawyer Andrew Makoni WOZA counsel 2009 on the role of police from the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23)…..the legislature is aware that processions inevitably interfere in some way with other people’s movements, hence the provisions of section 29 (1) (c) which prescribes what a police officer may do if a regulatory authority has not received a notice of the intended procession more than 48 hours before the gathering, where such notice is required. In terms of this subsection, an officer may restrict the gathering to a place or guide the participants along a route. This section does not give the police the power to arrest in the event of an unlawful gathering but the power to regulate the gathering. Neither does the act provide police officers with the right to brutally disperse peaceful human rights defenders.

Charges against members dropped in Gweru; Williams and Mahlangu win Supreme Court referral in Bulawayo

The State withdrew charges today against seven WOZA members in Gweru. They had been charged under Chapter 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act after being arrested in early March. They were attempting to bring food in to 26 colleagues who had been arrested earlier in the day during a protest to launch the People’s Charter in the Midlands city at the time.

The members had been asked to meet the lawyer at the police station and await his instruction to bring the food in. The lawyer went in to get permission to feed those in custody but before he could call the group in, police officers had arrested the activists. They were charged for blocking the pavement opposite Gweru police station.

The 26 members arrested launching the People’s Charter will appear on trial on 24th July 2007 to answer charges under Chapter 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act – ‘participating in a public gathering with the intent to cause public disorder, breach of peace or bigotry’.

Also today, WOZA members, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, appeared before Magistrate Mrs Rose Sibanda today to await her reply to a request from human rights lawyer, Kossam Ncube, for the matter to be referred to the Supreme Court for a constitutional challenge. In a surprise ruling, Mrs Sibanda allowed the referral to the Supreme Court. The duo had been arrested by police officers outside Bulawayo Central Police station on 6 June 2007.

They were charged under Sections 37 (1a) and 46 (2v) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the wording of which the defence challenged is too ambiguous, vague and broad thereby making it impossible to determine if an offenses has been committed. He also argued that they also curtail the rights and freedoms of expression, assembly and movement.

The specific charges: Chapter 37 – ‘participating in gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry’. Section (1a) reads “any person who acts together with one or more other persons present with him or her in any place or at any meeting with the intention or realising that there is a real risk or possibility of forcibly disturbing the peace, security or order of the public or any section of the public.”

Alternatively, Chapter 46, as read with Section 2(v) of the Third Schedule to the Criminal Code, reads “employs any means whatsoever which are likely materially to interfere with the ordinary comfort, convenience, peace or quiet of the public or any section of the public, or does any act which is likely to create a nuisance or obstruction”.

For a copy of the challenge Mr Ncube made against the charges, please see below.

WOZA leaders briefly arrested in Bulawayo

AT noon on 12th September 300 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were prevented from conducting a peaceful protest to The Chronicle in Bulawayo. Three small groups that managed to arrive at the Chronicle but were quickly dispersed by Riot Police with raised baton sticks. In 5 parts of the Central business district Riot Police were standing in groups of 4 carrying baton sticks and obviously ready to stop the protests as they began.

A block away, WOZA national coordinator, Jenni Williams was standing alone when 4 police officers surrounded her. One of these police officers had arrested Williams on 21 September 2011 while shopping in an Electrical shop. On that day, 30 minutes previously he had also arrested Magodonga Mahlangu. Both activists were then charged with Kidnap and Theft, charges that are still being prosecuted in 2012.

On the 12 September, he once again refused to give his name but asked, “Jennifer what are you planning here?”  To which Williams replied, “What are you doing here beating people?” The other police officers then started to lecture Williams on the need for WOZA to notify police before any protest. A legal argument ensured. One the officers then announced that the Officer Commanding of Bulawayo, Central Assistant chief Inspector Rangwani wanted to see Williams. The police officers then escort her to the station on foot.

As they began to walk, Magodonga Mahlangu arrived and asked Williams what was happening. It was at this point that a further legal argument ensued. Williams advised Mahlangu that it seemed she was under arrest. The officers said she was not but then refused to allow her to go and reschedule the meeting with the chief Inspector.

As the two arrived at the police station, eight members entered the station in solidarity bringing the number ‘arrested’ to 10. They were taken to the chief inspector Rangwani’s office and they were told he would be arriving shortly. Lawyers were deployed to represent the activists but were denied access. A two and a half hour circus then ensued with the activists being told they were being charged but some officers refusing to charge them, mentioning the letter of complaint filed the week before. The arresting officers then stage-managed the separation of Williams and Mahlangu from the other 8. The 8 and other activists outside were rounded up by a Riot squad and force marched to the bus terminus.

The WOZA leaders who were now back in the OC Rangwani office were still unable to access their lawyers. Finally two senior officers seated themselves in the OC chair and surprisingly asked the two if they had wanted a meeting with the OC. Williams then asked the whereabouts of OC Rangwani, the officers admitted he was on leave. The WOZA leaders then stood up and said, ‘as we are told we are not formally under arrest we are now leaving and will be submitting a further letter of complaint.” Williams then left her phone number for a meeting to be scheduled and the two activists walked out of the police station.

WOZA wish to draw attention to the disparate police response between the police at Parliament in Harare and the Bulawayo police. On 12 September it was obvious that the WOZA leaders were arrested to prevent their exercising their right to protest. This right is provided by constitutional law buttressed by Supreme Court ruling of 2010 after legal action taken by Williams and Mahlangu. ‘Once again police in Bulawayo have acted overzealously and acted to discriminate against WOZA members from Bulawayo which is regional and tribal discrimination.

See the complaint against the police at http://wozazimbabwe.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/WOZA-complain-of-police-harrasment-ZRP-Jomic.pdf