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!”