Update – 6pm
Five members, four women and one man, will spend the night in Harare Central Police Station tonight following their arrest this morning whilst trying to hand in a petition to the Minister of Education. Lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have not been allowed access to their clients so the details of what they will be charged with are not known. Food has been allowed in to the group this evening.
Nine members have had to receive treatment for the vicious beatings they received from riot police. All have been discharged however. Most injuries were deep tissue bruising from being beaten with baton sticks – deep welts can be seen on most of those that received treatment. One woman has a fractured toe from where she was stamped on by a booted police officer. The woman for whom the ambulance was called has a serious injury to her knee. She had been trying to protect her seven-month old baby from being beaten and was begging police not to hurt her or her baby. This obviously angered the police who then proceeded to single her out for a more severe beating. She is unable to walk and had to be carried home. Many others received beatings but as police were circling the Ministry continuously, they obviously were not able to make contact with the support team to receive treatment.
In the meantime the trial of WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu on charges of disturbing the peace is set to resume tomorrow in Bulawayo Magistrate’s Court.
Hundreds of members of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA/MOZA) delivered a petition to the new Minister of Education, Senator David Coltart today in Harare. Whilst leaders tried to deliver the petition to the minister, with whom they had an official appointment, riot police indiscriminately beat the peaceful group that were waiting for the minister to come and address them. At least 10 members have been arrested. The full extent of the injuries sustained are not clear but at least one woman is unable to walk and an ambulance has been called for her.
The group of 450 members handing in the petition converged on the Ministry of Education from three different directions. The first group to arrive was immediately set upon by the riot police detail that is based at Parliament. Whilst they were being beaten however, the women appealed to the police reminding them that their children are not going to school either. The police stopped the beatings and the protestors re-grouped outside the Ministry to wait. A police vehicle full of riot police arrived shortly afterwards however and again started to beat the group. They were joined by a second vehicle, again full of riot police who were banging their shields and singing, “today we are going to beat you” as they descended on the group and viciously began to beat them. They later changed their song to “why are your husbands’ allowing you to demonstrate?”.
As they were driven off towards Harare Central Police Station, the women under arrest were heard to be singing “we want education for our children.” More details of their arrest will be given once lawyers had been able to attend to them.
The Minister, who had been delayed by an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister, finally arrived to accept the petition of approximately 25,000 signatures. He expressed regret and sorrow that the group who had had an official appointment with him should be beaten and arrested and said that these kinds of incidents were exactly what the MDC was trying to change by joining government. He also stated that he had heard the pleas of Zimbabwean parents and would do everything in his power to ensure that every child goes to school.
The petition and the protest are part of WOZA’s Take the Step campaign, designed to encourage Zimbabweans to continue with the civic participation that they demonstrated in March 2008. The signatures on the petition were collected by WOZA members in a door-to-door campaign in recent weeks. The petition text reads as follows: ‘Please put our children’s education first. I am a parent whose child did not learn well in 2008. There were no teachers, no textbooks, and I cannot pay the new forex fees. Please declare the education system a national disaster and allow all children to repeat 2008 at no cost. Those that do not want to repeat will need help so that the children do not suffer. Please campaign to lure teachers home with dignified salaries, adequate supplies, furniture and equipment in schools.’
More information will be made available as it is received.