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WOZA and the People's Charter: fighting for social justice in Zimbabwe.

WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise) held their fifth annual Valentine's March in Zimbabwe on 13 February 2007. This year, accompanied by men of MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise), the women took to the streets of Harare and Bulawayo, marching with the theme "The People's Charter- Giving you a Better Life, a Better Zimbabwe."

They handed out red roses, Valentine's cards and copies of the People's Charter, a document that was drafted after an eleven-month, nationwide consultation process. Over 280 meetings were conducted last year, consulting almost 10,000 rural and urban people on social justice. The people spoke clearly about what they want in a new Zimbabwe and their contributions formed the content of the charter which includes demands for freedom and equality and popular participation in government.

Peaceful marchers arrested and brutalised

Though the Valentine's Day marches in both cities were peaceful, 174 people (including juveniles, pregnant women, and babies) were taken into police custody in Bulawayo, after riot police moved in and brutally beat the estimated 1000 protesters in attendance. In Harare 10 women were taken into custody after protesters were tear-gassed and confronted by police dogs.

While being held in Bulawayo, the activists faced ill-treatment. Those who had been beaten were denied access to medical treatment and others were denied access to medication, including medication for HIV. Several members were forced to eat the paper placards that they had been carrying during the demonstration--some of those read, 'love can bring a brighter day' and 'From WOZA with love'.

Law and Order officers were also overheard briefing each other about a visit to Bulawayo Central by members of the Central Intelligence Organisation. The CIO requested that Jenni Williams, the founder of WOZA who was recently recognised by the US State Department with the International Woman of Courage Award, and Magodonga Mahlangu, another WOZA leader, be allowed to be abducted from police custody during the night and killed. Law and Order officers apparently replied that the two were not in custody. Jenni Williams had been in the Harare protest but had not been arrested. Magodonga Mahlangu was arrested in the Bulawayo protest, separated from the rest of the group and taken to Sauerstown Police Station. WOZA activists spent the night monitoring Sauerstown to ensure that no foul play occurred.


Courage in face of continued arrests

Despite this treatment, WOZA activists continued with their campaign. On 5th March, 27 more women were arrested as they marched in Gweru demanding social justice through the People's Charter, and nine more women were arrested when they attempted to bring food to their sisters in jail. On 6th March, 20 more were arrested as they took to the streets with the People's Charter in the face of heavy police presence in Masvingo. The 20 women remained in custody over the legal 48 hour period. In Mutuare, a day later, thirty women successfully launched the People's Charter and no arrests were made.

In the most recent news from Zimbabwe, WOZA members continue to be on the receiving end of police violence. Two members were taken from their home in Harare, on the night of 12th March by police. Three truckloads of police took the mother and daughter at gunpoint, blindfolded them and took them into an unknown destination in the bush. They were questioned about WOZA and assaulted with weapons and fists. After several hours of assault and questioning, the two women convinced their attackers that they did not know anything and they were dumped in the bush. They later managed to get a lift back into Harare where they raised the alert.

In a separate incident, another WOZA member in Gweru was picked up by police and taken to Gweru Central where she was interrogated for several hours by police insisting that WOZA started the current state of emergency with their demonstration in Gweru on 5th March. They searched her house illegally (for fertiliser and petrol) and confiscated her radio. She had been badly beaten in custody following that demonstration and police continued to threaten her, stating that they would be back for her and they would make sure that she never returned to Gweru.


RELATED ARTICLE: The People's Charter

Zimbabweans, united and resolute, announce:

* That after 26 years of independence, the freedoms and equal opportunities we were promised have not been fulfilled;

* The dreams we had of a good life--of dignity, comfort and security--have become nightmares. Zimbabweans must dream once again and turn their dreams into a living reality.

* We must keep in mind, however, that we deserve better and we must not be afraid to believe that we have the right to a brighter future and we have the right to contribute to building it.

* And therefore, we, the people of Zimbabwe, women, men and children, of all races, tribes and religions, come together with respect for each other and as equals to adopt this Charter, knowing that united we can deliver its possibilities;

* And we undertake to work together with strength, courage and hope, until all Zimbabweans can live in a genuinely democratic country in peace and with dignity.

We shall all be Free and Equal

* All Zimbabweans shall be equal, regardless of gender, physical ability, colour, national origin or tribe. Women's and children's rights shall be promoted and protected;

* We shall be educated about the rights and freedoms guaranteed to us by our Constitution and by international law, both regional and universal; and shall enjoy them freely;

* We shall be free to meet, organise and speak our minds without fear or intimidation.

People Participating in Governance

* People shall be informed of and encouraged to participate fully in all aspects of how the country is managed and run, fully exercising their rights as citizens;

* Any person born in Zimbabwe shall be allowed to become a citizen of the country. Birth certificates, national identity documents and passports shall be easily available for all citizens;

* People shall be free to choose the leaders they want, without fear and intimidation. Leaders at all levels shall be chosen through free and fair elections, without rigging;

* Women must also be encouraged to take up leadership positions to ensure gender balance;

* There shall be an independent electoral supervisory commission to oversee the conduct of elections and elections shall be monitored by neutral observers, both local and international;

* People shall be free to belong to the political party of their choice and shall not be discriminated against because of the party they support;

* All other arms of government, especially civil servants, police and army, shall be non-partisan and shall effectively serve the interests of the people.
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Title Annotation:WOMEN IN ZIMBABWE
Author:Baumgarten, Robin
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:May 1, 2007
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