By Nomalanga Moyo
Scores of peaceful marchers from the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) pressure group were beaten and some arrested by police in anti-riot gear on Friday.
The women were on their way to Mat North Resident Minister Sithokozile Mathuthu’s offices at Mhlahlandlela Government Complex, where they submitted a petition outlining the needs and expectations of Zimbabwean women in the context of the on-going campaign against gender-based violence.
WOZA leader Jenni Williams said baton-wielding officers, who were accompanied by dogs, pounced on the group of women, chasing and beating them up.
“WOZA recently surveyed more than 7,000 members about the government’s Zim Assets (the economic blueprint Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation). We deliberately chose to submit the findings in petition form on Women Human Rights Defenders Day – November 29th – because we wanted to raise the profile of this important day.
“But the police went mad: they disturbed the peace, beat up and arrested people, and then dispersed others by chasing them for a distance covering at least 10km while threatening to unleash dogs on them,” Williams said.
In the process some activists sustained sprains and other injuries, including Williams herself who suffered a sprained ankle. It was not immediately possible to ascertain how many activists were injured but four women, including Williams, who were part of a smaller group held at Drill Hall Police Station, were hurt.
The main group was held at Bulawayo Central, and Williams spoke to SW Radio Africa while on her way to join them, after both groups were allowed to go.
The women were released without charge three hours later, at the intervention of the officer in charge at Drill Hall in Bulawayo, who simply said the women were free to go, without offering any explanation why the women had been violently and brutally arrested in the first place.
Williams explained: “He just came in and said we could go, there was no problem. We said to him ‘Just like that? When people have been beaten up and dogs almost set on them and you say there is no problem?’.”
The WOZA leader, who has been arrested more than 50 times, expressed concern at the heavy-handedness of Bulawayo police, which she said smirked of a tribal agenda.
She added: “We have long argued that police in Bulawayo have seemingly a tribal and regional agenda. Why is it that when we demonstrate in Bulawayo our demos are either stopped before they even start or our members are beaten up? Yet I can go to parliament (in Harare) and nobody will arrest me?”
The WOZA survey was conducted against the backdrop of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, but it went a step further to look “beyond the sphere of physical violence to consider the position of women in a society which perpetrates systemic violence and socio-economic disadvantage”.
Some of the issues raised in the survey included whether ZANU PF was capable of delivering on its election promises, or implementing the new constitution.
Many will not be shocked by the findings of the survey, which indicate, among other things, that Zimbabweans are not confident that ZANU PF has either the goodwill to ensure that the country’s resources benefit everyone, or inclination to implement the new constitution.
“Our members do not believe that they are benefiting from the indigenisation programme, and our petition lists a number of demands stemming from ZANU PF’s election promises.
“As WOZA we are urging Zimbabweans not to be cowed by police baton sticks or dogs but to stand up and demand accountability, a stake in the country’s economy and to defend their right to protest as enshrined in the new constitution,” said Williams. SW Radio Africa