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WOZA leaders meet Home Affairs Ministers

Leaders of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA/MOZA) today met with the co-Ministers of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi and Giles Mutsekwa. The meeting was requested through the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

The human rights defenders were accompanied by Dzimbabwe Chimbga from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). The two hour meeting was attended by the Permanent Secretary of Home Affairs, Mr. Melusi Machiya and three other unnamed officials. Surprisingly, Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede was also in attendance.

The ministers advised that they had called the meeting after receiving numerous reports from law enforcement agencies regarding the activities of WOZA. Minister Mutsekwa opened by advising that the motive of the meeting was to “bring WOZA and the ZRP to equal terms, restore harmony and to remove discord and suspicion”.

The minister went on to mention that the power sharing government is negatively regarded locally and internationally as an oppressive government as a result of WOZA’s negative publications and that this is affecting their ability to attract investors.

Minister Mohadi admitted that the police had been accused of being partisan in the past which had led to the sharing of the Home Affairs ministry. He stressed that Zimbabweans should obey their laws fully or if they do not like the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which is on their statute books, they should lobby parliament for amendments.

He went on to say that when the ministers had come into office they had announced to Zimbabweans that the time for squabbles is over and that they should desist from any activities that could jeopardise the inclusive government and that WOZA should have taken their cue from that. He also insisted that WOZA should put their trust the police as they are supposed to keep order. .

With that introduction, they asked the WOZA delegation to respond. National Coordinator, Jenni Williams related that at first WOZA had notified police of their intention to hold peaceful demonstrations. Police interpreted ‘notify’ as ‘apply’ and that had lead to police trying to refuse our right to assembly. At one stage they had threatened that they would shoot to kill if members went into the streets.

Williams also mentioned that police do not comply with POSA regulations as regards how to disperse a gathering, be it lawful or unlawful, but use excessive force. Williams also advised that WOZA does not need to notify police as it falls under POSA exemption schedules as a non-political organization. In this regard, WOZA has successfully defended its right to assembly in seven trials.

At this point a legal argument began which continued for over 30 minutes with the ministry interpreting the exceptions to suit their demand that WOZA must notify before their demonstrations. Despite clarity that a ‘gathering’ included a procession or a demonstration, and therefore exemptions applied, the ministers were adamant that exemptions do not apply to a demonstration.

This matter remained unresolved and Minister Mutsekwa insisted that the legal matter be argued between the Attorney General and Mr. Chimbga. In closing the meeting, Minister Mutsekwa lectured on the “need for peace and tranquillity in the country and we have to correct the wrong impression that we are a lawless country.”

“We ask you to start to obey the country’s laws so that investors start coming in and we can all benefit. There is a bigger picture than your issues. We are going to call a press conference about our meeting with you.” With those comments they then declared that if WOZA notify police before any demonstrations, both ministers would not be found wanting in personally disciplining any police excesses.

Implicit in this statement is the threat that if WOZA continues to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly and their exemption under the Public Order and Security Act, they will continue to allow the police to ignore clear instructions for dispersing a procession covered under law.

WOZA’s legal opinion remains as follows: the Public Order and Security Act currently provides the law for the maintenance of public order and security in Zimbabwe. Under Section 2 of the Act, a public gathering is defined as a “public meeting or a public demonstration”. Sections 23, 24 and 25 outline the procedure to be followed by a convener who intends to organize public demonstrations as defined under the Act.

At the end of the Act appears a schedule of gatherings to which sections 23, 24, 25. Of particular relevance to this situation is paragraph (i) of the schedule which excludes “any club, association or organization which is not of a political nature and at which the discussions and matters dealt with are not of a political nature’ from having to give any notification.

WOZA therefore clearly falls within the provisions of section (i) of the schedule and is not obliged to give notice whenever it has its peaceful processions on issues which are non-political in nature.

WOZA values the opportunity to directly engage with the co-ministers and acknowledges the time they spent discussing with us. We will continue to stand firm on our right to enjoy fully our freedom of expression and assembly without hindrance. And in so doing, know that we are obeying the letter of the constitutional provisions and the unfortunate Public Order and Security Act.

Peaceful protest is not the only means by which WOZA members choose to engage with their leaders about issues that affect them in their daily lives. In a country where democratic space remains limited, however, we the ordinary people of Zimbabwe will continue to grab any space possible to get our voices heard. Statement issued by WOZA