Two women arrested during a peaceful protest by WOZA in Bulawayo on October 16 remain jailed. Their bail hearing, which was scheduled on October 24, was postponed. The reason? The judge was “forced to attend a workshop” and couldn’t be there. The substitute judge wasn’t around either, so as a result the two women, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, will remain for a few more days in a lice filled, crowded prison where decent food and sanitation is lacking.
WOZA is a well known group in Zimbabwe, founded in 2003,Â but doesn’t get into the foreign newspapers much. The initials stand for “Women of Zimbabwe Arise”, and most of their protests have to do with civil rights and protesting for things like food and shelter rather than for one political faction or another.
The South African Mail and Guardian newspaper describes them this way:
…(WOZA) is famed for its “ambush” protests outside government buildings and for handing out roses to the targets of their protests. Williams has been arrested more than 30 times in the past five years for her activism.
The KubatanaBlog describes the peaceful protest:
On arrival at the Government Complex, the group of approximately 200 sat down outside the gates whilst a delegation of four elderly women went in to request that the Regional Department Heads of all the service departments come out and address the crowd on what is being done to alleviate the humanitarian crisis facing the country.
The group sat peacefully waiting to be addressed for 45 minutes before five riot police approached the group. Two leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, were arrested and taken to Drill Hall, which is across the road from Mhlahlandlela. The rest of the group were forcibly dispersed by being beaten with baton sticks. At least one member is receiving medical attention for the beating she received. Williams and Mahlangu were later taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station, where they are currently being held.,,,
In the meanwhile, members are Parliament are not being paid, nor are the hotels and restaurants getting reimbursed for their expenses. As a result, the new sesssion of Parliament, that includes a large opposition segment, has been suspended for lack of funds.
To make things worse, a gold mine near Kadoma has been shut down for not paying it’s electric bill, and there are reports of cholera in the Harare area.
But Mugabe continues to hold onto power. The latest attempt to settle the “agreement” is being held in Swaziland, with nearby governments pressuring Mugabe to give in and share power as per the agreement. Most people think that the sticking point is that the Army and police, who were behind much of the pre election violence, are worried about being prosecuted or losing their power (the Army essentially took over the government from Mugabe earlier this year, according to some rumors, and he remains only a token head of government).
However, the US did approve for HIV/TB/Malaria aid to be delivered to Zimbabwe, in the hopes to keep people alive. The UN also has approved of 300 million British pounds for food aid. The bad news is that the money will be shunted via the government banking system, allowing diversion/delay of funding and the use of the “offficial” exchange rate for worthless Zimdollars, if the donors aren’t careful.
Five million people are expected to suffer from hunger in the near future: Right now, it is planting season, but people lack fertilizer and seed, and many of the strongest have fled for jobs in South Africa or other neighboring countries, leaving the sick and elderly to farm in many areas.
So unless things change, things are going from bad to worse to worse.
Letters to release the WOZA activists can be sent to:
Office of the Attorney General
P. Bag 7714
Fax: 011 263 4 777 049
Her Excellency Florence Zano CHIDEYA
Ambassador for Zimbabwe
332 Somerset Street West
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0J9
Fax: (613) 563-8269
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about Human rights in Zimbabwe at Makaipablog.