WOZA Activists Beaten Today in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets of Zimbabwe over the last two days to commemorate International Day of Peace. As the flyer they handed out during their march explains,

“[I]t is a year after the global political agreement (GPA) was signed on 15 September 2008. This deal was supposed to bring peace to Zimbabwe. The United Nations theme this year is: Better than a thousand empty words is ONE WORD that brings peace. The GPA contains 6,567 words but we are yet to see if these words really stand for peace. Because we are still waiting for peace, WOZA members decided to choose a theme that shows the politicians how they can bring meaning to their words: Our theme: Social Justice will bring Peace of Mind.”

Over 1,000 members of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA/MOZA) took to the streets of Harare yesterday. Riot police responded but no arrests or violence occurred. Six simultaneous protests converged on the offices of the United Nations, where a petition asking the UN to help intervene in Zimbabwe to restore the health and education sectors was handed in to officials in the building. The petition also called on the UN to pressure the inclusive government to stop the harassment of vendors and ordinary Zimbabweans by police.

Today at noon in Bulawayo, 1300 human rights defenders came together to repeat yesterday’s march. Their songs were silenced however as riot police swooped, beating women and men alike, to disperse them from reaching their target at Mhlahlandlela Government complex. No arrests have been reported to date but WOZA leaders are still verifying whether everyone returned safely to their homes. One man had to be driven to the hospital as he was unable to walk after being beaten by four riot police at the same time; he has a fracture to his arm and doctors are still waiting to check his leg and lower back. Over twenty other members are also seeking medical treatment at this time for the brutal beatings they received at the hands of police.

A group of men watching the man being beaten tried to mobilise people to beat the police in retaliation. This action was quickly stopped by WOZA members who explained:

“We are non-violent activists and any history should write that the people who disturbed the peace with violence were Zimbabwe Republic Police officers, not peaceful human rights defenders.”

One of those who managed to side step the beatings was Jenni Williams, who proceeded to the government complex. They chanted slogans and left the placards and demands behind before walking peacefully away. A police vehicle was deployed to locate WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu after a police officer said they should stop beating just anyone and look for the leaders to beat.

Since the power-sharing deal was signed in September 2008, 40 WOZA activists have been arrested on seven separate occasions after peaceful protests, WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu spent three weeks in Mlondolozi Prison and hundreds of peaceful Zimbabweans citizens were brutally beaten by police for merely speaking out about the hardships in their lives.

I guess if you are beaten every other time you march you are still doing better than when you are beaten EVERY time you march…

Haiku Anniversary Zimbabwe's GPA

Prime Minister Tsvangirai (left) and President Mugabe

Last week Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement (GPA) turned one year old. The GPA was negotiated as a political compromise following the violence and contested elections of March-June 2008. And how did the proud parents (the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, which brokered and now guarantees the agreement) and family members (President Mugabe of ZANU-PF, Prime Minister Tsvangirai of MDC-T and Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara of MDC-M) celebrate this milestone? Well, they didn’t. But since every birthday should be commemorated, here’s my retrospective on the year. In haiku.

Mugabe no sign
Gono, Tomana stay on
No rule of law yet

Abuse rise, fall, rise
WOZA beat, arrest
NGOs out, in, threatened

Cholera kills quick
Doctors, teachers strike two times
Still not enough food

Mugabe birthday
turns 10, remain in GNU?
Press opens slightly

Bank, “yes, stole money
Bank pays money back in poo
Zim struggles for aid

Inflation down, good
Can’t get dollars for food, bad
Unemployment same

Tribunal withdraw
Diamonds, companies stolen
Parliament new vote

Constitution 2010?
Zim turns 30 in 2010, big party?
Growing pains to come

Zimbabwe: Mugabe's Sleight of Hand

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights recently reported that President Mugabe did NOT sign the Global Political Agreement. Well, he signed half of it. The entire 36 page document was ratified into law by Parliament as Constitutional Amendment 19. President Mugabe, however, only signed an 18 page document. The result is potentially unenforceable as “It is impossible, legally, to have an act in two different versions-one version approved by Parliament, another by the President.” The missing pages included clauses governing the mandated Constitutional revision and referendum process. This means that the entire agreement can be declared null and void, or those pages not signed by the President are not enforceable.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA) is the result of negotiations that occurred after contested Presidential and Parliamentary elections in March 2008. Although now-Prime Minister Tsvangirai received the majority of votes, he purportedly did not receive the necessary 50% +1 required to win outright, forcing a run-off election. Tsvangirai subsequently withdrew from the run-off over concern for the extreme levels of violence that occurred, including deaths, disappearances and torture and Mugabe was declared the winner. The Southern African Development Committee (SADC) stepped in and negotiated a political settlement that became the GPA and is now the guarantor of this agreement.

ZANU-PF’s commitment to the GPA has been suspect from the beginning including refusing to cede control of the Attorney General office and Reserve Bank and chipping away at the Parliamentary majority position Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s party MDC-T secured in the 2008 elections through pressing criminal charges. Further, while levels of violence have abated, political violence is an on-going concern including the recent murder of an MDC activist.

The law is meant to define the parameters that regulate behavior and establish social control. It is not meant to be a blunt weapon of force to repress, dominate and terrorize citizens. Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF, consistently uses the law to manipulate and oppress from laws used to stifle dissent such as the Public Order and Security Act, to withdrawing from the SADC Tribunal, to entering the agreement with false intentions by building in an escape hatch.

ZANU-PF’s withdrawal from the SADC Tribunal and the failure to sign all pages of the GPA are essentially contract disputes and there is no applicable court to turn where a judge can decide which terms apply and should be enforced. Instead, the judge is SADC, who must remove the blinders of reverence towards a one time freedom fighter and see him as the leader of a party of freedom oppressors. SADC announced today it will convene an extraordinary summit in three weeks to address the outstanding issues surrounding the GPA and it MUST force a resolution on both these concerns. 

The judge is also the international community, who bears the burden of standing strong in speaking out against the injustices occurring in Zimbabwe while still standing in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe by providing appropriate humanitarian aid to repair the schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and sewer systems, electrical capacity and agricultural industry. Finally, the judge is us, who must continue to demand respect for the rule of law and insist on accountability and an end to impunity for those who use violence to retain power and control.