Flash Protests in Zimbabwe

WOZA women LOVE sign

A flash mob is a” group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.” Flash mobs might be pointless and designed to entertain, but Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) borrowed the concept today for a very different purpose.

To commemorate International Women’s Day, 500 dedicated  WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) activists formed “flash protests” in downtown Bulawayo. Unlike typical WOZA protests where activists sing, march and converge on a central target where they practice peaceful civil disobedience in the face of police presence, today five individual protests sprang up and dispersed as soon as police presence appeared. There was a reason today’s protests were different-Zimbabwe police continue to actively target WOZA members.

Just this past weekend, four more members were arrested at private homes, detained for two nights and beaten by police. One woman, a nursing mother, was unable to hold or feed her child when visited by family members. Today WOZA reported high numbers of police presence who accused them of trying to incite a revolution. Following dispersal by police, the protestors went to the local court in solidarity with the four women being detained. They were victorious-the magistrate dropped all charges.

The flash protests, WOZA demanded President Zuma of South Africa take a more active stance in his role as guarantor of Zimbabwe’s negotiated unity government and end the violence. Amnesty is making a similar call to President Zuma to ensure political violence does not escalate further and elections are free and fair. Raise your voice with WOZA and send a message to President Zuma. Tell him there should be no voting violence in Zimbabwe.

(By the way, if you don’t get the whole flash mob thing, don’t worry, I don’t get it either. But here is a really funny link anyway.)

Vote for Love in Zimbabwe!

Help Zimbabwe Vote for Love this Valentines Day!

I confess-I think Valentines Day is a scam perpetrated by men to buy forgiveness for all the things they mess up the rest of the year by presenting you with bouquet of convenience store flowers. Luckily, the members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are far less jaded. Every year they take to the streets on in Zimbabwe on Valentines Day, urging political leaders to remember the power of love is greater than the love of power.

This year, celebrating their ninth year of peaceful protest, 1800 members marched in Bulawayo on Friday-their biggest gathering to date. They sang and danced their way to the offices of the state run newspaper, calling attention to the need for free and open access to the media. This will be particularly important this year as Zimbabwe moves toward a vote on a new constitution and expected Presidential elections. Open access by all candidates to the media is critical in ensuring a free and fair election.

As the WOZA members marched, they passed out Valentines to bystanders with messages regarding constitutional reform. You can help WOZA spread the message about the need for open media access and free and fair elections by sending a Valentine to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma. President Zuma is appointed by regional leaders to supervise Zimbabwe’s negotiated interim government and upcoming elections. Our Valentines urge him to take steps to ensure all votes are free of violence and intimidation.

Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections saw high levels of political violence, with human rights defenders like WOZA, civil society members and political opposition figures particularly targeted. Amnesty is concerned about continuing levels of violence and the great potential for extreme violence to return surrounding any votes. Take action to keep WOZA members and all Zimbabweans safe as they go to the polls. Help Zimbabwe vote for love. Find our Valentine to President Zuma here.

Malawi Couple Pardoned by President

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza departing court May 20, 2010.

It was a lovely and welcome surprise this morning to learn that President Mutharika pardoned Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. This pardon came only because you as activists stood in solidarity with Steven and Tiwonge and demanded their rights to equality under the law. We joined the voice of the international community demanding these individuals not be persecuted because of their love.

But we are asking you not to rest on your laurels. There is still much work to be done. Acts of homophobia occur globally. Amnesty USA is taking action this June during Pride month to call attention to acts of discrimination, hindering progress towards equal rights for all.

Malawi will remain a featured case for this campaign. President Mutharika bowed to international pressure. Many governments condemned the arrest, prosecution and harsh sentencing of this couple. The United States government issued a strong statement, South African President Zuma roundly denounced their treatment, governments threatened to withdraw aid, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met with President Mutharika right before the announcement of the pardon.

In his pardoning statement, President Mutharika clearly showed no acceptance, understanding or appreciation of gay rights.

“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws … I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support this.”

It is clear that discrimination and persecution will continue in Malawi and so we call for the repeal of the law allowing the arrest and imprisonment of gay people, a law that contravenes Malawi’s constitution and international treaties. Look for this action to be live when we launch our Pride campaign June 4th.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise March for Education, Member Jailed

Women of Zimbabwe Arise take to the streets in Zimbabwe.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise take to the streets in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE January 25th: Today a delegation of 200 women and men marched again in Bulawayo to deliver the WOZA report regarding the collapse of the education system in the country. Once the ministry of education official had attended and received the report, members began to disperse. As they dispersed, seven riot police officers ran out of the police drill hall and started to beat the peacefully dispersing activists, innocent bystanders and vendors. One member who tried to avoid arrest by walking into the passport office was followed and beaten, after being beaten she was then told to ‘run’ to the drill hall whilst being beaten all the way there. It was finally determined that a total of eleven WOZA members were arrested, however they were released within hours without charge or explanation.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets recently demanding education reform in Zimbabwe. In a report published by the organization, WOZA calls for teachers to quit demanding extra money from parents to supplement their income, the Education Ministry must improve the quality of the curriculum including the addition of human rights education, the examination system must be re-vamped and no increase in school fees in 2010.

Over 800 WOZA members marched in Bulawayo on January 13th, singing and chanting the WOZA MOYA! slogan. The demonstration proceeded without violence or arrests but they were not able to deliver their report at the government complex as police dispersed the demonstrators upon arrival. On January 18th-MLK Day, the members of WOZA marched to the Education Ministry offices in Harare and were dispersed, this time by riot police. One WOZA member, a journalist and a bystander were arrested. The demonstration was broken up before WOZA members were able to deliver the report to education minister David Coltart.


Changing the Battle Against AIDS in South Africa

hiv_sa_150Yesterday on World AIDS Day, South Africa was in the news quite a bit. The executive director of UNAIDS was in Pretoria for the commemoration and along with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, called for greater HIV prevention measures. South Africa has the largest population of person’s living with HIV-nearly 6 million people. Globally, women are disproportionally affected by HIV and AIDS as the fastest rising group contracting the virus. In South Africa, women account for approximately 62% of all persons over age 15 living with HIV.

South Africa has a sad history of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Despite relentless calls by Nelson Mandela’s 46664 organization for comprehensive government programs, South Africa under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki was a tragic wasteland of an epidemic. At one point, Mbeki promoted a policy of natural herbs for treatment, continuously under-funded anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and condom disbursement programs and committed many other policy failures that many blame for not only doing little to lower infection rates but in fact contributing to an increased infection rate.

Thus far, the Zuma presidency has been markedly different. Yesterday the administration announced increased access for vulnerable populations, including “all HIV-positive children under the age of one would be eligible for treatment,” more pregnant women will receive ART, and more person’s dual diagnosed with tuberculosis will also receive ART. Further, Zuma committed the government to “ensuring that all health facilities in the country are equipped to offer HIV counselling, testing and treatment” rather than only those approved as ART dispersal centers.


One in Four Men Admits to Rape in South Africa

A leading research group in South Africa released the results of a survey where one in four men admitted to having committed rape and nearly half admitted to raping more than one person. The study also drew a correlation between violence and HIV prevalence. When you consider the culture of impunity surrounding violence against women in South Africa, the survey is not surprising in the least. “According to the researchers, many of the study’s participants appeared to see no problem with what they had done.”

Current South Africa President Jacob Zuma was acquitted of rape in 2006. The very fact that a case against him was even brought to trial is surprising.  Only one in nine rapes are ever reported and only a fraction of those are brought to trial. During the trial, the judge allowed his supporters to gather outside the courthouse and chant “burn the bitch.” When testifying, Zuma acknowledged a sexual encounter but stated that as the woman was dressed “provocatively” in traditional dress, “it was against Zulu culture for a man to leave a sexually aroused woman unsatisfied.” Zuma also stated that he knew the woman was HIV positive but that he showered after the encounter and because he was healthy deemed this enough of a preventative measure.

Since his inauguration, Zuma has indicated an intention to make crime prevention a priority and has set up a ministry to promote women’s and children’s rights.  But what is most necessary for South Africa is for men who are in positions of power to serve as role models that violence against women is not acceptable. Men in South Africa need to step up and take responsibility for the culture of violence and impunity and demand that their mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, wives and girlfriends are treated with respect rather than with abuse. And it needs to come from the top down. Yes, President Zuma, I am talking to you.