Women of Zimbabwe Arise Report Increased Harassment

Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams, Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams, Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Last month, Magodonga Mahlangu was awarded the RFK Human Rights Award for the work she does as co-leader of Women of Zimbabwe  Arise (WOZA). Since her return to Zimbabwe, however, she and co-leader Jenni Williams are reporting increased harassment levels by police and Central Intelligence officers. Both Magodonga and Jenni have faced heightened intimidation efforts following past international recognition, but it was hoped that since this award was presented by President Barack Obama along with Ethel Kennedy, it might buy them a little breathing space since even Mugabe has hailed Obama as a pretty cool dude. Clearly Obama’s street cred as a brother will only carry you so far.

Magodonga and Jenni were back in court last week on pending charges from an arrest in October 2008. The Supreme Court verbally ruled almost six months ago that the charges were unconstitutional but has yet to put it in writing. In the spirit of continuing to drag the process out as long as possible, the ladies were now told that their file was missing and the magistrate would not make any ruling without it and these “political cases” are sensitive. Hmmm. Political cases? I seem to remember that Magodonga and Jenni were arrested because they were marching in the streets demanding equitable distribution of food aid. You say political case, I say oppression of human rights defenders. Tomato, tomatoe.

Magodonga and Jenni were ordered to reappear Monday, January 14th. Take Action! Demand justice for Magodonga and Jenni.

An Evolution in Zimbabwe

Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Sarah Hager (Amnesty International USA), White House, November 23, 2009

Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Sarah Hager (Amnesty International USA), White House, November 23, 2009

I had the honor and pleasure of attending the RFK Human Rights Award ceremony last night, hosted by President Obama and Mrs. Obama at the White House, where Magodonga Mahlangu and Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were recipients of the annual award. I can sum it up in one word: wow. I laughed, I cried, I was disappointed the toilet paper did not have the presidential seal.

In President Obama’s words:

And that may be Magodonga’s greatest achievement — that she has given the women of Zimbabwe each other.  That she has given people who long for peace and justice each other. That she has given them a voice they can only have collectively-and a strength that they can only have together. They are a force to be reckoned with.

I attended in the capacity as nominator of WOZA for the award. Amnesty International works closely with WOZA and they are a special focus case for action here in the US. It was a team effort putting together the information requested by the RFK staff, but it was an easy sell convincing them that Magodonga and WOZA deserved the award. These women redefine inspiring.