Zimbabwe Goes After Activists Again

Earlier this week, scores of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) members were arrested and detained by riot police during a march in Bulawayo, including National Coordinator Magadonga Mahlangu. All were eventually released without charge, but the efforts of police to harass and intimidate serve as a reminder of the challenges to practicing freedom of expression and assembly in Zimbabwe.

WOZA members have been conducting a series of protests demanding the draft constitution process be completed and brought to a vote. Currently Zimbabwe does not actually have a constitution. It has operated for 30 years under the Lancaster House agreement, which governed the transition from UK colonial power to self-government.

It has been modified multiple times, but following the political violence of the 2008 elections and the subsequently negotiated Government of National Unity (GNU), it is mandated that a new constitution be drafted and voted on through a referendum process. This process has been delayed multiple times and many civil society organizations in Zimbabwe express concern the process has been politicized and does not adequately reflect rights and government structures desired by Zimbabwean citizens.

Zimbabwe's Continuing Struggle for Freedom

zimbabwe flagApril 18th is Zimbabwe National Day. This year, Zimbabwe will commemorate 32 years of independence from colonial rule. While today is a day to celebrate, freedom has its limits in Zimbabwe.

Specifically, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are sharply curtailed by the government. In March, six people were convicted of “conspiracy to commit public violence.” Just how did they conspire? They gathered with others last year to watch video footage of the Arab Spring events in Egypt and Tunisia.


10 Years of Love Met With Violence in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams-Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Yesterday, the activists of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets in Bulawayo for the 10th consecutive commemoration of Valentine’s Day. Yes, I know it’s a week early; but in Zimbabwe, when you’re trying to keep the riot police from guessing when your peaceful protests will occur, that’s what you have to do. Unfortunately, their plan didn’t work and co-founder Jenni Williams, along with twelve other people including a pregnant woman and minor, were arrested.

WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) use the occasion of Valentine’s Day to confront governmental policies that violate civil and human rights in Zimbabwe and educate their fellow citizens about issues and what can be done. Frequently, WOZA is met with brutal violence at the hands of the riot police. Jenni has been arrested nearly 50 times.


Write for Love in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu

As Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights campaign come to a close, I wanted to give a shout out to my friends at Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). They are featured in this year’s event that culminates on International Human Rights Day, December 10th.

Their inclusion this year is especially poignant as WOZA activists Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu will be in court December 12th, facing charges with potentially serious consequences.


Women of Zimbabwe Arise Activists Arrested on International Day of Peace

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu

On Wednesday, September 21, activists from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) marched in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to commemorate International Day of Peace. Not seeming to appreciate the irony, police officers violently dispersed the protest, arresting 12 women and injuring several others.

Thursday, 10 of those women were released, but Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlongu remain in jail. They are charged with kidnapping and theft pertaining to some sort of bizarre set of circumstances that is beyond my comprehension at this time.

Jenni and Magodonga appeared in court this morning. Bail was denied and their next hearing is scheduled for October 6th. They will remain imprisoned until that time. Jenni recently had a minor operation which could result in serious complications from infection due to the disgusting sanitary conditions in prison. This ridiculous set of circumstances is a direct reflection of elements of the Zimbabwe government attempting to repress political and social dissent.


Activists Rally In DC For Human Rights

By Dana Watters, Amnesty Get On The Bus Volunteer

Even at nine in the morning on a Friday, when most of us would normally be counting down to the weekend, the energy in the Foundry in Washington, DC is phenomenal. In the sunshine outside, groups color flags in support of Filep Karma, while inside roses and key actions are passed around for signatures. Larry Cox hasn’t even arrived yet, and everyone is already buzzing with excitement.

By the time everyone has settled inside for the opening speeches, the count is well over one hundred Amnesty International activists. The various speakers infect the crowd with even more passion and anticipation, reaching a pinnacle when Larry announces that he has decided that joining us for Get on the Bus is more important than going home to meet with the IRS.

The group splits, half heading to demonstrate for the Women of Zimbabwe (WoZA) at the Zimbabwe Embassy and half for Walid Yunis Ahmad at the Iraqi Consulate. We march in long ovals, chanting and holding our signs, the very picture of peaceful protest. At the Iraqi Consulate, faces peer out from the windows and passers by stop to watch.


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.

WOZA Women Released: 5 nights in hell

We’re relieved to hear that the final four members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have finally been released.

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu have collectively been arrested more than 50 times for their peaceful protests, demonstrations and other activities designed to call attention to the grave injustices taking place in Zimbabwe.

But this most recent stint in jail ranks as the most hellish prison conditions that these two veteran activists have seen yet!  Here’s what WOZA is saying about the prison conditions in Zimbabwe.

Arrest One of Us in Zimbabwe, Arrest us All!

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE: 61 of the 65 members arrested outside ZESA headquarters in Harare earlier today have been released. Four members, Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Clara Manjengwa and Celina Madukani, remain in custody and will spend the night in cells. They are being charged with participating in an illegal gathering.]

The leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and seventy other people, including juveniles, were arrested today in Harare following a peaceful march. The peaceful protests were mobilised to put direct pressure on the Zimbabwe electricity authority (ZESA) to provide a more efficient service and fair and affordable billing system.

On Monday, one thousand WOZA members marched in Bulawayo to call attention to the electricity crisis in Zimbabwe. The protesters carried yellow cards, like those given out for penalties in a soccer match, citing poor service and high charges.  ZESA officials locked the doors and refused to come out. I am tempted to call them wusses, but let’s be fair-1,000 people on my doorstep singing and chanting about my terrible service would probably make me lock my door and hide under my desk as well.

Eleven police officers monitored the protest and tailed WOZA leaders Jenni and Mgodonga but no arrests were made and no attempts to halt the protest occurred. However, two WOZA members were arrested and briefly detained the following day at public meetings about ZESA’s high costs. During their interrogation, other police officers insisted the women be released because they also suffered under high electricity costs and said WOZA should be allowed to protest on the matter. See, I told you the police aren’t all bad in Zimbabwe.

When 500 WOZA members marched in Harare today, the ZESA officials there showed as little backbone as their Bulawayo counterparts, and had ZESA security guards insist that the riot police monitoring the protest arrest Jenni and Magodonga, who were trying to get ZESA officials to address the crowd. The police initially refused before giving in to pressure. However, when officers put Jenni and Magodonga into the police van, seventy women and men climbed in with them to arrest themselves. Now, THAT is what I call solidarity!

Unsurprisingly, the jail where WOZA members are being detained does not have electricity. Slightly ironic, no? So we are asking you to call Harare Central Police Station and demand that they release all the WOZA members detained. Tell them to immediately release all WOZA members, who were exercising their rights under the Zimbabwe Constitution and international treaties of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. It’s not quite the same as jumping into a police car to arrest yourself, but its the best way that we can act in solidarity with the women and men of Zimbabwe who are fighting for their civil and human rights. Be a global citizen and tell Zimbabwe authorities that if they arrest one person in Zimbabwe fighting for a better life, they must arrest us all!

Harare Central Police Station can be dialed from the US by calling 011 263 477 7777 or 736931 or 725803 or 733033 or 721212. You can also call the Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington DC at 202-332-7100.

Rockin Out the Valentines For Zimbabwe

Calling All Crows/State Radio Loves WOZA!

Calling All Crows/State Radio Loves WOZA!

I had a busy Valentine’s Day writing valentines to 75,000 Zimbabweans and a squadron of anti-riot police. It was quite exhausting. Fortunately, Amnesty’s good friends pitched in to help out-the members of the band State Radio, their uber cool non-profit Calling All Crows and some awesome fans made valentines at concerts and a pre-show action in Atlanta and Birmingham over the weekend.

Valentine’s Day is an important day for the grass roots organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). Founded on that day in 2003 with the mandate “the power of love is greater than the love of power,” it has grown to 75,000 women and men across the country that take to the streets every year in anniversary demonstrations to sing and dance as they march for greater human rights and civil liberties in Zimbabwe. These courageous women and men often face the violence of batons as anti-riot police disperse their marches. This year, Amnesty activists stand in solidarity with WOZA by sending valentines to the members showing our support; as well as valentines to the anti-riot police asking them to treat these non-violent activists with respect.

On Saturday, 700 WOZA members marched on the streets of Harare, handing out roses, valentine cards and copies of their new report about the status of democracy in Zimbabwe. Today, 1,000 WOZA members and other Zimbabwe citizens marched in Bulawayo, singing 

“We want to expose this delay in writing our constitution, which will delay our getting our social justice”; “we don’t want the Kariba Draft” and “we need a Bill of Rights that respects us; send me around the country to consult on the constitution as WOZA respects people.”

There was no violence during either demonstration and we thank the Zimbabwe police for showing restraint and allowing free space for civil protest. Even though WOZA’s main Valentine’s marches are over, keep making and sending in those valentines! WOZA will march again many times this year. Sending valentines of support to WOZA does so much to encourage them and keep up morale, knowing the world cares and supports their cause. And it’s equally important to continue sending those valentines to the anti-riot police to remind them to always treat the members of WOZA without violence. Keep up the good work Amnesty activists and special thanks to Chad, Jeb and Matt for all the support from State Radio and Calling All Crows.