Cathy Buckle – Love and tear gas

16 February 2013

Dear Family and Friends,
The day before Valentine’s Day in Zimbabwe love was in the air but
so was tear gas. While flower sellers wrapped individual roses and
street vendors peddled teddy bears, hearts and fluffy cushions adorned
with red ribbons, hundreds of women headed towards parliament building
in Harare. Five hundred WOZA members came from two different
directions in two groups. They were unarmed and peaceful, distributing
fliers against the draft constitution saying it had been written to
suit the interests of the present politicians and not future
generations. The WOZA protest was their 11th annual Valentine’s Day
march and as in all previous years, the police were waiting for them
when they got to their destination. Outside parliament five canisters
of tear gas were fired, WOZA members and bystanders ran for cover and
eight women, including leaders Jenni Williams and Magadonga Mhlangu
were arrested and beaten while they waited to be transported to a
police station. Twenty five WOZA members had to seek medical attention
after their treatment at the hands of police. One woman had to have
three teeth removed after having been struck on the face.

It wasn’t only tear gas that lay heavy in the humid air of central
Harare the afternoon before Valentine’s day, the atmosphere was also
full of irony. While women and children were running from teargas and
others were being beaten by police, it was being announced that a date
had been set for the referendum on the draft constitution. The 16th of
March is to be Referendum Day we were told, but in typically
Zimbabwean style, the adjective ‘tentative’ was tagged on to the
date so we are not completely and absolutely sure of the exact date.
It’s a characteristic of Zimbabwe’s politicians to keep people
guessing about some part of the overall picture when it comes to
elections. The irony of tear gas and baton sticks being used against
peaceful protesters was dramatic when glancing at the very first page
of the new draft constitution which was literally hot off the press.
Thirteen lines down in Chapter One it states that Zimbabwe is founded
on the principle of respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.
That principle leads you to explore clause 53 which allows freedom
from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
And then to clause 59 which gives every person the right to
demonstrate and present petitions as long as it is done peacefully.

On Valentine’s Day WOZA members again tried to protest, this time in
Bulawayo. They said they were demonstrating on a day of love to demand
a response from police to their complaints of police brutality at a
previous protest. In a number of separate protest groups , eight
hundred women converged on Police Headquarters. WOZA said that when
the women arrived police swooped on them and began beating their
members. Despite everyone then sitting down on the ground, a hundred
and eighty women were arrested along with six men who were not WOZA
members but just bystanders taking photographs. One of those men was
later made to remove his trousers and shoes and was beaten under the
soles of his feet.

As we head to the polls in less than a month’s time a little ray of
light illuminated our national dread of elections. Constitutional
Affairs Minister Eric Matinega said that voting in the Referendum
would not be based on the existing flawed voters role but would be
open to every Zimbabwean on production of their ID card only. It’s
hard to believe that multiple thousands of people disenfranchised in
recent years will be allowed to again have a say in the future of the
country. Do we dare to hope? Until next time, thanks for reading, love
cathy. 16th February 2013.

Copyright Cathy Buckle.

For information on my new book “IMIRE”, about Norman Travers and
Imire Game Park, or my other books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent
Victims,” African Tears,” “Beyond Tears;” and “History of
the Mukuvisi Woodlands 1910-2010”, or to subscribe to
Cathy’s letter, please visit the  website or contact [email protected]

See other recent posts from Cathy Buckle

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