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WOZA leaders finally released

By Violet Gonda
6 November 2008

The leaders of the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams, were finally released on bail on Thursday after spending three weeks at Mlondolozi Prison. However the two outspoken activists have been put under strict bail conditions.

Speaking after her release Williams told SW Radio Africa: “Our freedom of movement has been curtailed. We cannot move more than 40km out of Bulawayo which means I cannot visit my rural home. Magodonga cannot visit her rural home at all. And we have to report twice a week to the nearest police station.”

“So yes we may be out on bail but our freedoms, our liberties have not been fully restored, until the case has been dropped,” the WOZA leader added.

The two leaders who were arrested during a peaceful demonstration in Bulawayo were suffering from lice infections and said conditions in the prisons are appalling.

Zimbabwe’s prisons are notoriously unhygienic and overcrowded. After spending 71 days in prison as a political detainee Luke Tamborinyoka, an MDC official, said upon his release last year; “I am not sure which one is worse - hell or Mugabe’s prisons.”

During the course of their unjust detention Mahlangu was moved into a yard inhabited by mental health patients and dangerous prisoners, both on remand and convicted. WOZA said: “She was put in a cell with a patient that is allowed to wander around naked and was moved from Ingutsheni Mental Health Hospital for murder. She was unable to sleep at night due to the antics of this and other patients.”

The women said there is extreme hunger in the prisons and inmates fight over scraps of food. The human rights defenders said abuses are rampant and at Mlondolozi Prison male guards are allowed to wander around the female prison and can also see into washing facilities. “Prisoners in Yard Two are also stripped naked every day for inspection by prison officers as they are locked down. At least three minors (aged 15 and 16) were being kept in the same cell as Williams.”

The WOZA leaders are expected in court on Monday for their remand hearing.

SANTOC (South African No Torture Consortium) welcomed the release of the WOZA leaders but said it was “deeply concerned’ about the conditions under which prisoners are being held, especially women in Zimbabwe.

SANTOC member Hugh Lewin told us: “Isolation and appalling prison conditions can be defined as torture and it’s not anything that people should be subjected to.”

South African anti torture groups have called on their government and the regional body, to press Robert Mugabe at this weekend's SADC summit to allow International Red Cross immediate access to prisons in Zimbabwe.

Williams believes investigations should also be made into police detention, which can often be worse. She said there is generally no water or food at all in police cells.


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