By Alex Bell
15 February 2010
Hundreds of men and women from the pressure group Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets of Harare and Bulawayo to mark Valentine’s Day, in what the group called tests of civic and media freedom under the year-old unity government.
About 700 WOZA members marched through the capital city on Saturday to the offices of the state’s mouthpiece newspaper, the Herald, handing out Valentine cards, red roses and abbreviated copies of WOZA’s report on the state of democracy in Zimbabwe to thrilled passers-by. Six protests started separately and converged on the offices of the Herald. The peaceful demonstrators sang as they marched, handing out roses and Valentine’s cards to eager Saturday shoppers who rushed forward to accept the gifts. At the Herald offices, the peaceful protestors chanted slogans for a few minutes before leaving a copy of the report, a Valentine rose and a WOZA scarf at the door, then dispersed without incident.
Then on Monday, WOZA members re-enacted the scene in Bulawayo where close to a thousand peaceful protestors marched on the offices of the Chronicle newspaper. Five protests started separately and made their way through the city, singing and handing out roses and cards to the public in Bulawayo, many of whom then proceeded to join in the demonstration. WOZA leader Jenni Williams explained how people rushed out of shops and offices to join in the excitement, saying there was a ‘carnival’ atmosphere.
Songs sung by the peaceful protestors included: “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 us around the country to consult on the constitution, as WOZA respects people.”
At the Chronicle offices, the group sat down outside the building whilst a journalist came out to interview Williams about the demonstration. After the interview, Williams gave the journalist a copy of the report and a Valentine rose before the group left peacefully.
The report, entitled “Hearts starve as well as bodies – give us bread but give us roses too! Democratising Zimbabwe – an opportunity to shine!” is a snapshot of community activists’ views on the state of democracy in Zimbabwe one year after the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU). Williams explained that there is grave concern over ongoing harassment, arrests and lawlessness across the country. She said that crucial reforms have not happened, leaving people worried about a return to violence and oppression should elections be called.