While politicians talk, WOZA women beaten and arrested
By Violet Gonda
16 October 2008
Power sharing talks between rival political parties are underway in Zimbabwe but there is no respite for human rights activists and journalists. Students were arrested and assaulted by police during demonstrations when parliament opened on Tuesday. Also this week state agents used repressive laws to unceremoniously throw out two journalists, Peta Thornycroft and Brian Hungwe, from the hotel where the political parties are meeting, saying they are not accredited under the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
On Thursday Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, the leaders of the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), were arrested during a demonstration protesting the deteriorating situation and hardships being suffered, while the political impasse continues. Some people were allegedly beaten when the riot police used force to disperse the peaceful protesters.
Group spokesperson Annie Sibanda said several women went to the police station in Bulawayo to hand themselves in, in solidarity with their leaders, but were turned away.
She said seven people were arrested before the demonstration started. The seven had been waiting for the others, near a group of foreign exchange traders but were arrested and taken to the police station where they were beaten, together with the forex traders.
As the day progressed the seven were released one by one, but Williams and Mahlangu remain in custody at Bulawayo Central police station. Sibanda said: “We don’t have any details as to what charges they are facing as their lawyer has not been allowed access to them as yet.”
Riot police had descended on the protesters as they were holding a peaceful sit-in at the Mhlahlandlela government complex in Bulawayo. The group were demanding to be addressed by the Heads of service delivery, about what is being done to address the humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions of Zimbabweans.
The latest incident exposes the fact that there is no fundamental change in the attitude of the Mugabe regime, even during the interparty talks being mediated by ex-South African President Thabo Mbeki. Ironically one of the main cabinet posts that the politicians are haggling over is the Home Affairs ministry that controls the police force.
The WOZA spokesperson said the deal is meaningless as there is no sign of its implementation on the ground. “The very reason that we were demonstrating today was because in the agreement they make reference to the humanitarian crisis, to the food crisis, to the welfare of Zimbabweans and yet absolutely nothing is being done to help people through this horrendous situation they find themselves in,” Sibanda said.
She added: “People are dying, children are dying, electricity and water cuts are getting worse. People are getting beaten in food queues and some are not actually surprised that the police continue to arrest and beat people because we can see everyday that the deal is meaningless in the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.”