WOZA activists remain in jail as magistrate attends workshop
By Alex Bell
24 October 2008
Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), will spend yet another weekend in prison after the magistrate who was due to rule on the pair’s bail application on Friday delayed her judgement to attend a workshop.
The two activists were arrested in Bulawayo during a WOZA demonstration, protesting the extreme hardships, including the critical food shortages, being suffered by Zimbabweans. More than 200 activists converged at a government complex demanding to be heard by the heads of service delivery, about what is being done to address the humanitarian crisis affecting millions of Zimbabweans. However riot police used force to disperse the peaceful protesters and some women were arrested before the demonstration even began. They were later released. But Williams and Mahlangu, who are being charged under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly disturbing the peace, still remain in custody after they were denied bail last Friday.
Magistrate Charity Maphosa was due to rule on the pair’s bail application this Friday after reserving judgement on the matter on Tuesday. But on arriving at court their defence lawyer, Kossam Ncube, was informed that Magistrate Maphosa was not available because she was ‘forced’ to attend a workshop, and that another magistrate would deliver her verdict. Instead Magistrate Sophie Matimba delayed the ruling until Monday at 11.15am.
Williams and Mahlangu remain in Mlondolozi Female Prison where conditions are terrible. WOZA spokesperson Annie Sibanda told Newsreel on Friday “the cells are extremely overcrowded and full of lice, and food is also extremely limited.” She explained that prisoners receive only a small amount of sadza with green vegetable cooked in water – no salt or any other form of nutrition. She added that prison guards also routinely insult inmates.
“We are not surprised by the state’s delay in releasing the women,” Sibanda explained. “But we are anxious to get them out as soon as possible because of the terrible conditions that are being forced to cope with.”
Human Rights Lawyer Gabriel Shumba, from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, told Newsreel on Friday the continued detention of the WOZA pair “exemplifies the intolerance still evident in Zimbabwe.” The forum and other human rights lobby groups, including Amnesty International, have widely condemned the arrests and called for Williams and Mahlangu to be immediately released.
“The situation, including the desperate humanitarian crisis is indicative of the fact that ZANU PF is not willing to let go,” Shumba said. “As long as this is the case, Zimbabweans will never be accorded the freedoms that are theirs by right.”
Monday’s ruling will come as the SADC Troika on Politics, Defence and Security meet in Harare to discuss the Zimbabwe talks deadlock. Shumba said the MDC will have a golden opportunity to raise the WOZA case with SADC leaders and put pressure on ZANU PF. But Shumba added that SADC itself has repeatedly indicated “they are unwilling to intervene in the crisis and more than willing to accommodate ZANU PF.”
WOZA’s spokesperson agreed that this issue needs to be raised with SADC to show the obvious lack of change on the ground in Zimbabwe. Sibanda expressed anger that there has been no response from the regional bloc.
“These arrests are telling of the extreme’s ZANU PF will take to remain in power,” Sibanda said. “SADC should be saying something and needs to say something.”