Cross-posted from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA):
“Over 1,000 members of WOZA and MOZA marched through the streets of Bulawayo today to commemorate International Women’s Day. The peaceful protesters, who were carrying balloons, were met by riot police after four blocks and viciously beaten. Over 50 members received medical attention for injuries caused by the assault.
The aim of this march was to exhort Zimbabweans to stand up for their children in these times of extreme hardship and to encourage people to vote in the coming elections. As they marched, the demonstrators distributed flyers urging people to inform themselves of the policies and track records of the candidates running in their areas and to choose leaders who will deliver a socially just future, regardless of their political affiliation. The group also carried balloons that carried the message – Stand Up for Your Child.
As the procession neared the Chronicle offices, the dispersing point, a police officer known to WOZA, approached Jenni Williams and asked her to take the protest off the road, to which Williams indicated she would do so at the next intersection, Jason Moyo Street. Before they could reach there, a loud noise that could have been a shot or tear gas was heard, alarming the peaceful activists. Riot police officers then violently set upon the demonstrators, severely beating the two young activists holding the rear banner. They then moved through the procession beating people as they fled.
The women human rights defenders, feeling provoked by the violence they had seen, regrouped and began a second protest before being violently dispersed for the second time. Police then adopted the strategy of moving amongst groups and saying out the ‘woza moya’ (come holy spirit) slogan and assaulting anyone who sang out the reply ‘woza’!
A member from Pumula, Eva Tanyanyiwa, was beaten to the ground by two police officers and lay prostrate before being dragged up and pulled towards the police vehicle where she fainted. When Jenni Williams went to implore the officer to leave the woman alone as she was seriously injured, they arrested her as well. Magodonga Mahlangu then joined the two in solidarity. The trio were driven to Bulawayo Central Police Station being threatened by police officers all the way. On arrival at the police station, the three women had their details taken before being released after 30 minutes by a police officer who said they should go and get Eva treated as she had ‘fallen in the road’.
Eva has serious bruising on her upper arm and lower body. Another women had to have stitches to her neck as she was pushed by a police officer into a stationary vehicle whilst another was pushed into a pole by a police officer, receiving a deep cut across her forehead. Other injuries included a woman who developed a haematoma just above her kidneys as a result of being beaten and many others with deep tissue bruising from being beaten with baton sticks.
This violent response by police negates recent information that WOZA had received that police had been instructed not to arrest or beat WOZA members until further notice; evidence of which has been borne out by the reduction in arrests since October last year. The release of the WOZA leaders after a brief period however does not bear out even more recent information received that the uniformed forces and prison authorities had been briefed to arrest and detain WOZA leaders and deny them bail until after the elections. They had also been instructed to teach the WOZA leaders ‘a lesson they will not forget’ whilst in detention.
Undaunted by these threats, WOZA members decided to continue with their peaceful protest, an act of courage that obviously put them in a dilemma, especially as the news had already been covered by independent media.
WOZA would like to pay tribute to its members that came out into the street today to join events that have been taking place all over the world to mark International Women’s Day, despite recent threats by the Commissioner of Police, Augustine Chihuri, that police will meet demonstrations with the utmost force, including live ammunition. Their determination to stand up for the future of their children with dignity and courage is to be commended and WOZA would like to urge all other Zimbabweans to stand up and be counted.”