Relevant rights: Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: ‘Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country.’ Article 1.2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states: ‘In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.’ Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women commits its signatories to ‘eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country’.
Chaos and repression in Zimbabwe have spread fear and despondency, leading many to flee the country. But a remarkable group of women has refused to concede. ‘WOZA was formed as a litmus test,’ they say, ‘to prove that the power of love can conquer the love of power… Political leaders in Zimbabwe need some discipline; who better to dish it out than mothers!’
WOZA – an Ndebele word meaning ‘Come forward’ – was formed in 2003 and now has a countrywide membership of over 35,000 women and men. Based on the principles of ‘strategic non-violence’, it aims to create a space for Zimbabweans to articulate issues they might be too fearful to raise alone. It conducted more than 50 protests in its first three years – over 2,500 women spent time in police custody. In August 2006 Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) was added to the structure of WOZA. Men, mostly youthful, ‘came forward’ to join the non-violent struggle.
During 2006, in 284 meetings across the country, almost 10,000 rural and urban people told WOZA what they wanted in a new Zimbabwe. The result was a People’s Charter.
It says: ‘Zimbabweans are living in a state of fear and uncertainty. They suffer discrimination in all its forms and are unable to earn a living. Levels of poverty are high; unemployment is at 82 per cent and inflation at four figures. Non-existent service delivery also makes life difficult. Access to education, housing and other basic needs is now only for the rich. The HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has created thousands of orphans and child-headed households, is a social catastrophe compounded by a failed healthcare system. Further loss of valuable human resources is happening due to people leaving the country in large numbers. People have been unsuccessful at holding their government accountable due to a raft of repressive laws and shrinking freedom of expression/media space. Corruption at all levels of government and the politicization of all aspects of society have led to chaos and disorganization in every sector.’
Here are some recent examples of WOZA activities:
- in Filabusi, the administrative centre for Insiza District, at the launch of the People’s Charter in that area. Before they could begin to march, police started arresting them. Those not arrested then marched to the police station in solidarity to hand themselves in, until all were released. People’s Charter demonstrations also took place in Bulawayo, Harare, Masvingo, Gweru and Mutare.
- On 4 July 2007 some 200 WOZA members took to the streets of Mutare as part of a nationwide demand for ‘power to the people’. The peaceful protesters marched through the city to Megawatt House, the local headquarters of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, where they delivered protest notes saying: ‘I am a power consumer and have been your customer for many years but your service has been getting worse. I have run out of patience; your service is no longer empowering anyone but is draining many pockets.’
- On 30 July 2007 hundreds of members of WOZA took part in peaceful street actions in 10 areas of Bulawayo. The community-based demonstrations targeted local shops and businesses, demanding affordable food on the shelves and an end to selling to cronies and the uniformed forces ‘out the back door’.
In response to ‘mediating’ talks between the Government of Zimbabwe, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, President Kikwete of Tanzania and members of the Southern Africa Development Community, WOZA put out the following statement in September 2007:
‘We know where the fireplace is and that there is a pot boiling. We have not been consulted about what is to be cooked and who is to eat the meal when it is ready. While waiting to be called to the table to share the meal, we are busy collecting firewood and bringing it to the fireside so that those currently doing the cooking see it and put it in the fire. If the fire starts to go out, it will be our firewood that is used to light it again so that the pot can keep boiling. When the meal is cooked we will demand a place at the table to share in the meal cooked with our firewood. If the meal is badly cooked, we will refuse to eat and ask them for a better recipe. And just a reminder that mothers make the most memorable meals!’
Medal: Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) www.wozazimbabwe.org
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