An Evolution in Zimbabwe

November 24, 2009

Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Sarah Hager (Amnesty International USA), White House, November 23, 2009
Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Sarah Hager (Amnesty International USA), White House, November 23, 2009

I had the honor and pleasure of attending the RFK Human Rights Award ceremony last night, hosted by President Obama and Mrs. Obama at the White House, where Magodonga Mahlangu and Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were recipients of the annual award. I can sum it up in one word: wow. I laughed, I cried, I was disappointed the toilet paper did not have the presidential seal.

In President Obama’s words:

And that may be Magodonga’s greatest achievement — that she has given the women of Zimbabwe each other.  That she has given people who long for peace and justice each other. That she has given them a voice they can only have collectively-and a strength that they can only have together. They are a force to be reckoned with.

I attended in the capacity as nominator of WOZA for the award. Amnesty International works closely with WOZA and they are a special focus case for action here in the US. It was a team effort putting together the information requested by the RFK staff, but it was an easy sell convincing them that Magodonga and WOZA deserved the award. These women redefine inspiring.

The stats regarding the number of times the members of WOZA have been beaten, tortured, arrested, abducted, killed in the course of their non-violent struggle for social justice are easy to find; the President discusses it in his speech and Jenni Williams paid tribute last night to some of their fallen members. But these women are more than a collection of facts and figures. These women find joy in life and are not bitter despite every reason to be. These women worry about their families when they are separated and far away; either because they are traveling internationally to advocate for their organization, or their families have fled the country for safety or to seek medical treatment they can’t receive in Zimbabwe or they voluntarily relocate themselves in order to further the work of WOZA. And not just their immediate, genetic families that garner their concern and devotion but their larger family of WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) members as well.

These women do not see Zimbabwe as it is-a place of desperate hunger, ravaging illness, decimated education, healthcare, infrastructure and a place of endemic, institutionalized violence. The women I know, and the women I want you to know, see Zimbabwe as what it CAN be-a place of freedom, a place of justice, a place that once again feeds its own citizens, a place of free and fair elections, a place where their children are educated and people do not die of preventable and treatable diseases, a place where women can sing and dance in the street and hold their government accountable for its misdeeds without fear of abuse. Magodonga, Jenni and all the members of WOZA and MOZA are dedicated to a better Zimbabwe and this award acknowledges those efforts.

So to Magi, Jenni, Trust, all the members of WOZA and MOZA, I salute you on this achievement. I thank you for letting me share last night with you and witness your duly deserved accolades. I look forward to continuing to help you achieve your future. I am humbled to know you and call you friend. (I also apologize that despite my best efforts you still struggled to find a good cup of tea during your visit.)

Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams return to court of December 7, 2009 facing politically motivated charges of disturbing the peace. Please take action and urge the the Zimbabwe government to drop all charges.