Still Fighting Despite the Odds
For years, government officials in Zimbabwe have misused the law to arbitrarily arrest and detain perceived critics of the President’s political party like WOZA.
WOZA promotes civil and human rights for all Zimbabweans and practices strictly peaceful, non-violent mobilization efforts. However, government officials in Zimbabwe have a long history of misuse of the law to arbitrarily arrest and detain perceived critics of the President’s political party in an effort to intimidate and suppress these endeavors.
Zimbabweans participated in presidential and parliamentary elections in July 2013. Robert Mugabe was re-elected president for a five year term, and his party, ZANU-PF, regained majority control of Parliament. Amnesty International observed high levels of repression prior to the elections. Since September 2012, nearly every single civil society organization of note in Zimbabwe working on civil, political and human rights issues had their offices raided, or leadership arrested, or both. WOZA experienced several incidents of arrest and violence at the hands of the security sector. The most recent incident occurred in February 2014 during their annual Valentine’s Day peaceful protest when several activists faced abuse by riot police.
2012 marked the 10th anniversary of WOZA’s annual Valentine’s Day marches. Every year, the members of WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) specifically utilize the symbolism of Valentine’s to draw attention to issues affecting the lives of Zimbabweans, demonstrating the power of love is greater than the love of power. Since 2003, thousands of WOZA and MOZA activists have taken to the streets on this day to demand their rights. These peaceful protests involve hundreds of participants, singing and dancing while distributing information to the public, often in front of government buildings. Frequently, however, riot police respond with violence; beating and arresting members merely for expressing their constitutional and international rights.
Arrests of WOZA members over the years number in the hundreds. Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, WOZA’s leadership, have been arrested over 50 times. Some of those held in police custody were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and denied access to medical care, food and lawyers. Prison conditions in Zimbabwe are horrific, leading to serious deteriorations in health after each incarceration.
The activists of WOZA struggle every day to bring positive change to the human rights of the people of Zimbabwe. They urge the government of Zimbabwe to address the civil and political rights of all citizens. Amnesty International USA works to support the efforts of WOZA through solidarity actions and letters, and phone calls to government officials when WOZA members are arrested.