[UPDATE: 61 of the 65 members arrested outside ZESA headquarters in Harare earlier today have been released. Four members, Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Clara Manjengwa and Celina Madukani, remain in custody and will spend the night in cells. They are being charged with participating in an illegal gathering.]
The leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and seventy other people, including juveniles, were arrested today in Harare following a peaceful march. The peaceful protests were mobilised to put direct pressure on the Zimbabwe electricity authority (ZESA) to provide a more efficient service and fair and affordable billing system.
On Monday, one thousand WOZA members marched in Bulawayo to call attention to the electricity crisis in Zimbabwe. The protesters carried yellow cards, like those given out for penalties in a soccer match, citing poor service and high charges. ZESA officials locked the doors and refused to come out. I am tempted to call them wusses, but let’s be fair-1,000 people on my doorstep singing and chanting about my terrible service would probably make me lock my door and hide under my desk as well.
Eleven police officers monitored the protest and tailed WOZA leaders Jenni and Mgodonga but no arrests were made and no attempts to halt the protest occurred. However, two WOZA members were arrested and briefly detained the following day at public meetings about ZESA’s high costs. During their interrogation, other police officers insisted the women be released because they also suffered under high electricity costs and said WOZA should be allowed to protest on the matter. See, I told you the police aren’t all bad in Zimbabwe.
When 500 WOZA members marched in Harare today, the ZESA officials there showed as little backbone as their Bulawayo counterparts, and had ZESA security guards insist that the riot police monitoring the protest arrest Jenni and Magodonga, who were trying to get ZESA officials to address the crowd. The police initially refused before giving in to pressure. However, when officers put Jenni and Magodonga into the police van, seventy women and men climbed in with them to arrest themselves. Now, THAT is what I call solidarity!
Unsurprisingly, the jail where WOZA members are being detained does not have electricity. Slightly ironic, no? So we are asking you to call Harare Central Police Station and demand that they release all the WOZA members detained. Tell them to immediately release all WOZA members, who were exercising their rights under the Zimbabwe Constitution and international treaties of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. It’s not quite the same as jumping into a police car to arrest yourself, but its the best way that we can act in solidarity with the women and men of Zimbabwe who are fighting for their civil and human rights. Be a global citizen and tell Zimbabwe authorities that if they arrest one person in Zimbabwe fighting for a better life, they must arrest us all!
Harare Central Police Station can be dialed from the US by calling 011 263 477 7777 or 736931 or 725803 or 733033 or 721212. You can also call the Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington DC at 202-332-7100.