Two thousand members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (Moza) took to the streets of Harare and Bulawayo on Tuesday 13 February – a day ahead of Valentine's Day – hoping to catch the police napping. The peaceful protests marked Woza's fifth Valentine's Day procession.
In Bulawayo, a heavy police presence indicated that Woza were expected and the protest had to start under the nose of uniformed and plain-clothed police. Riot police swooped towards the end of the protest at the offices of the Chronicle and brutally beat up members. It is estimated that over 1,000 women and men marched three blocks through Bulawayo handing out Valentine's cards, red roses and copies of the People's Charter to passers by. The People's Charter is a distillation of the aspirations and demands of rank and file Zimbabweans, which was launched in November 2006.
Reports indicate that over 274 men and women and 20 babies are in police custody in Bulawayo and about 10 women in Harare. The Bulawayo protesters were arrested with life-size effigies of President Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, who they were about to be presented with copies of the People's Charter in a ceremony outside the state-owned Chronicle newspaper.
In Harare, the protest started with a handing over of a letter to representatives of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) asking them to assist Zimbabweans in getting political leaders to deliver the People's Charter. The UNDP offices was where the first Valentine's protest took place five years ago when Woza named then Secretary General, Kofi Annan, as their Valentine.
Woza activists affixed three life-size effigies of President Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara to the wall outside Takura House in central Harare. Copies of the People's Charter were then figuratively handed to them – symbolizing the need for responsible leaders to deliver social justice.
The peaceful demonstration then moved on to parliament, singing in Shona, 'your term is up – you have stayed too long'. As the group neared the entrance, riot police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd.
Initially the crowd retreated but then bravely regrouped, stood their ground and threw back the tear gas canisters – hitting the Parliament walls and sending those watching from the parliament balcony scurrying back into the building. The group, which included many leaders, sat down to await arrest but found police only interested in firing tear gas. The song then changed to 'police do not harass us'. Eventually leaders decided to declare a victory and disperse.
As they dispersed, the activists continued to toyi toyi (fast march/dance) into Sam Nujoma Street, past the Herald offices into First Street. The protest was then officially dispersed outside the police post in First Street. In spite of this, a group of several hundred continued to toyi toyi towards the offices of the ruling Zanu PF party, but were blocked at Chinhoi Street by riot police with dogs. Several members were arrested at the scene. Eight members were arrested in Kwame Nkrumah Street near the UN offices.
Woza would like to dedicate this day to the contribution of Zimbabwean activists to a non-violent struggle for social justice – we salute your non-violent discipline and spirit of love. We call on the state-owned Chronicle and Herald to honestly cover the events that occurred right on their doorsteps in honour of journalist ethics. To the Zimbabwe Republic Police we say – your children will also one day enjoy the social justice we fight for.
Aluta Continua – Woza Moya!
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