via Press statement: Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) SW Radio Africa 29 November 2013
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
AT 1030am 29 November 2013, one thousand members started 11 separate processions so that they could march to Bulawayo Mhlahlandlela Government complex to hand over a petition to the resident minister Eunice Moyo covering WOZA demands. The petition was successfully handed over to her office but pandemonium prevailed as police disturbed a peaceful protest.
The city had riot or reaction police on most street corners to prevent the start of any protests. Two out of eleven protests arrived at the entrance of Mhlahlandlela without incident but the other eight protest groups were set upon by reaction groups’ police who beat members with baton sticks. One protest was stopped and seated in the tarmac by 16 police officers and when there was not clear instruction as to if they were under arrest, member left and continued their peaceful march.
Two members have been treated for dislocated knee and grazed elbow from baton stick injuries. Over 50 other members report baton stick injuries but were treated with painkillers.
Hundreds of members managed to re- group and made their way to Mhlahlandlela determined to petition as is their right under the constitution.
One single police truck seemed to constantly pick up arrested members who were then released and others arrested making the number of arrested hard to estimate.
WOZA national coordinator, Jenni Williams who had delivered the petition to the minister’s office, then called members to regroup at the complex entrance and told members that the petition had been delivered and signed for and she then signaled that members should peacefully disperse in procession to the nearby bus terminal. After this address, Williams and Mahlangu lead members away but new group of police officers arrived with batons sticks and shields and stopped the dispersal. Police officers surrounded Williams and Mahlangu with huge shields pressed against their bodies and forced them into the police Drill hall opposite the government complex. These officers beat any members who attempted to walk in with the 2 leaders but 3 members managed to accompany their leaders.
As the leaders were being led away, police officers started to drive the hundreds of members enraged at the arrest of their leaders away from the complex down the street in the direction of the Batch Street. After several surges to come back to the Complex failed and the group was chased by police officers with dogs. The dogs were held on the leashes but the officers kept threatening to unleash them, these officers and their police dogs drove the crowd at a run for 5 kilometers towards the Mpopoma fly over. Some members were driven into the bush on either side of the roads in the Thorngrove suburb adjoining the light industrial area. These officers also said they did not want members to board commuter omnibuses, but chased them out of town saying they would regroup and resume the march. Police officers quickly manned road blocks on the Khami road to prevent the return by commuter of the members they had chased with their dogs. The Reaction Group officer in charge based at Drill Hall Inspector Mzombi issued the orders for beating and arrests and generally disrupted the peaceful protest and curtailed the right to protest now protected under the new constitution.
Police officers who remained at Mhlahlandlela chased away any woman in the vicinity, members or non- members of the Mhlahlandlela complex was then chased away but men were allowed to continue with their business undisturbed by the gender discrimination.
Meanwhile WOZA leaders Williams and Mahlangu were held for 3 hours without any explanation at the Drill Hall until they were driven to the Bulawayo Central police station and united with 12 other members who had been arrested. They remained there for another hour before Chief Inspector Musvuti the officer commanding Bulawayo released them. He flippantly advised Williams and Mahlangu and the 12 members that there was no problem and that they were free to leave. He said he did not know why they had been arrested. He offered not explanation about the violence and brutal manner in which the right to protest had been curtailed.