At 10am today, Monday 7 March, Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) sprang an early International Women’s Day protest. As well as issues related to this special day, members wanted to protest the ongoing arrest and torture of members this last week. As protestors marched they issued a newsletter calling on SA president Jacob Zuma and SADC leaders to help us end the violence.

The five protests began from locations surrounding the High Court. Two of the protests managed to reach the 8th Avenue Court but three protests were dispersed by riot police and army. Three women have been arrested but have not been located at the police station by human rights lawyers. WOZA is concerned for their safety as police are hiding them. The three are Eneles Dube, Janet Dube and Selina Dube.

As Bulawayo awoke to heavy police and army presence in the city, WOZA leaders decided to reduce the protest to the bravest of the brave numbering 500 female and male members. Another strategy adopted was to conduct flash protests, (appear and disappear as soon as police arrive). Additionally, headlines from the daily newspapers revealed an unofficial ban of rally and protests.

Higher numbers of riot police were deployed at the previous target of WOZA protests - The Chronicle. However they quickly heard the loud singing and ran up several city blocks to respond. The song that carried a strong message - Kubi kubi siyaya - noma kunjani - besitshaya; besibopha; besidubula, siyaya. Roughly translated “the situation is bad but we will still get where we are going, even if the beats us, arrest us, or shoot to kill us, we will get there”. One police officer ordering one of the protests to disperse said - what rights are you talking about? - you are lying, you want to start a revolution!

After they dispersed the protests, about 40 uniformed and plain clothed police officers picked up every single placard and newsletter, exposing two of their colleagues who had tortured members. One police officer came across a man holding the placard. He asked the man to show him it and asked why he was writing on it. The man said he needs scrap paper to write something down. The officer took it and proceeded to carefully fold this A2 size placard into the smallest piece imaginable and put it in his pocket telling the man, holding such a thing is not allowed.

The protests taking place around International Women’s Day provide an opportunity to demand respect for Women’s rights and for peace in Zimbabwe. The theme adopted as part of the Constitutional reform process is ‘the rising of the women means the rising of the nation - No more poverty and starvation, many sweating for a few to benefit”.

After the dispersal of members, they did not go home but went straight to Tredgold court to await the appearance of their colleagues. Forcing a further deployment of Riot Police and plain clothed detectives to the remand court where the stalemate seemed to endure.

Over the last week, members have been arrested and tortured by police officers in Bulawayo. Seven members on Monday 28th February and 4 on Saturday 5th March 2011. The four currently in custody all have swollen faces and Nomsa Sibanda could not use her hands to hold her baby. At 10am they were due to attend court but for unknown reasons they had still not attended court by mid afternoon. At 4:30pm, the state refused to prosecute and released the four without them appearing in court to be officially charged.

WOZA and MOZA wish to send a stern message to the police force - there is no basis for a state of emergency in Zimbabwe be it official or unofficial. According to the current constitution we have the right to protest and assembly peacefully. If they are wanting to declare a state of emergency they will have to justify it in law but the only people we see disturbing the peace are units of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, namely Riot squad, Police Internal Security Intelligence (PISI) like Mdawini, Law and Order detectives based at Bulawayo Central like George Levison Ngwenya. If they continue to arbitrarily arrest our members we will respond with more protests and expose those who commit torture.

WOZA leaders pay tribute to the courage of members who seeing the police and army all over could so easily have stayed at home but because of the pressure they brought to bear, their colleagues have walked away without charge when earlier in the week, their seven colleagues were being threatened with prison and had to pay for their freedom.