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The Role and activities of Zimbabwean women, their impact, challenges and way
forward in the pursuit of a solution to the current crisis faced by the country

Jenni Williams, National Coordinator, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
March 27, 2004

Speech delivered at The Peace & Democracy Project Symposium, Johannesburg - Resolution of the
Crisis in Zimbabwe 27th March 2004.

Greetings to you all from the community women who make WOZA tick. Thank you for the opportunity to address you all today and well done to the organisers for selecting such an appropriate theme: Action For Now - Vision For The Future!

I was asked to talk on the role, activities and impact of Zimbabwean women within the current crisis and to ponder a way forward.

I would like to start by introducing WOZA to those of you hearing about us for the first time. WOZA means 'come forward' in Zulu and is an acronym for WOMEN OF ZIMBABWE ARISE. Woza is a pressure group formed to give Zimbabwean women an audible voice within the framework of the current crisis.

We are a non-violent civil disobedience movement and as food is a scarce commodity in Zimbabwe we have turned to cooking peaceful demonstrations. Over the last 18 months over 200 of our peaceful protesters have been arrested in action. Their average age is about 54 yrs. Myself and 2 other activists have just come out of custody on 9th March having been arrested on the eve of International Women Day.

Woza's first target is the urban women of Bulawayo and Harare. The challenge for 'Mother WOZA' the core group that manages WOZA is to convince women that they should no longer suffer in silence in their homes and get them to exercise their freedoms under the constitution. We tell them that we do not want their tears to form a river and flow out of the front door into the street but that we instead want them in the street SPEAKING OUT despite the consequences. We also remind that them the PEOPLE have a right to make leaders accountable, be they community, regional or at national level.

In the consultative process leading to the formation of WOZA, women expressed the view that it is upon the shoulders of the mothers that the macro socio economic problems finally land. We felt that women were at the end of the suffering chain and so they should take the lead in taking the nation back to a state of sanity.

It is the mother who sees how low her husband's morale is. And how despondent her teenagers who cannot get jobs are.

It is the mother who must magically provide a meal for the family.

It is the mother who must find a way to get medication for the sick. It is the mother who must provide when all else has failed.

We also looked at the nation suppressed by a dictator and we saw the effects of unjust laws like the Public Order Security Act - POSA and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act - AIPPA. We saw how the law enforcement agents have become mere slaves of POSA and do little else. It saddened us to see the level of fear in people eyes, when any mass actions were called for and we decided to act. It is a norm that women have a cultural advantage in that they should not be indiscriminately beaten up by a man without him being shamed as cowards. We felt therefore that if WOZA was a movement for women and we marched as women, we could bank on this cultural norm and hopefully get the job done without violence. One year down the line this has proven true. When we have marched as a women's group we are not beaten up. Yet when we marched with men at the ZCTU march on 18 November last year, we were beaten up. We have also seen that we may be the weaker sex but women can be braver than men. I have led WOZA demos and by default I led the ZCTU demo and without a doubt women can be led more peacefully and they stand their ground.

You may ask WHY civil disobedience and not dialogue? And you may ask WHY we have to get arrested to feel that we have worked?

Mugabe's propaganda machine is there to con the world into thinking that Zimbabweans are content with having their neck stood on and that they enjoy suffering. The only way to discredit him is to get the people to take back their power. Why do you think he took a leaf out of Ian Smith's book and perfected LOMA into POSA? Why am I so hated by the regime? My sole crime is teaching people civil disobedience and leading them in defying POSA and nothing more. I say the time for the people to dialogue has not yet come, it will only be time to talk when POSA and AIPPA are repealed and Mugabe stops trying to take away our God give right to speak, think and see what we want to.

Martin Luther King, Jnr said "One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law".

Coming back to the issue of the Zimbabwean Crisis! I ask you to think carefully about this question and not glibly answer that it is a crisis of governance and a crisis caused by politicians.

We at WOZA believe that this crisis is perpetuated by the people's inaction and ignorance. Zimbabweans are yet to understand democracy enough to practice it without fear or favour. Colonial Governaments suppressed our grandparents and their children who are our mothers and fathers, Mugabe tried to sell HIS version of democracy, which has turned into another form of suppression on YOU and ME.

The regime is also fast perverting the minds of our sons and daughters with National Service. We, as Zimbabweans need to learn about democracy in all its forms and how it is applied at all levels. If we truly understand it we will never again become so easily suppressed. Knowledge is POWER and our community people have not had easy access to this form of power. Why is this conference in Johannesburg it should be in Emganwini or Mzarabani. In WOZA we preach, teach, and outright demand that all the freedoms we have be employed so that we can learn democracy and formulate a African version that we can practice. So we believe the way forward lies in this direction - empowering the communities with knowledge then get them to act.

In our Valentines Day campaign we said Zimbabwe would be a better place when the power of love replaces the love of power. We have a slogan that we use to demonstrate.

To summarise the role of women in Zimbabwe right now - and I am talking about the community women who have to survive on their mettle eating yellow maize and yellow melons meant for livestock; I am also talking about the women who can still afford to serve "fattis and monis" with mince meant; I am talking of women of all creeds and colours.

We must march on burning issues week after week - in the communities in the cities and towns and fill the jails with JUST people. Women, old and young must be at the front of the marches to maintain the peaceful strategy. We must be bold and say what our men cannot say and DO. What they cannot do without a brutal beating. We must do this and willingly 'accept the penalty of imprisonment' to arouse the conscience of the community'.

If we do this, Zimbabweans will have a 'vision for the future' and it is the women who must give it life, give it a heartbeat. We must be seen and heard in the streets to build and maintain courage and hope.

Come and see the impact when we attend court as a 'bunch'. It is an education to see the level of embarrassment from the magistrates and 'slaves of POSA' when Gogo Majola and the others take off their scarves and show their white heads. It is an ordeal for the court orderlies when it takes more time to call out names than it takes for the magistrate to give us a new remand date.

We have a profound effect on the people who see us toyi toying and we make sure the news goes out to the international community fast. As our impact grows, we will bring into our marches, youth, both male and female and eventually entire families will march with us for freedom!

Take it or leave it but thank you for listening!

Visit the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) fact sheet

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