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to our solution TOUGH LOVE
Women of Zimbabwe
WOZA takes to
the streets in protest. We are not intellectuals we are just mothers
of the nation and we know that history shows that women are the
true liberators of countries.
We call our
type of civil resistance, 'Tough Love'. We love our country enough
to sacrifice being jailed for it and the 'tough' because our type
of love is not easy. 'Tough Love' is the disciplining love of a
parent; we must practice it and bring dignity back to our families.
As 'Tough Love' Defenders we must keep the spirit of our crusade
intact and safe from willful misunderstanding. Tough Love from the
grassroots is the solution to crisis of governance in Zimbabwe.
Our rulers need some discipline
Who better to dish it out than
the women! Gandhi and Martin Luther King provided some lessons for
women in Zimbabwe to draw on. The current regime of Robert Mugabe
provided the motivation to come up with our very own version to
counter the propaganda nonsense. The prevailing climate of fear
bred creativity and strategy to lessen the consequences. Unjust
laws provided a means to make the injustices visible. We, in effect
become the dispensers of justice..
To show the
attitude that we had to cope with, a recent example. A Bulawayo
Police spokesman, Inspector Smile Dube confirmed the arrest of 12
party members putting up posters for a mayoral election in July.
They were arrested for violating sections of the tough Public Order
and Security Act (POSA), which bans Zimbabweans from gathering in
groups of more than three people to discuss politics without police
clearance. He said, "We cannot let a situation where people
just go about blocking traffic, Toyi-toying and disturbing peace-loving
people. They were blocking traffic and Toyi-toying and were arrested
under POSA," Inspector Dube said. This was just a month after
29 members of WOZA won a trail discharge after a demonstration against
operation Murambatsvina. When the magistrate ruled that 'women in
motion cannot block a pavement'. The inconsistencies of living in
Zimbabwe are too numerous to count!
WOZA - Women of Zimbabwe Arise, WOZA is an Ndebele word meaning
'come forward'. WOZA binds women together so they can find courage
to free themselves and become more dignified by speaking out. We
also walk a fine line of being a civic movement but at the same
time exercising our right to comment on political matters despite
The WOZA symbol
is to hold our forefinger upright, thumb vertical to make an L shape
signifying LOVE. When we show this sign we say Woza Moya. In the
Ndebele dialect it means, 'Come Holy Spirit' or for the less religious
- Come heal our nation. Instead of feeling the warm glow of 'love'
from our leaders, we have seen hate, been called maggots and trash
and been evicted from our homes! Despite this
.very day we
behave as if democracy is around the corner.
our feminity, we adopted imaginative ways of highlighting our issues.
We have also used United Nations recognised days such as World Refugee
Day and International Women's Day to put forward every day issues
affecting our well being. This has helped us to be effective and
be able to bear the consequences and continue to grow the women's
movement. We adopted the highest risk option of demonstration in
one of the most repressive countries, packaged it with love and
determination, added strategy and tactics that have worked and made
WOZA a force to be reckoned with. But most of all we took a nation
without a means of holding leaders accountable for day to day suffering
and showed them how groups can form an outlet to speak out. But
doing this we avoided becoming victims and in a strange way enjoy
some fun and freedom. Some of my happiest moments have been in mid
demonstration with riot police about to descend or in cramped jails
singing freedom songs that echoed in the soulless corridors.
- To stop the
hate and show love and courage despite risking arrest - we marched
with roses and valentines cards on Valentine's Day. We conducted
this demo three years in a row and over 120 women have been arrested
for calling for the power of lover to conquer the love of power.
Imagine being arrested for giving out red roses?
- To show that
we need to face the crisis head on end the suffering - we marched
with grass brooms symbolically sweeping away the suffering.
- To show that
the economy was crashing and disposable income diminishing - we
demonstrated outside the Reserve Bank giving people sweets with
a message that they would soon not be able to afford them.
- What better
time than World Refugee Day to talk about being displaced from
our homes. We told the world that we were refugees in our own
Tough Love is
practiced by WOZA women from 16 to 80yrs. Simple people trying to
survive with dignity. The secrets to our success have been:
- We were able
to blend femininity with the tough stuff - street action. We are
mostly able to capitilise on the cultural aversion to a man beating
a woman in public. So when the riot police (mostly men) come across
us with batons raised - they see their mothers and sisters processing
peacefully to deliver a message. The fight mostly goes right out
of them. There have been times that we have been beaten black
- Our high-risk
mandate means we have to cope with consequences. We knew that
arrests month after month could wear us down. We relieve our stress
by conducting lots of meetings within communities. Our agenda
clearly to prepare them for action by discussions on their issues
so they can own the issue and be willing to face the consequences
from speaking out.
- We had to
cater for the prevailing climate of fear and the propaganda spread
that only traitors criticise. We came up with strategies and tactics
and wove these into a new standard of behaviour for members. We
call this our Sisterhood Promise.
- We have and
implement a strict leadership code. Only those prepared to be
in the street can lead. This means that ordinary women became
and are leaders. The intellectuals unfortunately are card carrying
. being prepared for the streets bit by bit.
- To make the
unjust laws visible one has to sacrifice and suffer consequences.
Whilst putting pressure on the regime to repeal unjust laws -
we had to be willing to submit to arrest for ignoring these laws.
If we remind silent in our homes Mugabe would use the lack of
demonstrations to say what happy people we are
could not allow that to happen. So we teach arrest protocols and
how to behave under arrest.
- As we knew
we had to submit to arrest and possibly be tortured we had to
have good linkages with journalists so we could quickly let the
world know. It has been said that WOZA's success has been a combination
of 'act and publicise' .The basis of our branding and power comes
from creating newsworthy events and then generating fast track
publicity world wide. A policy of 'act and publicise' is what
has taken helped take WOZA to its current level. If we had just
acted and relied on publicity it could not have worked as the
local press were suppressed and too scared to lose their licences
or be imprisoned. The international media were chased out and
so you in effect became your own newsroom... delivering news world
wide. We had to cope though with journalists who are themselves
under fire and would only cover from a distance.
- To get around
the idea that speaking was also acting. We conducted advocacy
training to break the habit of perpetual complaining and mobilise
them to act. We had to teach that WOZA women act on their displeasure.
Moaning never changed anything!
- We had to
empower the much disempowered under crisis conditions with knowledge
and skills. We had to take ordinary women and make them extraordinary
by teaching them non violence. How to find unlimited courage when
fear prevailed. Because of laws like the Public order Security
Act (POSA), we work mostly underground conducting strategy training
on non-violence and women's rights. But we had to be able to convert
invisibility into high visible within short periods of time to
keep security and capitalise on the element of surprise. The omnipresence
of WOZA appearing and disappearing at will, must be quite alarming
for the police! Many of them have attributed supernatural powers
to WOZA women.
- We had to
learn to mobilise quickly on topical issues if we were to hold
the state accountable for the suffering they were unleashing.
Just like to 440 kilometre walk to protest the passing of the
NGO Bill. It was planned, mobilised for and implemented within
- We had to
become adept at communicating to Zimbabweans without benefit of
a free press. So we product and distribute a newsletter hand to
hand. This same newsletter is also distributed as we march and
many a time there are traffic jams as cars stop to grab our Woza
- We knew
we could face being jailed for up to 2 years if convicted for
organising demonstrations so we had to cater for this in our legal
strategy. It makes for a powerful lobbying point with magistrates
when women are arrested on International Women's Day trying to
observe it within their constitutional rights.
- We had to
be all-inclusive in a climate of exclusion of people along party
political lines. Our activities are centred on our being an issue
based movement. We are relevant and led by mothers whose priorities
are daily survival and bread and butter issues. So we said, if
you had breasts/ vagina those were your WOZA membership cards.
- We know
that everyone can experience love and that love is in itself a
powerful motivator. We teach that love can conquer hate and that
the power of love overcomes the love of power - sooner or later!
Love has been a successful mobilising tool and I am yet to find
someone who can argue this point. When you take the high moral
ground, very few can argue and if they do they look foolish! So
we use love to mobilise WOZA women to achieve feats of courage
to stand up and speak out when common sense was dictating fear,
silence and consent. The Mugabe regime boasts degrees in violence
-Traditionally women are fearful of violence and yet if they face
it they can achieve so much? In the midst of hate and violence,
we choose to show love. Most of all we had to show love for our
beloved Zimbabwe even if it were in ruins. We had to do something
to nurse it back to health. What is a country if no one loves
Tough love and making injustices visible, over 700 women have been
arrested in the last 3 years. It is routine to spend up to 48 hours
in custody for praying in public, conducting a sponsored walk on
a highway; handing a petition to parliament; singing a song about
freedom; marching on international women's day. But we remain undeterred
and continue to exercise our voices to speak out about the situation
and hold political leaders accountable to Zimbabwean and to us the
self appointed handmaidens of democracy.
Some of our
campaigns. In February we urged Zimbabweans to understand that the
power of love can conquer the love of power and went around the
country teaching how to distinguish between these two kinds of love.
In March, we asked Zimbabweans to vote to end the suffering of their
sisters. We also reminded them of post electoral fraud by the Mugabe
regime. As the election result would be announced on April 1st,
the theme - Who is Fooling Who? Was part of our advocacy slogan.
At 7 pm, on election night, as the police vehicle drove in and officers
ranted and raved, we all knew what would sort of results would be
announced April 1. Later, 265 of us sat in police custody listening
to the babies crying. Their cries for food went unanswered as lawyers
were denied access to us - we looked at each other knowingly. We
predicted that the election would be 'daylight robbery'. That night
heavily booted police officers walked upon the backs of many WOZA
women, beating buttocks, making the women count out aloud as they
were given their beatings. Over 150 had to receive medical treatment.
Many women still bear the scars of that nights beatings and one
is still healing from a fractured skull caused by a booted foot
to the head.
We in WOZA believe
that we must work to break the chain of oppression - Rhodesia had
an elite group of capitalists ruling over and oppressing people
with unjust laws based on inequality and little has changed - we
now have Zimbabwe and a black elite group of capitalist ruling over
and oppressing people with unjust laws based on inequality. What
has changed? What goes around comes around!
We argue that
we have a competitive edge but pay a heavy price on some fronts.
Zimbabwe is a patriarchal society. WOZA has managed to work exactly
because of the dismissive, 'what can women do' attitude. Yes we
have to go through harsh interrogation and harassment and many women
have been beaten but generally women have 'done more with less consequence'
than the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition. Dictators
do not like their power challenged and as WOZA are not a political
party and we do not want to be in parliament we are not as much
of a threat.
Police officers can be harsh on us but in response we simply show
them the Love sign. Many a time we have in effect conducted a 'workshop'
for our jailers acting out the role of a mother and teaching how
the country can be rebuilt if we have love in our hearts.
Visit the Women
of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) fact
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