THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Background to our solution TOUGH LOVE
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
September 08, 2005

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!

The acronym, 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 deep polarisation.

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.

To celebrate 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 country!

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:

  1. 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 and blue.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 members…. being prepared for the streets bit by bit.

  5. 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….we simply could not allow that to happen. So we teach arrest protocols and how to behave under arrest.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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 4 weeks.

  10. 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 Moya.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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 it?

In practicing 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 sheet

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.