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Solidarity statement for our sisters in Zimbabwe
Building Women's Activism
March 2007

This collective statement comes from meetings of grassroots women activists from across Cape Town who see no distinction between domestic and state violence, or between Zimbabwe and South Africa when it comes to responding to the attack on our sisters.

We write this statement to acknowledge and listen to the pain of Zimbabwean women and to support their quest to become full citizens which we in South Africa are also fighting for. We recognise that in the context of poverty, displacement, violence, and exclusion state oppression adds another unbearable layer to women's oppression which we are determined to fight together.

Silenced by the state . . .

This month, the Zimbabwean state decided to celebrate international women's day by passing the long contested Domestic Violence Bill. This is no doubt a long awaited for and important piece of legislation to protect women from violence, but it loses it value when it is set against the context of repression of activism/dissent and violence perpetrated against women by the Zimbabwean state.

The patriarchal state is often not concerned with the interests of women unless these issues give it political mileage. Women's bodies and energies were used to fight the war of liberation but through operation clean-up in 1983, the gukurahundi massacres in the 1980's in Matabeleland and more recently operation Murambatsvina all show that the states stifling of dissent and the assault on women's bodies to enforce control go hand in hand. The blatant articulation of this can be heard in the words of MP Mubawo on October 22 2006, when he uttered the infamous "I represent God" speech in defence of male dominance.

Women's access to justice . . .

We in South Africa know too well the gap between the hard earned theories set out in law, and the reality of women's access to justice in practice.

Long standing Zimbabwean activists for women's rights, Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh were brutally beaten by the police and refused right of passage when they tried to come to Johannesburg for medical care. These are not isolated incidents, activists from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and women involved in the labour movement have likewise been targeted. Along with their daughters they have been rounded up in the night, blindfolded and taken to unknown destinations in the bush where they are interrogated and assaulted with weapons and fists. They have had bones fractured, earlobes torn, and medical treatment denied.

Many of these women have dedicated their lives to confronting racism, sexism, colonialism and patriarchy and have been feminist activists for much longer than they have been opposition members. They have paved our way and we stand behind them wholeheartedly. Whilst male activists are also subjected to brutal attacks - the violent the victimisation of everyday women through demolition of houses and businesses in Operation Murambatsvina, and as political and feminist activists has a specific dynamic where women are hardest hit, and attacked on multiple levels at once. During the assault, Sekai and Grace were accused as being 'whores of Tsangirai (MDC leader) and prostitutes of Bush and Blair'. This is not the first time women who act independently from men and in their own interest have been targeted for attack. We recognise this as an age old tool to control women's social, economic, political, physical, and emotional mobility.

Women's bodies as a boxing ring . . .

Competition amongst elite male politicians in Mugabe's inner circle are being played out on the bodies of women on the ground. These attacks on women activists are not simply a Zanu-PF/MDC issue. When the bill was debated in Parliament towards the end of 2006 - a member of the opposition party (MDC) fought against it, arguing that criminalising wife battery was "dangerous for men and our powers will be usurped, men's rights will be gone if this bill is passed."

Violence by any name . . .

1 in 4 women in Zimbabwe face violence in the home and forced sex with their partners. In South Africa, 1 in 4 first sexual experience is forced.

The current police brutality in Zimbabwe is nothing less than state machinery mirroring the act it is condemning of husbands battering wives and children. This contradiction of brutalising women at the same time inviting the women of Zimbabwe to celebrate women's day and the passing of the Domestic Violence Bill is not unique to Zimbabwe. We can also see it in South Africa in the 16 Days Campaign - now the 365 Days Campaign with many state sponsored events whilst women continue to be evicted, have their water cut-off and in many cases - like recently in Durban, women activists are facing police brutality. Despite the existence of laws which are supposed to protect us the majority women in SA like in Zimbabwe fail to access justice.

Demolishing Women's Security . . .

Across Southern Africa, people's livelihoods and ability to support their family - are being violently demolished. In Zimbabwe it was Murambatsvina, in Zambia this week thousands of informal traders are being cleared out of the city centres and in Cape Town there is a proposal for the creation of a new special police force set up to demolish 'illegal' structures. In all cases, poor women are at the front lines and we know women bear the brunt of these operations clean-ups.

Women's Solidarity . . .

We demand that both the state in Zimbabwe and South Africa must stop using women's bodies as political footballs to gain mileage by passing the bills without women being able to access justice. We must put pressure on our government - silent diplomacy is killing Zimbabwean women. We encourage all South Africans to take a stand against the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe - in general and in particular against our fellow women activists. We want to show government of Zimbabwe that they must take women seriously and recognise us as human beings. We urge our media must cover all attempts by the Zimbabwe State to repress resistance.

Women's rights are human rights!

For us, solidarity is to become one so we will mobilise and set up networks between SA and Zimbabwe. We want political peace and the machines of violence, be they public or private, to stop brutalising women. We recognise the national boundary between us and Zimbabwe as a colonial creation and just as we were welcomed into Zimbabwe during our struggle, we welcome Zimbabweans fighting for a free Zimbabwe into South Africa. We want to create one movement for all women in both SA and Zimbabwe to fight for women's rights. We stand by our sisters in Zimbabwe for a consolidated resistance!!

Building women's activism (BWA) is monthly women-only space which brings together women activists from in and around Cape Town to share, support, network and learn. This statement was produced at a public forum to talk about State Violence and Women in Zimbabwe - activists from the following organisations were there: the Anti-war Coalition, Treatment Action Campaign, New Women's Movement, Centre for Civil Society, Whole World Women's Association, Community Networking Forum, Sikhula Sonke, Litha Park Anti-Eviction Campaign, Umzabalazo we Jubilee, Free Association, AIDC Right to Work Campaign, South African Domestic Service and Allied Worker's Union, COSATU, Women's Hope Education and Training Trust, Social Movement's Indaba Western Cape, Hanover Park Wellness Clinic, Khulumani Support Group, Overcome Heights Women's Action Group, Street People Sector, Mosaic and the International Labour Research and Information Group.

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