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activists speak out on Zimbabwe
Comments made by International Labour Research and Information
Group at Towards an Africa without Borders conference July 5-8 in
Durban, South Africa
July 07, 2007
Activism is a forum of women activists who meet every month to share
their experiences of being women in social movements and trade unions.
Women activists from around Cape Town meet to support one another
and to learn how to combat sexism and to build their organisations.
Recently the group met to discuss state violence against women in
Zimbabwe. They concluded that that there are similarities between
domestic and state violence, that there is collusion between the
South Africa state and the Zimbabwean state and that it is urgent
to take solidarity action, as women, in regard to the crisis in
On Wednesday 4th April
2007 over 50 people picketed outside Parliament in support of women
activists in Zimbabwe. This was a woman-led event but men were welcome
to join and many did. The protesters wore black (to symbolise the
majority) and red (for the bloodshed they face). Pots and spoons
were banged to acknowledge the gender dynamics of violence and the
struggle for women's liberation.
and state violence
In 2007 the Mugabe regime
used International Women's Day to pass the Domestic Violence
Bill. This was a long-contested law which is supposed to protect
women from violence at home. But at the same time the state has
been practising violence against women, particularly women activists.
beat women's rights activists, Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh,
and then banned them from seeking medical care in Johannesburg.
Activists from Women
of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and women involved in the Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) have likewise been targeted.
They have been rounded up in the night, blindfolded and taken to
unknown destinations in the bush where they are interrogated and
assaulted. They have had bones fractured, earlobes torn and then,
afterwards, denied medical treatment.
Murambatsvina - the demolition of houses and stalls around
Zimbabwean towns - women were hardest hit, and were the focus of
police attacks. During their assault the policemen accused Sekai
and Grace of being 'whores of Tsvangirai (MDC leader) and
prostitutes of Bush and Blair'. This is not the first time
women who act in their own interest have been targeted. This kind
of violence is an age-old tool to control women's social, political
and physical mobility.
by the state . . .
The protest by women
activists in Cape Town was timed to coincide with a stayaway called
by the ZCTU to protest against political repression in Zimbabwe.
When Mugabe cracked down on activism in Zimbabwe and attacked women,
women activists felt that it was important to acknowledge their
pain and support their struggle.
The patriarchal state
is not concerned with the interests of women unless it can get political
mileage. In Zimbabwe women fought side by side with men to fight
the war of liberation. But afterwards, the operation clean-up of
1983, the gukurahundi massacres in the 1980's in Matabeleland
and, more recently, operation Murambatsvina all showed the state
crushing dissent by focusing its assaults on women.
These attacks on women
activists are not simply a Zanu-PF issue. When the Domestic Violence
Bill was first debated in Parliament a member of the MDC fought
against it. He argued 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."
by any name
The police brutality
in Zimbabwe is an example of the state doing the very thing it condemns
of husbands. This attack on women at the same time as 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 this
kind of contradiction in South Africa in the 16 Days of Activism
Campaign, with many state and business-sponsored events whilst at
the same time the neo-liberal policies of the state lead to women
being evicted from houses, having their water and electricity cut-off
and, when they protest, facing police brutality.
The BWA group of women
activists recognises the need to welcome Zimbabweans fighting for
a free Zimbabwe in South Africa, just as we were once welcome in
Zimbabwe. In the context of poverty brought about by neo-liberalism,
state repression adds another unbearable layer to women's
oppression. International solidarity combining women in SA and Zimbabwe
is needed to fight for women's rights - to ensure that
the machines of violence - be they public or private - stop brutalising
The Building Women's
Activism group will continue to debate how women can help build
international solidarity and how women can mobilise and set up networks
between women activists in trade unions and social movements in
SA and Zimbabwe.
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