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Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise holds fourth Sheroes Assembly
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
August 21, 2007

As Law and Order police officers in Masvingo, Mutare and Bulawayo looked high and low for WOZA leaders, three hundred and forty three members attended the fourth annual assembly at a secret location in Matabeleland South from the 17th to 19th August 2007. Members, both male and female, converged from Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo, Gweru and Harare with a large contingent from rural areas. This year's theme was, 'beaten, jailed but still determined to be free.'

The gathering is known as 'Sheroes' as it honours modern day sheroes. It is planned annually to celebrate the courage of ordinary women doing the extraordinary at the same time as the Government of Zimbabwe talks about their 'heroes'.

The final session saw debate on the upcoming elections in 2008, which centered on whether members should support an election without the safeguard of a people-driven constitution or boycott proceedings due to the lack of a level playing field. A sample vote was conducted with the majority wanting to vote provided there are some electoral reforms and repealing of unjust laws such as POSA and AIPPA. The debate will now be taken to community meetings to finalise our position.

The main resolution of the Assembly was that WOZA, through its National Coordinator, Jenni Williams, was to continue to work with like-minded civic groups to pressure the ruling and opposition party to allow for a people-driven constitution-making process and to push for a transitional process that will allow this process to be conducted in an atmosphere of respect and equality.

The only civic group able to send representatives was Uhuru, as the assembly dates coincided with the SADC conference in Zambia. A South African activist was able to attend to witness proceedings and 'learn about grassroots democracy'. She hailed the People's Charter as a progressive route out of the governance crisis in Zimbabwe.

To brace with an expanding membership currently estimated to be over 55,000, the leadership body called 'Mother WOZA' has expanded. The election of 43 office bearers was conducted in a spirit of democracy. All candidates went through a process of their nomination being first confirmed within their community before they could stand at the congress. Unfortunately as they mostly work underground their names must be withheld until the government of Zimbabwe learns how to respect human rights defenders. The Uhuru delegates declared the elections to be free and fair and recommended that the government of Robert Mugabe could learn from WOZA on how to conduct an election.

Other business included the formulation of an urban and rural plan of action and a plan to intensify training on strategic non-violence. Rural mobilisers also testified as to how they mobilise. In responding to the question about how they can mobilise so successfully when traditional leaders have lost their ability to be non-partisan, they responded, "when someone wants to be free they will always find a way to get there!" They said they ignored the threats and intimidation by telling each other "if you are a leader you must not have any fear and not be scared to address the situation. The chiefs now like us because they say we address the issues that are a reality in the country." They went further to say that although war veterans and Zanu PF supporters continue to harass them, they remain determined to keep on demonstrating and working together as a team "so that they will finally agree with what we are fighting for - whether they like it or not."

When asked the secret of their success they said, "When we are mobilizing people we do this area by area. We explain to them who we are and what we do and what our goal is. Also if you are a woman of substance, respect and honour in your area you are bound to mobilize the right people." As simple as that!

One woman testified that she is unable to benefit from food aid as she is a known WOZA member but that her friends pass on food to her anyway as the demonstration WOZA members carried out in July is attributed with putting enough pressure of the government to bring food aid to their district.

The Amnesty International report, 'Women Human Rights Defenders At Risk - Between a Rock and a Hard Place' was tabled and acknowledged as a true reflection of the challenges faced by WOZA and MOZA members. The recommendations outlined in the report were also hailed and will be incorporated into advocacy campaigns.

The assembly closed without a police raid but a bus, which had been transporting delegates was later arrested and placed under 'house arrest'. The owner is being made to face charges 'of using Zanu PF fuel to transport WOZA women.' This incident epitomizes the crisis in Zimbabwe that even business people are under pressure to be appropriated to Zanu PF.

The new leadership of WOZA/MOZA announce their commitment to continue to act, recruit and train Zimbabweans until they overcome their fear and are able to come out in peaceful protest in numbers that will force a transition and bring about a political leadership that will deliver the social justice promised during the liberation war.

Sports page: Insiza, with Harare and Gweru in second and third place respectively, won the Sheroes netball tournament. A mixed soccer tournament was also held but the final between Bulawayo and Mutare was unable to be completed due to a ZESA black out.

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