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  • WOZA declares national disaster, demands food for all Zimbabweans in Bulawayo - 9 arrested
    Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
    October 16, 2008

    Hundreds of members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) took to the streets of Bulawayo this morning, marching for several blocks to Mhlahlandlela Government Complex to declare a national disaster and demand immediate food aid for all Zimbabweans. Nine members have been arrested at the time of this release.

    On arrival at the Government Complex, the group of approximately 200 sat down outside the gates whilst a delegation of four elderly women went in to request that the Regional Department Heads of all the service departments come out and address the crowd on what is being done to alleviate the humanitarian crisis facing the country.

    The group sat peacefully waiting to be addressed for 45 minutes before five riot police approached the group. Two leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, were arrested and taken to Drill Hall, which is across the road from Mhlahlandlela. The rest of the group were forcibly dispersed by being beaten with baton sticks. At least one member is receiving medical attention for the beating she received. Williams and Mahlangu were later taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station, where they are currently being held.

    It appears that a group of seven women were arrested before the demonstration began as they were sitting waiting for the signal to start. They were apparently sitting near some black market foreign exchange dealers and were arrested along with them. They have also been taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station. Lawyers are still trying to verify reports that the group had been beaten inside Bulawayo Central.

    The peaceful protestors had begun their march near the High Court and processed several blocks to Mhlahlandlela, singing and handing out flyers to passers-by who rushed out into the street to receive them. A copy of the newsletter with the group's demands has been included below.

    The demonstrators also paused at two intersections to sit down whilst chanting in Ndebele - 'ayihlale phansi ihambe umthetho' (sit down and maintain discipline). As during their last demonstration two weeks ago, this was sang both as a way to ensure that the activists maintained non-violent discipline and also as a message to politicians to sit down and respect the deal. Other songs sang include a WOZA favourite - 'this is an issue that men are failing to solve'.

    The protest was further to a previous peaceful protest on 29 September where the theme was 'actions speak louder than words'. The political impasse continues a month after the power-sharing agreement was signed and the crisis facing people in their daily lives deteriorates dramatically every day. The power-sharing deal mentions grave concern for the humanitarian crisis facing people and yet still nothing has been done. People and children are dying of starvation whilst the politicians continue to talk.

    WOZA therefore continues to demand immediate action regarding the formation of a new government that will begin to work on solving urgent social issues, like food, electricity and water. Recognising that the situation in the country is now a national disaster we also demand that ALL Zimbabweans receive access to food aid and also seed and agricultural inputs.

    In other news, both groups of members facing trial this week have been removed off remand. On Tuesday 14th, the decision on the application for review of the case of Cynthia Ncube and Trust Moyo was not ready. Whilst the decision from the High Court is pending, they were removed off remand.

    The 'Chikurubi 14' due to face trial in Harare Magistrate's Court on Wednesday 15th, were also removed off remand. The docket was not available and although the State tried to insist that they were ready for trial and were trying to get the group further remanded for trial, the Magistrate upheld the resolution that she had made on 26th August that if the trial did not take off on the 15th October, the group would be removed off remand.
    We also ask that you call Bulawayo Central Police Station on +263 9 72515, 61706 or 63061 and ask for the immediate release of all WOZA members including Williams and Mahlangu and that they not be mistreated in custody.

    The newsletter being handed out by the protestors reads as follows:

    Indira Gandhi once said, "You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist." Was she talking about Zanu PF?

    An open letter from the people of Zimbabwe to:

    1. Principals: Robert Mugabe/Arthur Mutambara/Morgan Tsvangirai
    2. Mediation Team led by Thabo Mbeki
    3. Southern African Development Community Chairman/President South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe
    4. African Union Chairman/ Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete

    Dear Sirs,

    We declare a national disaster and demand food for all Zimbabweans. You all signed an agreement on 15 September 2008 with lots of taxpayer's money being used to feed all the delegates. Now you are meeting again and spending lots of money feeding the same people all over again, they sleep with full stomachs while our children starve. You said this was an 'African solution to African problems' but Africans are dying slow and painful deaths through starvation. You wrote in your deal that you were gravely concerned but these were empty words. Today we have lost patience. We demand FOOD, SEED and FERTILISER; this is now a national disaster. Zimbabweans both in rural areas and in the city are starving, the rains are coming but we have nothing to plant.

    In the agreement preamble it states that you are "CONCERNED about the well-being of our people". THESE WORDS ARE EMPTY JUST LIKE OUR STOMACHS.

    You said you "ACKNOWLEDGE the sacrifices made by thousands of Zimbabwe's gallant sons and daughters in the fight against colonialism and racial discrimination and determined to accept, cherish and recognise the significance of the Liberation Struggle as the foundation of our sovereign independence, freedoms and human rights."

    You agreed "COMMITTING ourselves to putting our people and our country first by arresting the fall in living standards and reversing the decline of our economy."

    You have put yourselves first and us last! Inflation is in the billions, the economy has collapsed. We are being told to buy food in Rand currency and yet we live in Zimbabwe. Even if we have money in the bank, we cannot get cash and it is even more impossible for us to get foreign currency. What happened to your commitment? Did Police misunderstand the word 'arrest' and put 'Living standards' in jail thinking it is the name of an opposition activist?

    You said "RESPECTING the rights of all Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliation to benefit from and participate in all national programmes and events freely without let or hindrance."

    We are therefore demanding a national food relief programme. How many more Zimbabweans must die before you act? We are human beings needing a balanced diet and cannot survive on green vegetables like animals. We have lost patience with your kind of 'African solution'. THIS IS A NATIONAL DISASTER AND WE DEMAND FOOD FOR ALL ZIMBABWEANS NOW.

    Woza Moya Signed by WOZA members for the people of Zimbabwe

    P.S. If Police officers arrest us or beat us as we make our demand, you must take it as another sign of your empty promises for a violence free Zimbabwe and an unfortunate African solution to silence and disrespect citizens.

    News update
    Thursday 16 October - 6pm

    Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu remain in custody in Bulawayo Central Police Station tonight following their arrest earlier in the day. The seven other members that had been arrested before the demonstration had started have all been released without charge. It appears that they were not beaten during their brief detention. They were released one by one throughout the afternoon after the intervention of the lawyer.

    Three members have received medical treatment for the beatings they received from riot police outside Mhlahlandlela. One woman has a broken finger, the other two bruising. All were beaten with baton sticks.

    It is unclear what Williams and Mahlangu are being charged with as the lawyer has still been denied access by the Officer-in-Charge of the Law and Order Section in Bulawayo Central, Detective Chief Inspector Ntini. Food has been allowed in this evening however and the pair appears to be in good spirits, although apparently Mahlangu was beaten outside Mhlahlandlela along with the rest of the group.

    The order for the group to be beaten apparently came from Chief Inspector Mabhari, a senior uniformed police officer based at Bulawayo Central Police Station. He was also the officer that arrested Jenni Williams.

    WOZA members that were monitoring the demonstration report that as the group marched through the streets, some of the comments from passers-by included a police officer commenting to another, "now that's a proper demo" and a man remarking to another, "these women are doing a noble thing."

    Please continue to call Bulawayo Central Police Station on +263 9 72515, 61706, 63061 or 68078 to demand that Williams and Mahlangu not be mistreated in custody and to be released speedily.

    News update
    Friday 17 October - 1pm

    WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were remanded in custody until Tuesday 21st October this morning in Bulawayo Magistrate's Court. The pair had been arrested yesterday morning after a peaceful demonstration. They have been charged under Section 37 1(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act - 'disturbing the peace, security or order of the public'.

    Williams and Mahlangu appeared in court this morning at 11.15am. On arrival at court, the state prosecutor had agreed with the defence lawyer, Kossam Ncube, that the state would not oppose bail and the amount and conditions were settled. On entering the court room however, Ncube was informed that a new prosecutor, Chifamba, was taking over the case.

    Chifamba argued that the two should be denied bail because there was still an outstanding case pending, referring to the May 28 arrest. As the group of 14 had been removed off remand in Harare Magistrate's Court on Wednesday 15th, this matter is no longer pending. The Magistrate, Maphosa, allowed the state time to verify this fact however, remanding the two in custody until Tuesday 21st October.

    It is clear from these actions that the state is determined to deny the two bail, a clear violation of the spirit of the power-sharing agreement signed by the political parties on 15th September.

    Williams and Mahlangu will now be moved to Bulawayo Remand Prison later this afternoon for the night. It is not clear if they will then be moved to Mlondolozi Female Prison tomorrow or if they will remain at Bulawayo Prison until Tuesday.

    Although disappointed by the ruling, the two are determined to remain positive, even though Mahlangu is in pain from the beating she received outside Mhlalandlela. Apparently it was Chief Inspector Mabhari himself who beat her.

    The Investigating Officer of the case is Detective Sergeant Kennedy Nyahuye from the Law and Order Section of Bulawayo Central Police Station.

    Useful telephone numbers:

    Bulawayo Central Police Station: +263 9 72515/61706/63061/68078 (ask to speak to Chief Inspector Mabhari or Detective Sergeant Kennedy Nyahuye)

    Bulawayo Prison: +263 9 60417/60418 (ask that the women be treated well and their rights upheld)

    Bulawayo Attorney General's Office: +263 9 77651/61603 (ask why the women are being denied bail when they have never been convicted of an offence - the state should not imprison to investigate)

    Bulawayo Public Prosecutor: + 263 9 63173 (ask to speak to Prosecutor Chifamba - question as above)

    News update
    Tuesday 21 October - 5pm

    Magistrate to give ruling on bail application on Friday 24th October - Williams and Mahlangu remain in prison

    Magistrate Maphosa has reserved judgement on the request for bail for Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu until Friday 24th October as the 'court is very busy'. Bail hearings are normally heard on an urgent basis. Williams and Mahlangu will therefore remain in Mlondolozi Female Prison until that date.

    The bail hearing was heard in the absence of Williams and Mahlangu who had not been brought from Mlondolozi as prison authorities claimed that they had no fuel. This being despite the fact that the WOZA support team had been informed yesterday by one of the prison guards at Mlondolozi that they did currently have fuel. Two prison vehicles were also observed by the WOZA support team travelling at great speed into Bulawayo on Sunday afternoon.

    The defence lawyer, Kossam Ncube, had also been given permission yesterday by a senior prison officer at Mlondolozi, Mathanire, to bring Williams and Mahlangu to court in his own vehicle if transport was not available. Upon arrival at Mlondolozi this morning however, Ncube was informed that it would not be possible after all by Superintendant Dlamini.

    The hearing finally went ahead in their absence before Magistrate Maphosa. Prosecutor Chifamba called another state witness, Detective Sergeant Ncube from the Law and Order Section of Bulawayo Central Police Station to testify.

    Ncube claimed he believed that bail should be denied because of pending cases against them, citing four different cases dating back to 2004. None of these cases are actually pending but the witness tried to claim this was because Williams and Mahlangu could never be found to be presented with their summons! On cross-examination however, he could not deny that the two accused had actually appeared in court for all of these cases. Following the cross-examination of the state witness by the defence, the court adjourned for lunch.

    After lunch the magistrate heard the arguments of the two attorneys. The state had three main arguments: propensity, that the accused were of no fixed abode and that they had cases pending against them. Chifamba argued that the four cases mentioned by the state witness showed that the two accused had committed similar offences on several occasions and were likely to do so again. He claimed that the court should ignore the fact that these were not serious crimes. He also claimed that because the state witness had testified that he had tried on several occasions to locate the two at their homes, and they were not there at the time, obviously they did not live there. His third argument was that the case relating to a July 2007 arrest that is currently before the Supreme Court is pending and therefore Williams and Mahlangu wilfully lied to the court when asked if they had any cases pending against them.

    In reponse, Kossam Ncube cited a 1922 judgement (States vs Shaw) that ruled that when arguing propensity, only convictions should be considered, not mere charges. He also cited a 1973 South African case (State vs Fourie) that ruled that with regard to propensity, only violent crimes should be considered. He went on to argue that neither Williams nor Mahlangu have ever been convicted of any crime.

    With regard to the accusation of the two having no fixed abode, Ncube argued that there is no legal requirement for persons to remain at their given address 24 hours a day on the off chance that police may come looking for them. Just because Jenni Williams was not at home when police came looking for her last year does not mean that she does not live at the address that she has given. He also raised questions about the admissibility of police notes that the state had entered as evidence that police could not find Williams at her given address. The notes merely stated that summons could not be served, not the reasons why. The police officer who had made the notes was also not present in court. Ncube asserted that Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu had never defaulted on a court appearance and therefore did not constitute a risk, a fact that the state witnessed concurred with.

    Ncube went on to argue that in fact none of the cases mentioned by the state are in fact pending as they had been removed off remand in all four cases. Williams and Mahlangu did not therefore mislead the court when they stated that they had no pending cases against them.

    He also reminded the court that the alleged wrongdoing was not a very serious one and that to deny bail for an offence that carries the sentence of a fine would be prejudicial to the two accused.

    Following the argument, Magistrate Maphosa pronounced that she would reserve her judgement until Friday 24th October at 11.15pm. Attempts by the defence to bring the ruling forward were rebuffed with the claims that 'the court is very busy.'

    The on-going detention of Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and the delaying tactics and machinations of the state are a clear violation of their rights and the power-sharing agreement signed by the political parties in September 2008. It is further evidence that ZANU PF has no desire to act in good faith.

    WOZA therefore calls on all friends in the region and internationally to protest the ongoing detention of Williams and Mahlangu, particularly ahead of the SADC meeting on Zimbabwe next week.

    News update
    Friday 24 October - 1pm

    Magistrate Charity Maphosa, who was due to rule on the bail application of WOZA leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, today at 11.15am, was 'forced' to attend a workshop instead, delaying her judgement until Monday 27th October.

    Williams and Mahlangu remain in Mlondolozi Female Prison where conditions are terrible. Cells are overcrowded and full of lice, food is extremely limited. Prisoners receive only a small amount of sadza (maize) with green vegetable cooked in water - no salt or any other form of nutrition. The lack of salt is particularly worrying given the extreme heat being experienced at the moment. Prison guards also routinely insult inmates.

    As expected they were not in court as prison authorities had no transport to bring them to court. As on Tuesday however, the courtroom was full of state agents and WOZA members who had walked to town (some for up to 15km) to provide solidarity to Williams and Mahlangu.

    On arriving at court, the defence lawyer, Kossam Ncube, was informed that Magistrate Maphosa was not available and that another magistrate would deliver her verdict. Instead Magistrate Sophie Matimba delayed the ruling until Monday at 11.15am.

    Williams and Mahlangu were arrested over a week ago. Bail applications are usually heard on an urgent basis.

    It is clear that the state aims to continue its harassment of these women human rights defenders; the actions of a regime so terrified of its own people that it has to imprison them.

    SADC is meeting in Harare on Monday to discuss Zimbabwe's future whilst human rights defenders languish in prison for calling for food aid. WOZA continues to urge its friends in the region and internationally to condemn this persecution of women who are simply determined to provide a better future for themselves and their children. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    News update
    Monday 27 October - 12pm

    Magistrate Charity Maphosa denied bail to Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu today in Bulawayo Magistrate's Court claiming that it would not be in the best interests of justice. The defence will lodge an urgent appeal to the High Court.

    Maphosa stated in her ruling that there was not enough evidence to assert that Jenni Williams did not reside at her given address as claimed by the state but that there were pending cases against the two. As such, she maintained that they had not been honest when asked in court if they had any pending cases against them. All legal practitioners asked by WOZA however state categorically that if a case has been removed off remand, it is no longer pending. As such, neither Jenni Williams nor Magodonga Mahlangu have any pending cases against them.

    Maphosa also stated in her ruling that as there were four cases with similar charges 'pending' against the two it was likely that they would commit similar offences again (even though the section of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act that she cited in her ruling only makes mention of violent crimes). She noted the political climate that is gripping the country and claimed that in such a climate 'people are easily excitable' and could be moved to violence if they saw such a demonstration. With this statement, the true reason for the denial of bail is clear. Once again ZANU PF has demonstrated that is determined to cling to power whatever the cost.

    WOZA condemns the ruling of Magistrate Maphosa. We view it as further evidence that the judiciary has been politicised and that the power-sharing talks currently underway in Harare are a hollow sham. We call for the immediate release of Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu.

    We remain committed to demanding social justice for all Zimbabweans regardless of the personal cost however and stand by the demands that led to Williams and Mahlangu being arrested. Zimbabweans are dying. They are being starved to death by a government that does not care for anything except power. We are in a national crisis and we need food aid now. We therefore appeal to our brothers and sisters in the SADC region to help break the political impasse so that Zimbabweans can get the food we so desperately need.

    News update
    Monday 03 November - 12pm

    Williams and Mahlangu still in custody - day 19

    Jenni Williams and Magodonga spent their third weekend in Mlondolozi Prison as still no word has been received from the High Court regarding their appeal. Although the urgent application was filed on Monday 27th October, the defence team is still waiting to hear from the High Court. The latest ploy in a long list of delaying tactics is that the judge that received the paperwork on Thursday 30th October has gone to Hwange and they are unable to locate the file to give to another judge.

    In the meantime there is increasing concern for their well-being. Prison guards at Mlondolozi are becoming increasingly hostile. They were threatening and abusive to the team taking food to them on Thursday last week and are now saying that the support team can only visit them once every two weeks (having told them that they could see Jenni and Magodonga once a day on week days). Food is still allowed in but they are not allowed to receive visits. Apparently the reason is that prison authorities are unhappy that Jenni and Magodonga are filing complaints about the way that they are being treated by the prison guards and are seeking to punish them.

    WOZA calls for the immediate release of Jenni and Magodonga. We would also like to thank everyone who has sent solidarity messages and statements to and about the Mlondolozi Two.

    We continue to ask all friends in Zimbabwe, the region and internationally to maintain pressure on the Zimbabwean authorities however to end this harassment of women who are only guilty of loving their families and their country.

    News update
    Wednesday 5th November - 8pm

    Williams and Mahlangu granted bail by High Court - still in custody

    Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu have been granted bail by Justice Ndou in the Bulawayo High Court this afternoon. The two were instructed to pay bail of $200,000 each (roughly USD 1.50). Other conditions include reporting to their closest police station twice a week and not travelling outside of a 40km radius of Bulawayo Post Office without written permission from a Magistrate.

    In a hearing at which the two were not present, Justice Ndou ruled that the reasons Magistrate Charity Maphosa gave for denying bail were not sufficient.

    Attempts to release the two were frustrated by administrative errors that meant the re-typing (twice) of their release documents. These delays meant that it was not possible to secure the release of the two this evening, although the support team did travel to Mlondolozi to try. The team will return to the prison first thing in the morning to collect them.

    News update
    Thursday 6th November - 10am

    Williams and Mahlangu finally released from prison after 3 weeks in custody

    Jenni Williams and Magodonga were finally released from Mlondolozi Prison at 9:30 am today, three weeks to the day they were arrested. Their bail had been paid yesterday evening but prison authorities would not allow them to be released, saying the prison administration was closed and it too late.

    They are in fair health, suffering from lice infections and needing to visit the doctor but otherwise okay.

    They bring with them horror stories of prison conditions and treatment in both Bulawayo (Grey Street) and Mlondolozi Prisons. For the first two weeks, the activists were in the remand cell in Yard One, which is according to prison regulations. Their treatment took a bad turn last week Wednesday when Magodonga was moved into the yard inhabited by dangerous prisoners, both on remand and convicted. Yard Two also accommodates 15 mental health patients. She was put in a cell with a patient that is allowed to wander around naked and was moved from Ingutsheni Mental Health Hospital for murder. She was unable to sleep at night due to the antics of this and other patients.

    The extreme hunger experienced by most prisoners means that even orange peels and the scraps on dirty plates are fought over. There is also no privacy for the female prisoners. Male prison guards are allowed to wander around the female prison and can see into washing facilities. Prisoners in Yard Two are also stripped naked every day for inspection by prison officers as they are locked down. At least three minors (aged 15 and 16) were being kept in the same cell as Williams.

    Williams and Mahlangu will appear for a routine remand in Bulawayo Magistrate's Court on Monday 10th November.

    WOZA is delighted that the state's petty attempt to pervert justice has finally been overruled and looks forward to challenging these farcical charges. WOZA would also like to thank Kossam Ncube and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights for their support and their determination to secure the release of Jenni and Magodonga.

    Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu would also like to thank everyone who lobbied for their release, sent messages of solidarity and kept them in their thoughts and prayers. Solidarity from friends inside the country and around the world went a long way to ensuring that their time in Mlondolozi Prison was made more bearable. They are in good spirits and looking forward to continuing the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe.

    News update
    Wednesday 5th November - 8am

    Bail appeal hearing set for 2.30pm Wednesday 5 Nov

    WOZA's lawyers have finally been given a hearing in their appeal to the High Court against Magistrate Charity Maphosa denying Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu bail. The matter will be heard before Judge Ndou at 2.30pm this afternoon, 5th November. Despite it being an urgent application, the High Court has taken over a week to give a hearing date.

    In the meantime, worrying reports have been received from Mlondolozi that Jenni and Magodonga have been separated and that Magodonga has been put in the same cell as mental health patients. As well as serving as a remand prison, Mlondolozi also houses convicted prisoners and mental health patients that have committed crimes. The apparent cause of this separation is that prison authorities believe the pair to be homosexual because Jenni was observed massaging medicated gel into the injuries Magodonga received when she was beaten.

    News update
    Monday 1st November - 8am

    Jenni Williams and Magodonga face trial in Bulawayo tomorrow

    Leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) will appear on trial tomorrow, 2nd December, at 8.30am in Court 7 at Bulawayo Magistrate's Court. The duo are charged with C/S 37 (1) (a) (i) of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act Chapter 9:23: "any person who acts together with one or more other persons present with him or her in any place or at any meeting with the intention or realising that there is a real risk or possibility of forcibly disturbing the peace, security or order of the public ..."

    Williams and Mahlangu were arrested on 16th October at Mhlahlandlela Government Complex. They were part of a group of 200 demanding that the humanitarian crisis in the country be de-politicised and declared a national disaster. They were denied bail by Magistrate Charity Maphosa and detained in Mlondolozi Prison for three weeks before being granted bail through an appeal to the High Court. They are on strict bail conditions, which include reporting to police twice a week and not being allowed to travel outside a 40 kilometer radius of Bulawayo without written permission from a magistrate. They will apply for a variation of these conditions which are a restriction of their civil liberty and reminiscent of persecution of nationalists by the former colonial government.

    Williams and Mahlangu will appear before Magistrate Sithembile Ncube tomorrow. They will be represented by Kossam Ncube, who has been briefed by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The state will be represented by Prosecutor Lovemore Chifamba.

    On Friday 28th, the State summonsed Magodonga Mahlangu for a arrest in 2004 under c/s 7(c) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act chapter 9:15 - "acting in a manner which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace or to create a nuisance or obstruction". It is unclear at this time if this charge will be tried separately or will be added and incorporated into the current case. Jenni Williams has not as yet received the summons although her name is reflected in the summons given to Mahlangu.

    Any solidarity from friends and civic partners at the trial would be appreciated.

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