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police disturb the peace in Bulawayo today
of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
September 22, 2009
images from the demonstration
Today at noon the streets
of Bulawayo came alive with the voices of human rights defenders
as they commemorated the United Nations International Day of Peace.
The words of the songs rang out - 'its time to expose this false
peace' and another 'Lord, hear our cries'. These songs were silenced
however as riot police swooped, beating women and men alike, to
disperse them from reaching their target at Mhlahlandlela Government
complex. Fortunately the strategy of multiple protests starting
minutes apart outwitted the police and the last protest managed
to reach their target. No arrests have been reported to date but
WOZA leaders are still verifying whether everyone returned safely
to their homes.
Several activists required
medical attention for injuries sustained during the chaos however.
20 year old Prisca Dube, chased by riot police into a pile of broken
glass, had to continue running, leaving a trail of blood behind
in the street. Her bloody slipper and four stitches to the sole
of her foot are proof of the false peace in Zimbabwe. 30-year old
Frances Vale had to be driven to hospital as he was unable to walk
after being beaten by four riot police at the same time; he has
a fracture to his arm and doctors are still waiting to check his
leg and lower back. Nomuhle has a sprained ankle after a police
officer stood on her foot. Twenty other members are also seeking
medical treatment at this time for the brutal beatings they received
at the hands of police.
The peace day protest
attracted over 1,300 peace activists who marched to deliver a set
of demands to the inclusive government under the theme - social
justice can deliver peace of mind. Today's march follows the peaceful
protest in Harare yesterday where over 1,000 WOZA members handed
in a petition to United Nations.
Five separate protests
started simultaneously in different locations in the city; four
merging to form three groups that would complete the last city block
to the government complex. The first sign of police was as the four
protests started to make their way to Mhlahlandlela; a pickup truck
carrying police attempted to drive through the protest, scattering
people. 10 police officers then proceeded to beat the peaceful group,
forcing them past the government complex.
last group, seeing this in front of them played for time, sitting
down to calm the activists, chanting - sit down and maintain discipline
(Ayihlale phansi ibambe umthetho). This smaller group managed
to control their fear and ignoring the site of their comrades being
beaten, advanced upon the target. Many of those who had stepped
aside when the police ran past rejoined this group. One of those
who managed to side step the beatings was Jenni Williams, who proceeded
to the government complex. They chanted slogans and left the placards
and demands behind before walking peacefully away.
A police vehicle was
deployed to locate WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu
after a police officer said they should stop beating just anyone
and look for the leaders to beat.
Their arrival at the
complex was met with rousing congratulations of bystanders - 'you
have beaten them 10 zero' was one such comment. Unfortunately by
this time, a senior ranking riot police officer had arrived at the
scene and was heard to say, "you have not beaten them hard
enough that is why they regrouped, beat them harder." This
resulted in the beating of Frances and others. A group of men watching
Frances being beaten tried to mobilise people to beat the police
in retaliation. This action was quickly stopped by WOZA members
who explained: 'we are non-violent activists and any history should
write that the people who disturbed the peace with violence were
Zimbabwe Republic Police officers, not peaceful human rights defenders'.
People were over eager
today to receive the fliers and many stepped into the protest to
hear the message. One bystander shouting at the police to stop beat
a woman was pacified by another bystander saying - they may have
been beaten but they delivered a truthful message.
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