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Dear Family and Friends,
The day before Valentine’s Day in Zimbabwe love was in the air but so was tear gas. While flower sellers wrapped individual roses and street vendors peddled teddy bears, hearts and fluffy cushions adorned with red ribbons, hundreds of women headed towards parliament building in Harare. Five hundred WOZA members came from two different directions in two groups. They were unarmed and peaceful, distributing fliers against the draft constitution saying it had been written to suit the interests of the present politicians and not future generations. The WOZA protest was their 11th annual Valentine’s Day march and as in all previous years, the police were waiting for them when they got to their destination. Outside parliament five canisters of tear gas were fired, WOZA members and bystanders ran for cover and eight women, including leaders Jenni Williams and Magadonga Mhlangu were arrested and beaten while they waited to be transported to a police station. Twenty five WOZA members had to seek medical attention after their treatment at the hands of police. One woman had to have three teeth removed after having been struck on the face.
It wasn’t only tear gas that lay heavy in the humid air of central Harare the afternoon before Valentine’s day, the atmosphere was also full of irony. While women and children were running from teargas and others were being beaten by police, it was being announced that a date had been set for the referendum on the draft constitution. The 16th of March is to be Referendum Day we were told, but in typically Zimbabwean style, the adjective ‘tentative’ was tagged on to the date so we are not completely and absolutely sure of the exact date. It’s a characteristic of Zimbabwe’s politicians to keep people guessing about some part of the overall picture when it comes to elections. The irony of tear gas and baton sticks being used against peaceful protesters was dramatic when glancing at the very first page of the new draft constitution which was literally hot off the press. Thirteen lines down in Chapter One it states that Zimbabwe is founded on the principle of respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms. That principle leads you to explore clause 53 which allows freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. And then to clause 59 which gives every person the right to demonstrate and present petitions as long as it is done peacefully.
On Valentine’s Day WOZA members again tried to protest, this time in Bulawayo. They said they were demonstrating on a day of love to demand a response from police to their complaints of police brutality at a previous protest. In a number of separate protest groups , eight hundred women converged on Police Headquarters. WOZA said that when the women arrived police swooped on them and began beating their members. Despite everyone then sitting down on the ground, a hundred and eighty women were arrested along with six men who were not WOZA members but just bystanders taking photographs. One of those men was later made to remove his trousers and shoes and was beaten under the soles of his feet.
As we head to the polls in less than a month’s time a little ray of light illuminated our national dread of elections. Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinega said that voting in the Referendum would not be based on the existing flawed voters role but would be open to every Zimbabwean on production of their ID card only. It’s hard to believe that multiple thousands of people disenfranchised in recent years will be allowed to again have a say in the future of the country. Do we dare to hope? Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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