In Zimbabwe, WOZA wins another victory for women’s rights

At a recent gathering in northern Virginia, a local activist lawyer argued, “Activism bears fruit, and organizing bears fruit, and we do win every once in a while.” While he was addressing immigrant activists and their supporters, his words ring true around the world. Ask the women of WOZA, Women of Zimbabwe Arise! Yesterday, they too won a landmark victory in the Zimbabwe Supreme Court, and it too is a lesson for everyone.

The case is Jennifer Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Celina Madukani and Clara Manjengwa v Co-Ministers of Home Affairs, Commissioner General of Police Attorney, Attorney General of Zimbabwe. But it’s much more than that. It’s four women, attorneys from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, women of WOZA, and women in struggle across Zimbabwe rising up in favor of women’s rights, human rights, Constitutional protections, and in so doing affirming, consolidating and intensifying women’s autonomy and power.

On April 15, 2010, the four women were arrested at a WOZA demonstration. They were taken to the Harare Central Remand Prison, where they spent five miserable days, “five days of hell.” The place was disgusting, and the treatment was abusive, for everyone, not just for WOZA members or political prisoners, although they received `special treatment’ as well. There was no clean water or toilets. Women were forced to remove their underwear. The place was filthy.

So, WOZA protested the conditions and sued.

Four years later, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe found that WOZA members’ Constitutional rights were violated. The Court found as well that in those instances where WOZA members were targeted for `special treatment’, more of their Constitutional rights were violated. The Court instructed the police to ensure that they would provide clean water, working toilets, a clean mattress for each prisoner, adequate blankets, and that “women detained in police custody shall be allowed to keep their undergarments, including brassieres, and to wear suitable footwear.”

WOZA leaders, WOZA members, their lawyers, and women in struggle across Zimbabwe won a major victory this week. They said State agents cannot act with impunity. For the State, there is no place to hide. WOZA acknowledges the victory and says the time for celebration is not yet at hand: “Whilst WOZA members morale is boosted, members will celebrate when these conditions are a lived reality.”

Women across Zimbabwe, across the world, are organizing for the days when we all can celebrate. But for today, let’s applaud the work of Jennifer Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Celina Madukani, Clara Manjengwa, and all the women of WOZA. Activism bears fruit, organizing bears fruit, and we do win every once in a while. Woza! Arise!


(Photo Credit: WOZA Zimbabwe / Kubatana)

Rebecca Mafukeni, citizen of the Republic of Chikurubi


Rebecca Mafukeni died last month, in remand in Zimbabwe’s `notorious’ Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. She had meningitis. Her bail application was denied. Her appeals for medication attention were rejected, and so Rebecca Mafukeni died … or was killed.

Mafukeni was one of 29 MDC-T supporters who were arrested two years ago, in 2011, on suspicion of having killed a police officer. Last week, 21 were acquitted because of lack of evidence. There was no evidence, and yet they remained behind bars, in Chikurubi, some for more than two years. The High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu took great pains to discuss the case of human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro. Manjoro had been released on bail in 2012, after a State witness testified that Manjoro had only been arrested “as bait” to lure her boyfriend into a trap. Whatever the plan was, Manjoro spent May 2011 to October 2012 in prison.

Yvonne Musarurwa had been with Rebecca Mafukeni in Chikurubi. She has described the experience as a nightmare, especially the months long period held in complete solitary confinement, under a `no human contact’ order. During that period, they thought they were Zimbabwe’s “most isolated women.”

This is the story of women’s lives, and deaths, in the Republic of Chikurubi. Chikurubi is one of those prisons that give notorious a bad name. It is the house of beatings, intimidation, sexual violence, and degradation. It is a place in which people are meant to rot, literally. It is a women’s prison where violence against women extends from overcrowding to refusal to dispense sanitary pads to direct sexual violence to torture to continual abuse and threats to isolation. It is a place that aims to destroy people, individuals, families, communities. In Chikurubi, the personal is political, and the politics is death.

Ask Jestina Mukoko. Ask Beatrice Mtetwa. Ask Violet Mupfuranhehwe. Ask Jennie Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu. Ask Cynthia Manjoro. They’ll tell you. Ask Yvonne Musarurwa. She’ll tell you: “During the first few weeks, we couldn’t cope with living in prison. Rebecca and I broke down completely. We thought we were going to die. But slowly, when we realized there were people who have been there many years before us, the condemned prisoners, we thought okay, we might make it as well.”

We might make it as well. Rest in peace, Rebecca Mafukeni. The struggle continues. We might make it as well.

(Photo credit: Newsday)