Women’s courage astounding


The United States embassy commended members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise for staging demonstrations against the government saying the courage of these ordinary women, usually quite poor, was remarkable in an atmosphere when most citizens were occupied with the day-to-day business of survival.

WOZA and the National Constitutional Assembly led by Lovemore Madhuku were at the forefront of turning out people on the streets to demonstrate against the government.

Both organisations received funding from the United States government.

Despite their demonstrations, during which the leaders of the two organisations were often arrested, the embassy said it was unlikely that civil society and the larger democratic forces would be able to capitalise on these small demonstrations to tap into the widespread public discontent and generate momentum for lawful civil resistance.


Full cable:



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Reference ID





2006-02-16 05:45


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000177










E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2016






Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell for reasons 1.5 b/d






1. (U) On February 14, approximately 300 members of women’s

activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA) marched in

Harare, demanding affordable food and social justice.

Police arrested around 250 of the women along with their

lawyer, Tafadzwa Mugabe of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human

Rights. The previous day, police arrested approximately

180 at WOZA’s march in Bulawayo. End summary.



Women March for “Bread and Roses” in Harare



2. (U) On February 14, approximately 300 members of the

women’s activist group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA),

participated in WOZA’s annual Valentine’s Day march in

Harare. Poloff observed the march. Soon after the

appointed hour for the march, several women who had been

milling around the downtown corner where the march was to

begin came together and begin distributing roses and

banners. The group quickly grew to about 300 and marched

down the street, unfurling banners and tossing around

copies of WOZA’s latest newsletter and cards with the theme

of this year’s march, “bread and roses.” According to the

newsletter, “bread” represents the need for affordable food

and “roses” represent social justice, modeled on the theme

of a worker’s strike in Kansas in 1912. The cards

proclaimed “We want more than day-to-day survival–we

deserve roses and the dignity they stand for.”



Police Arrest Marchers and Their Lawyer



3. (U) After marching a few blocks, some of the group

dispersed into a nearby park upon the arrival of a handful

of police officers with helmets, batons, and a single

police vehicle. The police gathered the women in front of

St. Mary’s cathedral. Many pedestrians gathered on the

corners near the cathedral and at the edge of the park to

watch the scene. The women who had moved into the park

reappeared among the crowd and began handing out more

newsletters. Many in the crowd were asking who WOZA was

and what the march was about. Police approached the crowd

several times, brandishing their batons and shouting at the

onlookers to clear the area, but there was no violence

directed at the women or the crowd. The initially small

group of police officers was using radios, and a few

minutes later, additional police arrived with a pickup

truck that began taking the women away. The first women

driven away were smiling as they were led into the truck,

and a cheer arose from the other marchers as the truck

drove away. Tafadzwa Mugabe, a lawyer from Zimbabwe

Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), was present from the time

of the detention and attempted to communicate with police,

who surrounded him and gestured at him with their batons.


4. (C) According to ZLHR’s Otto Saki, police arrested

Tafadzwa and refused to reveal the charges. Saki said

that, after taking the WOZA women to Harare Central Police

Station, police had begun roaming downtown, arresting other

women who looked like they might be WOZA women. Saki said

that some women passersby who had not participated in the

march handed themselves over to police in solidarity with

the WOZA women. Police arrested approximately 250 women in

all. Saki was planning to appear in the High Court that

afternoon to file an urgent application for the release of

all the women and Tafadzwa. Police released Tafadzwa later

that day, but, as of close of business on February 15,

police still held 192 women.



Women Arrested in Another March in Bulawayo



5. (U) According to a February 14 ZLHR press release,

police arrested 181 women and men at the end of WOZA’s

February 13 Valentine’s march in Bulawayo. Among those

detained were 14 babies who had been with their mothers

during the march and who depended on nursing for food.

Police had kept the detained in an open courtyard at

Bulawayo Central Police Station, exposed to the rain, for

several hours before being moved to cells. Initially, WOZA

leader Jenni Williams had been held separately and ZLHR

lawyers had been denied access to any of the detained.

Police later returned Williams to the group and granted

ZLHR access. Police charged the women and men with

violations of the Public Order and Security Act for

participating in an unauthorized march. According to ZLHR,

Police released all the detainees in Bulawayo on February







6. (C) Although Zimbabwe’s periodic public demonstrations

are becoming heavily scripted affairs with participants,

police, and lawyers each settling into familiar roles, the

lack of violence in public masks the brutality such

activists experience from police behind closed doors. In

this instance, the initial small police presence and

scramble to obtain reinforcements suggests that the size of

the demonstration may have caught the police off-guard.

Authorities may have assumed that the arrest of nearly 200

women in Bulawayo the day before would deter participants

in the February 14 Harare march. Instead, the women came

out in similar numbers in Harare and with a great deal of

enthusiasm. The detention of ZLHR lawyer Tafadzwa Mugabe,

an unusual practice, may be related to the GOZ’s ongoing

campaign of harassment against ZLHR (reftel).


7. (C) WOZA’s march seems to have been a PR success for the

organization, which, along with Lovemore Madhuku’s National

Constitutional Assembly, is one of the few NGOs capable of

turning at least some people out in the streets. The

courage of these ordinary women, usually quite poor, who

march several times a year knowing police will arrest many

or most of them, is remarkable in an atmosphere when most

citizens are occupied with the day-to-day business of

survival. At this point, it appears unlikely that civil

society and the larger democratic forces will be able to

capitalize on these small demonstrations to tap into the

widespread public discontent and generate momentum for

lawful civil resistance.





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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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