Police in Harare and Bulawayo on 13 February 2007 arrested more than 250 participants in peaceful demonstrations staged by Women of Zimbabwe Arise to protest against the country’s worsening political and economic crisis.
WOZA had decided to hold its annual Valentine’s Day campaign a day earlier.
An estimated 2000 WOZA supporters participated in the group’s annual campaign in the two cities.
WOZA reported that it was their largest demonstrations to date.
Police used tear gas to disperse marchers in Harare and reportedly assaulted several marchers while breaking up the demonstration in Bulawayo.
WOZA National Coordinator Jenni Williams told United States embassy officials that the group in Harare dispersed on its own after 15 minutes of singing slogans and dancing.
In Bulawayo police arrested 274 marchers and heavily assaulted several individuals while breaking up the demonstration.
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¶1. (U) Summary. Police in Harare and Bulawayo on February 13
arrested more than 250 participants in peaceful
demonstrations staged by Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) to
protest the country’s worsening political and economic
crisis. An estimated 2,000 WOZA supporters participated in
the group’s annual Valentine’s Day Campaign in the two
cities; WOZA reported that it was their largest
demonstrations to date. Police used tear gas to disperse
marchers in Harare and reportedly assaulted several marchers
while breaking up the demonstration in Bulawayo. On the same
day, Harare police also arrested 50 students participating in
a Zimbabwe National Student’s Union (ZINASU) meeting to
discuss skyrocketing tuition fees. The strong response by
police comes in the wake of ongoing and looming labor actions
across key sectors. End Summary.
WOZA Delivers Valentine’s Message A Day Early
¶2. (U) In Harare, the WOZA march with about 1,000
participants started in front of the United Nations
Development Programme’s (UNDP) offices where earlier that
morning WOZA leaders had delivered a copy of its “People’s
Charter” to UN representatives asking for support in
pressuring the government for social justice. The march
continued to Parliament where police in riot gear met the
group with tear gas.
¶3. (SBU) WOZA National Coordinator Jenni Williams told poloff
that despite 15 minutes of singing slogans and dancing, the
group dispersed on its own. A small number of WOZA
supporters continued on toward ZANU-PF headquarters, but
decided to stop when approached by police with dogs. During
the course of the march, police arrested eight women.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) lawyer Otto Saki
told us they were released the following day after paying
admission of guilt fines.
¶4. (U) The WOZA demonstration in Bulawayo also involved
roughly 1,000 marchers. However, it met with a much harsher
response. Williams told us police arrested 274 marchers and
heavily assaulted several individuals while breaking up the
demonstration. The authorities appeared more prepared in
Bulawayo. A large number of police were present from the
start of the march and toward its conclusion riot police
swooped in and brutally beat up a number of the marchers.
Saki told us that ZLHR lawyers had managed to contact 83
persons in police custody and that charges were still pending
against those detained.
Students Protest Hike In Tuition Fees
¶5. (U) On the same day as the WOZA marches, Harare police
also arrested 50 students at Harare Polytehnical College for
participating in a meeting to discuss tuition fees that were
increased in some instances by 2,000 percent to Z$560,000
(about US$110 using the parallel exchange rate) at State
universities for the 2007 first semester.
¶6. (SBU) According to press reports, ZINASU representatives
claimed that approximately 80,000 of the 250,000 university
and college students throughout the country have dropped-out
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over the past year as a result of the unaffordable fees.
Saki told poloff that police had released all but 12 of the
ZINASU leaders, who had been charged under the Crimes against
Public Order Act for unlawful assembly and disorderly
conduct. He added that police intelligence officials were
interviewing the student leaders.
¶7. (U) The strong response by police occurs in a charged
atmosphere of ongoing and looming labor actions in key
sectors. Junior doctors have been out on strike over poor
wages since December and medical care at State hospitals has
suffered immensely. Additionally, some teachers at secondary
schools are participating in a “go-slow” action, university
lecturers are threatening to strike and university students
are planning protests. There also are widespread rumors that
other civil servants may call for a stay-away and that junior
police and military officers are grumbling about walking off
the job rather than accept paupers’ wages.
¶8. (U) In a move to take advantage of this building momentum,
the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has announced
February 23 as the deadline for the government to improve
working and living conditions or risk more industrial
actions. ZCTU has been relatively inactive of late, however,
and it remains unclear if labor and civil society can pull
off effective and coordinated labor actions and keep the
momentum going. But the harsh police response in Harare and
Bulawayo demonstrates how concerned the government is by the
demonstrations*and by the increasing number of participants.