Women?s ?tough-love? protest demands change

Date: January 1, 1970
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Women in Zimbabwe are taking to the streets to show their frustration with poor governance, lack of basic social services, and unprecedented increases in the cost of education. In the process, police have arrested nearly 1000 women members of the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), for their attempts to hold their leaders accountable.

This past  October, WOZA members scored three legal victories after the State failed to substantiate its charges against the some of the women arrested while demonstrating, prompting the magistrates to set the women free.
Others have not been as successful. Some women spend months detained in filthy police cells, sometimes with babies on their backs, attending continually postponed hearings while the prosecution teams try to find charges that will stick. Some have gone into labour while in police detention.
Jane Mlambo* is from a low-income suburb in Bulawayo. At 62 years of age, the widow explains how jam has become a luxury, and she cannot even afford to buy bread on which to serve the spread. Her age mate in rural Insiza district, Thembi Ndlovu is frustrated that her grandchildren are no longer attending class because of prohibitive school fees and costly uniforms demanded before admission.
Both reminisce about the past and dream of a brighter future for their grandchildren. Such recollections and pent up frustrations have stirred up strong discontent not just in Mlambo and Ndlovu but also in hundreds of other Zimbabwean women who have joined WOZA.
WOZA’s mission is to restore the dignity of the country’s women by speaking out against social and economic injustices that have eroded the wellbeing of the majority of the country’s citizens. Guided by their motto ‘The power of love can overcome the love of power’ the women peacefully show their displeasure.
WOZA is now known for it’s non-violent but highly imaginative demonstrations during which they persistently call for ‘tough love’ among the country’s leaders to resolve the crisis that has made not just women’s lives, but all Zimbabweans’ lives unbearable.
A major plus for the organisation is that the protests always catch State security agents napping because WOZA does not publicise actions beforehand. By the time security agents catch on, the women have already had their say.
With its street action and frequent visit to ‘the garden’ (WOZA lingo for police cells), the organisation is slowly chalking up victories against a repressive government. While in the garden, the women seize the opportunity to share some sisterly love through song and dance. The songs also send a message to the arresting officers to realise that they too are victims of the socio-political environment.
Additionally, the women highlight the fact that Zimbabwe’s situation is untenable but things are bound to change if they continue speaking out. So effective has this strategy been that police officers who have heard the women’s "tough love songs" now refuse to arrest lead singers within the organisation.
WOZA members say through their homemade, hand written placards and leaflet they are communicating with a government that has cut off communication links with its people.
Listening and watching WOZA members plan and stage their projects, one get the sense that here are women determined to have their voices and opinions heard. Here are women who invest their  time and meager material resources to stage protracted protests for their dream of a "socially just future." 
These women put passion and conviction into their street actions. These women are serious.
The women’s commitment is evident through their style of doing things. Members receive intensive training programmes to maintain the organisation’s philosophy of non-violence and to always show love. Now even brutal baton-welding police officers have conceded in court that when they go to break-up WOZA demonstrations, "the women are very co-operative and sit down and allow themselves to be arrested."
The spirit of sisterhood ensures packed courtrooms when WOZA activists appear in court. Members who escape the police dragnet after protests go and offer themselves for arrest so that they can be together with their sisters.
With such an impressive record of accomplishment, maybe it is about time disgruntled Zimbabweans start taking WOZA seriously. Currently debate in opposition political circles and civic society is revolving around the need to a ‘united and brave leader to direct a popular revolt."
Maybe it’s time to draw helpful lessons from WOZA’s experiences. Essentially, it is not about how strong the leadership is but how involved, committed and prepared members are in identifying a cause and planning how they will achieve their stated objectives.
It’s about unshakeable belief in what you are doing and love for a brighter tomorrow. Just as the old adage notes, "it’s love that makes the world go round.” WOZA is using love to unsettle an oppressive regime.
* Not her real name.
Miriam Madziwa is a freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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