At four in the morning on 24 August, Zimbabwean police carried out a raid on the homes of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) members in Bulawayo, taking six women and a one year-old baby into custody. This came just a week after WOZA’s “Sheroes” gathering, a conference held in secret in the face of Mugabe’s police state, under the tagline “beaten, jailed but still determined to be free”.
Smashing down gates and doors, the police seized the feminist activists from their homes and drove them to the bush around Khami Ruins, some 40 km outside Bulawayo, telling them that it was the last time they would be seen alive. Three were taken to a cliff top and told they would be thrown into the river below unless they informed on their comrades and passed on information about the WOZA organisation. Fortunately, as some tourists passed by the police became alarmed at a potential publicity disaster and released the women later that day.
But the Zimbabwean regime maintains a shameless campaign of repression against WOZA, and indeed the labour movement. The country’s ever-deepening economic chaos, discontent among Mugabe’s own party and a strike wave earlier this year have given the ageing tyrant reason to worry, leading to mass arrests of his opponents.
The week after the raid, 26 WOZA activists on trial in Gweru were finally removed off remand, some five months after being arrested for proclaiming WOZA’s “people’s charter”. That was their fourth court appearance, the costs of which had forced some of the activists to sell their livestock, ruining their livelihoods. In Bulawayo four WOZA members are still going through the courts for their part in a housing demonstration last October.
In the face of Mugabe’s repression, the need to solidarise with the labour movement and women’s organisations struggling for democracy is clear.