Police in Harare on Tuesday tried to block a peaceful demonstration by pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), who were attempting to hand over a list of demands to parliament.
Three separate protest groups converged on the city streets and started heading towards parliament Tuesday afternoon, as part of WOZA's annual Valentine's Day protests. But as the groups moved onto Sam Nujoma Street a group of riot police in full gear and carrying tear gas, blocked the road, telling people to go home.
WOZA leader Jenni Williams told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that more riot police arrived in a large police van, carrying several senior police officers, one of whom instructed officers to beat the WOZA protesters. Williams explained that the officers ignored this order, “although there was clearly another order to arrest certain faces.”
Eventually, about 10 WOZA members managed to push past the riot police and make their way to parliament, where they delivered the group's list of demands regarding the constitutional reform process and the state of the unity government.
Williams said she was not surprised by the police's presence, but that it was a positive move to see that they did not carry out orders to beat or arrest any of the WOZA members.
“It was very apparent that there were orders to arrest, which they didn't do, and there were direct orders to beat people, which they ignored,” Williams said.
She added: “What they must realise is that it is still violence to refuse us our right to arrive at our parliament.”
Williams continued by saying that the ongoing presence of police at peaceful protests in the country “is a sign that there is no good will and no commitment (from the government) to make lasting changes.” She explained that the key demand the group has made to parliament is for the unity government to start delivering on its promises of change and to urgently “stop violence with impunity.”
Tuesday's protest action in the capital came a day after the group held a similar demonstration in Bulawayo. Ten community-based protests took place in Makokoba, Magwegwe, Entumbane, Pumula old and north, Mabutweni, Pelandaba, Matshobana, Tshabalala and Nketa. In Nketa, two members were arrested by plain clothed police officers and kept in a public toilet for over two hours. WOZA said in a statement that the pair was eventually told to walk home to prepare for their homes to be searched