24 November 2009

Zimbabwe: Remarks by Jenni Williams Accepting the 26th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

Photo: WOZA
Leaders of the pressure group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, have been presented with a prestigious human rights award by United States President Barack Obama.


Remarks by Jenni Williams, accepting on behalf of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, the  26th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, November 23th, 2009 at the White House, Washington, DC.

Good evening Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to add my thanks to that of Magodonga’s to the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and friends here present for the recognition given to Women of Zimbabwe Arise.

WOZA was formed to give voice to ordinary women and men and to demand social justice for all Zimbabweans.  We did not set out to seek recognition beyond that of our own government respecting us as citizens and recognising our concerns as legitimate.  We are mothers of the nation, longing for the award of dignity, and a bright future for our children.

It is unfortunate however, to note that our activism – demanding our rights as citizens  ---- comes at a cost. I personally find WOZA members constant courage inspirational and would like to take this opportunity to salute their dedication.    Although some have paid the ultimate price -------- their lives sacrificed at the hands of police harassment, or due to a health crisis, brought about by a government, that prioritises power over human life.  As I stand here in the White House, I pay tribute to them –  Tembelani Lunga - Julia Chapeyama -  Fungai Chabata -  Douglas Magwaro -  Maria Moyo and others.
Maria’s story is an example of how life is cut short in Zimbabwe.  A veteran of the liberation struggle, Maria looked after her six orphaned grandchildren, struggling to educate them by selling tomatoes.  Finding that the country’s hard-won independence had been squandered, she once more engaged in struggle and became an active member of WOZA.

It was upon her tenth arrest and two nights in filthy police cells, Maria contracted the flu.  Her condition steadily worsened as she had insufficient food and no access to medicine.  The final straw came when she was abducted from her sickbed by police early one morning and interrogated in the bush for hours.  Maria died days later, never recovering from the trauma of her torture.

Maria embodies the spirit that drives us.  WOZA was formed to turn a victim mindset into the one of a survivor -- determined to finally realize the promises of the liberation war – for the ideal of “one person-one vote,” for equality and for the right to education.  Blood has already been spilt for these ideals.  WOZA leads a nonviolent struggle and we are committed to giving it a chance to complete our long walk to freedom.

To help us, we draw inspiration from the work of Martin Luther King Junior.  He challenged us to ‘make injustices visible’ and to work so that ‘fear can be turned into hope.’  We modelled our training programmes on his advice, and today, we have a membership of 75,000 strong to show for it.

We are not fighting a revolution in Zimbabwe, we are leading an evEolution.  And civic education is our tool to evolve the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans, to build a strong, new, African democracy, where respect, tolerance and accountability are key.  The building blocks of this democracy are being laid in cattle kraals, tiny two-roomed houses and church halls across the country.

Mr President you know how invaluable community mobilising can be – We have learnt that knocking on doors, talking with and listening to people is the way  WE CAN rebuild our nation. We call on you, to support community mobilizers who are organized to knock on doors, and empower Zimbabweans to deliver change from the ground up.

Magodonga has already appealed to friends here present, I would like to add my plea that Zimbabweans be allowed to develop their democratic voice without harassment.

The constitutional reform process is currently stalled in Zimbabwe.

Little has been done under the Global Political Agreement to ensure there is a secure environment for people to participate in this process and that they can freely say what they want to be included in the content of our new constitution.

We are extremely worried that the structures of violence organized during the presidential run-off last year are currently being reinstated, to intimidate us into silence, and allow the fast-tracking of the so-called “Kariba Draft” of the constitution, endorsed by the political parties. Why is this money being spent for violence instead of funding the constitutional reform?  And where is this funding coming from? Please help us expose this. We need to know. We want to be able to express our views and still live to see the new constitution working.

We ask for help in establishing a Southern African Development Community monitoring mechanism of the GPA, that would focus on individuals’ security, and the constitutional reform process.  WOZA can take care of the speaking out, and the freedom to express, but we need help to make sure there is freedom after expression.

I thank you!

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