March 11, 2011: Munyaradzi Gwisai
, Tafadzwa Antonater Choto
, Hopewell Gumbo
, Tatenda Mombeyarara
, Edson Chakuma
and Welcome Zimuto
had their application for refusal of remand thrown out and remanded to
March 21 to face trial for treason which carries a death sentence in
Zimbabwe. For the latest news, visit the new solidarity web site at http://www.freethemnow.com/
* * *
10, 2011 – Links International Journal of
Socialist Renewal -- An international solidarity campaign has won a partial
victory for the 45 solidarity and socialist activists arrested in Zimbabwe for
watching a video on the recent uprisings in Egypt. Thirty-nine have had their
charges dropped by the Harare Magistrates Court for lack of evidence and because
the detentions resulted from what the court called “dragnet” arrests. However six
activists remain in jail in appalling conditions. It remains urgent for
supporters of human rights and democracy to continue to send messages to the
Zimbabwe government and its embassies demanding their release and the dropping
of all charges. For contact details of where to direct protest messages, click HERE.
still in jail are Antonater Choto, Eddison Chakuma, Welcome Zimuto, Tatenda
Mombeyarara, Hopewell Gumbo and Munyaradzi Gwisai (pictured above). They are being held in
solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and are only allowed out to see
visitors twice a day for 30 minutes at a time. This is also when visitors give
them food, as under the neoliberal regime, funding for prisoners’ meals has
been reduced to near zero. Prisoners are fortunate to be fed once a day with a
corn (maize) porridge. Beans or cabbage may be added.
sole woman detainee, Antonater Choto, is also being subjected to hard labour.
She has had an operation due to a brain cyst. The tube needs to be checked to
ensure that pressure is being alleviated, but the prison authorities have
insisted that any medical attention must be carried out in the jail. Because of
the unhygienic conditions, they have all contracted lice infestations.
activists’ lawyers have managed to apply for bail, and the court will hear the bail
application on March 11.
protests, solidarity messages and protest messages have kept attention on the
case. This is why 39 were released.
campaign for the remaining six detainees will continue until they have been
released and had the spurious charges of treason cleared.
Fataar is a member of the Keep Left socialist organisation in South Africa.]
Who the politcial prisoners are
is a veteran of the struggle for equality and justice in Zimbabwe. She
has been a key player in crucial democratic and social justice processes
including constitutional reform, workers rights, women's rights and the
right to health campaign. The only woman who was not released with others deserves special
mention. Tafadzwa, a heroine of struggles for democracy, human rights
and justice in Zimbabwe is a survivor of a very complicated medical
operation that she is still recovering from and lives with asthma. She
is among those who were tortured when the group was initially arrested.
When she informed the police of her medical history, they bluntly told
her that "it does not matter -- today we will beat you until your period comes". She
is in an overcrowded cell with 26 other women at Chikurubi Maximum
prison. Because of the horrible hygiene conditions she has had constant
asthma attacks.We demand her immediate release so that she can be in
hospital and get the medical care she urgently needs.
general coodinator of International Socialist Organization of Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi is a former Movement for
Democratic Change member of parliament for Highfield and a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. Gwisai has been a leading voice
for workers' rights and social justice in Zimbabwe since the late
eighties when he led student protests against corruption and injustice.
He is a dedicated defender of workers and the oppressed poor.
former president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, Msavaya -- as he
is affectionately known by many in the struggle for social justice and
democracy in Zimbabwe -- is a consistent fighter and great inspiration to
generations of activists.
Zimuto is a key organiser and campaigner for the right to education and
an advocate for democracy and human rights in the country. He is with
the Zimbabwe National Students Union.
Tatenda is an organiser with the Zimbabwe Labor Center.
seminar to jail cell
March 9, 2011 – Inside Higher Ed -- Right now, six people are being held in solitary confinement in Zimbabwe --
released from their cells each day, according to a report from family members,
for just 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the late
afternoon. They have not even gone on trial yet. When they do, the death
sentence is a real possibility. Their offence is that they organised a meeting
where video footage from the recent mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt was
screened and the events there were discussed.
I do not know this for certain, but it seems likely that they also may have
incited people to commit acts of reading. One of the masterminds behind the
gathering, after all, was Munyaradzi
Gwisai, a former member of parliament and leader of the International Socialist
Organization of Zimbabwe. He also teaches labour law at the University of
Zimbabwe. You know how it is with both professors and radicals. They are always
trying to get you to read something.
Now, all this unauthorised thinking about the outside world is clearly a matter
of grave concern to the regime of Robert Mugabe, who has been running Zimbabwe
for as long as it’s been called “Zimbabwe”. That comes to 31 years now -- just
a little longer than Hosni Mubarak was in power in Egypt. On February 19, 2011,
as the meeting was taking place at the Labour Law Centre in the capital city of
Harare, security forces raided it and arrested dozens of people, including
students and trade union members. They were detained for a week at a police
station, without legal counsel, and a number of them later described being
“beaten with broomsticks, metal rods and blunt objects on their bodies and the
soles of their feet”, according to an article in the New York Times.
On March 7, 39 of the prisoners were finally released. The six who remain in
custody are being charged with treason; if found guilty, they could be
executed. Meanwhile, other opposition groups are being harassed, with at least
one MP being arrested. Evidently this is the government’s way of preparing for
the national election to be held later this year. President Mugabe is, as the
old saying goes, a firm advocate of the two-party system: there should be one
party in power, and the other in jail.
On March 1, with my column for the week not quite done, I hurried over to the
Embassy of Zimbabwe in Washington, DC, which is just a few blocks from Inside Higher Ed's world headquarters.
There was what any activist must feel obliged to call "a small but
spirited demonstration" on the sidewalk in front of the place. We gave
leaflets to passers-by, and people in cars honked their horns in what one hoped
was solidarity. At one point I even directed a few choice words, by bullhorn,
to any of the diplomatic staff who might have been inside. (This was not
cathartic. It would have been better to say them in person, but the front gate
was locked.) And then I rushed back home, to my desk and my deadline, trying to
put out of mind the image of being whipped on the soles of the feet with a
That very same day (March 1) turned out to be the occasion of the Million
Citizen March in Zimbabwe, which was organised on Facebook. The press abroad
gave it almost no coverage. In a way, this was understandable, since nobody
showed up for the Million Citizen March. One of the few reporters who did
mention it found widespread suspicion that the whole thing was “a ploy by
Zimbabwe’s intelligence service to lure activists onto the streets so they can
The benign neglect by the media of this not-quite-historical event is worth
some reflection, though. As I wrote in this column a month ago, there has
lately been a strong presumption that social networking is, as such,
democratogenic. It is true that platforms like Facebook, and Twitter can be
helpful, even catalytic, for popular mobilisations. But as the authors of a
recent report from the United States Institute of Peace note, there is a strong
confirmation bias on that point. People only pay attention to the role of
social media in political movements when the latter are gaining strength or
moving forward. If the opposite happens -- if support begins to dwindle, or a
campaign is stillborn -- it never occurs to anyone that online communication
may have generated or amplified public fear, cynicism or passivity. That seems
to be what happened with the Million Citizen March.
There's no substitute for the more inconvenient forms of activism, which
require working with people you don't already know, and might not particularly
like once you do. Not all solidarity involves friendship. But saying that
doesn't mean discounting the possible value of social networking. The Facebook
group "Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean Activists" is by far the
best source of information on the detainees, and it provides a sense of what
people around the world are doing to win their freedom.
Someone once defined politics as the art of knowing what to do next. Returning
from that session with the bullhorn, I decided the next step would probably
involve you, the readers of this weekly column, who have a vested interest in
the release of Professor Gwisai and the other prisoners. Remember, they have
been subjected to incarceration, beatings and the threat execution for holding
what was, in essence, a seminar on current events. Although not an attack on
academic freedom in the strictest sense, it constitutes a brutal assault on the
life of the mind.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, reads Article 19
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “this right includes freedom to
hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
that proclamation has about as much sway with the world’s despots as the declaration’s
prohibition on “torture or … cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment” (Article 5). But the vanity of dictators is a curious thing. They
do sometimes respond to public pressure from abroad. They can, on occasion, be
shamed. And for the sake of the Zimbabwean political prisoners, we must try.
To that end, please consider endorsing and helping to circulate this call for
the prisoners to be released and all charges dropped. It is literally a matter
of life or death.