Zimbabwean Police’s bullish treatment of activists who would be exercising their various democratic rights to protest and express solidarity with exploited or oppressed members of the society seems to continue unabated, especially when indignity was meted on 06 April 2016 against an activist ‘#BringBackOurGirls from Kuwait’ demonstration outside the Middle Eastern state’s embassy in Harare. The demonstration was organised by activists and powerful emerging movement organisations, namely the Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance (ZIPWA) and the Zimbabwe Activists Alliance (ZAA).
The democratic action by the activists was targeted at showing solidarity with – as well as expressing contempt over the treatment of – over 200 Zimbabwean young women who were reportedly sold for US$2,500 each and who upon rescue remain stranded in the State of Kuwait at the time of writing. The plight of the women has gripped Zimbabwean media in recent weeks. Most of these women who are now held up in the country awaiting passage back home were allegedly lured to Kuwait with promises of jobs, especially offers to work as maids at salaries of US$600 a month, which is a dreamy middle class income in an economically-mismanaged Zimbabwe. Instead they endured sexual abuse, inhuman working conditions and then delays in repatriation.
Women are more vulnerable in a failed state
Rampant economic hardships fuelled by over three-decades of governance mishaps in the Southern African country has ensured that its ordinary and working class people become symbols of pity and suffering across the world. As is the norm in the Global South , it is the women and youth who suffer the most from the vagaries of poverty caused by the economic downturn. Hence it is not surprising that the news reports have mostly reported on the plight of young women duped by dubious employment agencies that usually have semblance of organised crime units and that exist to trade in people from Sub-Saharan Africa and other impoverished parts of the world.
When this writer caught up with the Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Activists’ Alliance, Muzvare Lynette Mudehwe after the embassy demonstration she indicated that her involvement in the #BringBackOurGirls from Kuwait issue was as a result of her being not just a human rights defender, but also a woman, a mother and an African. She said, ‘Zimbabwe has become a failed state that can’t provide jobs for its citizens. Hence those citizens have become greatly vulnerable.’
Linda Masarira, the Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance was also incensed at the way the whole stranded women issue was being held at government level, which is the reason why her organisation was part of the demonstration. She said, ‘We feel let down and surprised at the slow pace at which the government of Zimbabwe is dealing with the trapped women in Kuwait after a period stretching about a month now, this is a case of misplaced priorities by the government. It is every government’s responsibility to ensure that their citizens are safe regardless of their geographical position worldwide. We also condemn the continual processing of travelling documents to unsuspecting women by the Ministry of Home Affairs and also to that effect, we don’t see any reason why these bogus employment agencies can still be left operating, they must be immediately banned’
In a state that is on record as being perpetually among top ten most impoverished nations in the world, as well as having other unflattering records of human rights abuses, corruption, institutional failures and a dubious political environment, it is easy for foreign embassy staff and conniving local hawks to take advantage of vulnerable women and girls and ship them overseas where they are treated like wild animals, kicked at, over-worked and virtually kept as house slaves. These human rights violations and indignities have no place in the 21st Century.
Protest Action and Police responses
When the police silences voices raised against such brazen human rights violations like they did with organisations like ZIPWA, ZAA and others on Wednesday, they just reinforce the notion that the role of a police force in bourgeois society is one that does not involve protection of social justice. And the indignity that activists are made to suffer is clearly indefensible and unjustifiable in a democratic society.
‘I am still shocked at the way the police treated the peaceful protestors,’ Muzvare Mudehwe informed this writer during a post-mortem discussion. ‘We were shoved into a riot truck and detained for over an hour before being released without being charged. The police were even dismissive of female legislators who chose to be part of the #BringBackOurGirls from Kuwaiti demonstration. These included Honourable Tabitha Khumalo, Rorana Muchihwa, Ronia Bunjira and Memory Mbondia. Sadly, all these are from the opposition. Zanu-Pf MPs did not want to get involved in the campaign, citing that the government has relations with Kuwait, but that at the expense of innocent stranded women, some of whom are voters in those same ruling party MPs’ constituencies’
Another activist and journalist, Watmore Makokoba who was part of the demonstration rightfully indicated that zimbabwe, has always had a questionable record against the treatment of women, be it in social or political circles and hence the police action against the demonstrators was not a new thing. He said, ‘Women rights continue to be hindered by disregard shown on women’s plights from the days of child marriages to the current clampdowns on solidarity demonstrations with stranded women.’
The courageous raising of concerns by activists and other sections of the Zimbabwean society about the plight of the poor women stranded in Kuwait is commendable. Such actions, even if they can hardly be expanded due to the existence of an almost fascist police force in Zimbabwe, can nevertheless provide the right foundations for future mobilisations of the society against a political and economic governance system that perpetuates patriarchy and treats Global South women and working class youth as expendable pawns and goods in the evil, racist and profiteering human trafficking business .
In that regard, feminists, leftists, Africans and activists from the entire world who are burdened by this unfair capitalist system should be concerned, not merely because they are anti-capitalist or anything, but because these women and other victims of human trafficking and organised crime around the world are human too, who deserve respect, dignity and protection against a sick world.