Tuesday, February 02, 2010

How a movement gains power: Daffodils in Africa

"The 22 women arrested in Pumula today have been released without being charged. As lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights were unavailable to attend to the matter, WOZA National Coordinator, Jenni Williams, and Magodonga Mahlangu attended the police station and met with the Officer in Charge, Assistant Inspector Chimani. He advised that the members had already been released and apologised for arresting them, saying that the officers concerned did not realise that they were WOZA members. WOZA would like to acknowledge the professionalism of Assistant Inspector Chimani but call on him and other police officers to stop the arbitrary arrest of Zimbabweans."
--from WOZA, 2 February 2010

Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams are Zimbabwean women whose stature in their homeland has been on the rise since they began organizing for basic family services and human rights as Women of Zimbabwe Arising, a movement dedicated explicitly and overtly to nonviolent direct action. They've been jailed numerous times, and are seen by Robert Mugabe as an irritant, yet they are in truth more dangerous to his fading rule than any armed revolt might be.

Under the leadership of these two women, many previously powerless women have learned to lead, to confront government injustices, and to organize in their own communities. Mahlangu and Williams are international travelers--I met them at Oxford University in 2007--and, as the account above indicates, still activists in operation on the ground.

They have refused to back down. They have refused to excuse violence. They have refused to be coopted and they have refused to use hatred. Their combination of qualities have made them so potent that actions which might well have resulted in their own arrest and imprisonment in the past are now successful actions resulting in mass un-arrest, one of the most difficult and rare tasks any movement can accomplish.

There is no doubt that Zimbabweans are bitter and angry and would love some vengeance for the crimes of Mugabe that have left them penniless with paper money so inflated it's probably best used as cooking fuel. Yet WOZA keeps a beautiful spirit of steady and committed nonviolence confronting the injustices and brutalities of the Mugabe forces.

We who live in privilege can take lessons and inspiration from the strong and powerfully gentle uprising that puts me in mind of the flower power little five-year-old Alexa described so well when we were walking in the park past the daffodil shoots that were about four inches high and on top of them was the patch of soil that had covered the bulbs, pushed up into the air and held by the shoots. "Those are strong plants!" she said. "They have muscles!" The little daffodils now waving in the breeze are strong enough to hold up the Earth and the Women Of Zimbabwe Arising are just such exemplars of human gentle power.

1 comment:

Terri said...

Only 5 years old and already Alexa is being cited in the literature - I love it! Such an apropos metaphor at that. It reminded me of the stories from Liberia, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aileen-adams/women-waging-peace_b_87466.html. There are so many amazing stories of women waging peace in the troubling waters of Africa. Thanks for bringing these two women into the spotlight so we can follow and support their work.