Hope that the wave of popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa would spread south and translate into widespread social reforms was quashed over the last year with the brutal suppression of demonstrations across sub-Saharan Africa.
Jenni Williams, executive director and founding member of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) says in her country there is no doubt that events in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Syria have in fact meant harsher crackdowns on protests
“It's been a very hard year that began in February 2011,” she says.
“We’ve always faced opposition to our work from the authorities – but the repression increased with the brave, wonderful work done in the Arab Spring.
“Suddenly the world – as well as the last dictators standing – looks at peaceful protest with a different lens. Things have been tougher for us this last year – personally I’ve been arrested twice, and fixed with fabricated charges of kidnapping and theft”, she told Amnesty International.
WOZA is a social justice movement with a membership of around 80,000, which provides a platform to encourage women to speak out about issues that affect their everyday lives in Zimbabwe. Since its first protests in 2003 members of WOZA have been repeatedly intimidated, detained and ill-treated because of their activism.
“Suddenly the police have a variety of strategies to stop us gathering peacefully as we have been doing for the last 10 years. Robert Mugabe’s regime clearly wants to prevent a Zimbabwean spring,” says Jenni Williams.
In February 2011, 45 social justice, trade union and human rights activists were arrested and charged with treason merely for holding a meeting discussing the implications of protests in Egypt and Tunisia.
Jenni Williams has been arrested 43 times, has spent time in prison on several occasions, and says she expects to be jailed again next year when Zimbabweans go to the polls. She is constantly forced to present herself at court as her case is still pending. Yet she has no plans to stop her activism.
“I don’t regret a single moment. I celebrate the work that I do and the people I work with have the same spirit. We are in it together and together we are going to build a new democracy.
“That ‘livingness’ that you do as an activist- expressing yourself, makes up for so many of other moments when you are marginalized and shut up.”