How Women in Zimbabwe Overcame a Culture of Fear to Build a Culture of Resistance

Source: Waging Nonviolence

This text is adapted from “The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements,” edited by Lester R. Kurtz and Lee A. Smithey for Syracuse University Press.

Suffering under the brutal dictatorship of the Robert Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, a group of women rose up courageously as “mothers of the nation” to challenge his elite rule and build grassroots democratic change in their communities. Women of Zimbabwe Arise, or WOZA, mobilized a campaign of “tough love,” using the traditional role and moral authority of mother to scold the repressive and corrupt leaders of the country and call for a new kind of society where equality and social justice prevail. This joining of love, power and justice echoes the vision and experience of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who declared, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

The idea of tough love emerged and added value to the role of motherhood we embraced. Tough love is the disciplining love a “mother” uses for a “child” who has gone astray or is disrespecting the family. Robert Mugabe and members of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF Party, are first and foremost children of Zimbabwe, who are disrespecting the “family” — the nation. For us, as women, our issues were not about political rule but about the everyday issues that affect us and our families. Finding our kitchens empty and the cat using the stove to warm itself, we moved from the kitchen to the streets. We found we had a talent for organizing and put nonviolent direct action behind our collective voice to loudly demand dramatic changes for Zimbabwe and to call for Zimbabweans to choose love and unity over hatred and violence.

Forging a culture of resistance among courageous women, WOZA helped women to overcome their fear of the repressive forces governing the country. Following the words of Gandhi, we looked upon time spent in police custody as a trip to our fields to plant seeds for a good harvest. So, we turned arrests into a celebration of successful resistance. We regarded our time under arrest as a chance to “workshop” or educate the police officers about human rights and to correct those in positions of power who harassed us. We called on them to stop their childlike behavior and abuse of power. Because we were able to play our motherly role so well and with such love, we were able to make our persecutors respect us and appreciate the issues that drove us into the streets in protest. With demonstrations of love — even for arresting police officers — WOZA women provided the nation with a new way to hold policymakers accountable. The high-visibility protest with women speaking truth to power shocked the nation out of its complacency. This form of tough love also challenged a deeply polarized political environment, opening up a new space in the center white line on the “highway” of Zimbabwean political life: women standing their ground on their issues demanding attention as the politicians and citizens drove by to the left and to the right.

Tough love was a litmus test to prove that the power of love can overcome the love of power.

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