Accolades abroad, baton sticks at home

One of Zimbabwe’s most fearless women, Jenni Williams (pictured) continues to bag international recognition, even though her human rights work at home has often invited violent reaction from the police.

Jenni Williams
Jenni Williams

Williams, leader of pro-poor human rights group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), is this year’s recipient of the Ginetta Sagan Amnesty International USA award.

The award, which adds to Williams’ already impressive collection, comes at a time when the fiery human rights activist is fighting criminal charges in Zimbabwean courts.

“WOZA is proud to receive this award along with Jenni. The legacy of Ginetta Sagan is one familiar to the activists of WOZA. The award comes at a time of great trials and tribulations for Jenni and WOZA therefore Ginetta lives on to inspire WOZA members as they commemorate turning 10,” said WOZA in a statement of the award Williams received last week.

With more than 2. 8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in over 150 countries, Amnesty International, a Nobel Peace Prize winning grassroots organisation is one of world’s most influential groups.

Williams travelled with her WOZA co-leader and founder Magodonga Mahlangu to receive the award. She adds the Ginetta Sagan Amnesty International USA award to WOZA’s already rich cabinet, which has the US Secretary of State International Woman of Courage (2008), Amnesty Germany Human Rights Award (2008), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award(2009) and the French National Order of Merit.

In its citation, Amnesty International USA said it honoured Williams for “inspiring Zimbabweans to stand up for freedom and basic rights”. Over the past decade, Williams and WOZA have held peaceful marches on issues ranging from poor electricity supplies and plummeting standards in the education sector to State sponsored violence and selective application of the law. “WOZA has inspired tens of thousands of women and men to stand up for their rights to free speech and assembly and the fulfillment of basic needs like food and education,” read the Amnesty International statement.

The 49-year-old Williams described the award as “wonderful and timely news”. “It reached me on another rough day fighting fabricated kidnap and theft charges. When I first heard the story of Ginetta, I was filled with such admiration for the work she did and it inspired me to keep going,” she said.

Back home, arrests, assaults and detention by police are part of what Williams and WOZA members have come to constantlyexpect. But that has not deterred them from standing up for the poor, who are suffering erratic service delivery and selective application of the law, a feat that moved Amnesty International USA to honour Williams.

“She has been beaten, imprisoned without food or medical supplies and threatened with execution. Williams’ September 2011 arrest – her 39th– resulted in charges of kidnapping and theft being preferred against her and WOZA program coordinator Magodonga Mahlangu.

As of February 2012, they were still fighting the charges in a Zimbabwe court,” reads the Amnesty International USA citation. The Amnesty International Award is named after Ginetta Sagan, a resistance fighter who was arrested and tortured during World War II. Sagan was an early supporter of Amnesty International and a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in 2000 at the age of 75.

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