THERE has been a public outcry following the police clampdown on female patrons in various night spots in Harare in the past two weeks, under an operation dubbed Zvanyanya (It’s too much).
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Police rounded up about 53 women they encountered in bars, night clubs, in the city centre and Avenues area and force-marched them to Harare Central Police Station.
Those caught in the dragnet included dancers, sex workers and even those who had simply accompanied their male counterparts for drinks.
They were charged with soliciting in public places.
The police also pulled out women booked at city lodges despite protests from one of the managers who showed the officers an operating licence.
Musasa Project director, Netty Musanhu on Thursday said it was infuriating that after all the noise about a new Constitution with all the provisions specific to women, police go on “to make a mockery of the whole issue”.
“So are we supposed to then go and vote freely when police can just arrest us willy nilly? Women fought alongside men during the liberation struggle so it really does not make sense that only women are being arrested,” she said. “What they are telling us is that it is not safe for women to go out. Women then are not free and should go back to the bush and fight another liberation war.”
Musanhu also said it was unfair that women were now being discriminated against in terms of how and where they socialised.
Commenting on the charge of soliciting in public places, she said it took two people to commit the “crime”.
“This is a demand and supply scenario. As long as there is demand out there, the problem will not go away,” said Musanhu. “This kind of behaviour will force us to do the naming and shaming because we hear there are some police officers who demand free sex from the sex workers.”
The on-going operation has resulted in women shunning the night spots for fear of being arrested and this has caused a slump in business over the past few days.
On Wednesday and Thursday last week, most clubs in town were deserted as both men and fear-stricken women stayed away.
The few patrons that turned up and night club operators who spoke to Standardcommunity criticised the police for targeting innocent women.
“Is it a crime for females to go to a pub, is it a crime?” said one distraught night club owner who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation by the police.
“I do not think the police actions are lawful. How can you assume that any woman who enters a club is there to solicit for customers? It is only those with a warped mind who think like that,” he added.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), who are representing some of the women, said the arrested women were placed on initial remand after a number of them failed to raise the US$100 fine or the US$200 bail.
They were charged under Section 81(2) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which criminalises solicitation in a public place.
Thirty-seven of the arrested women pleaded guilty but could not raise the fine and the remaining 16 pleaded not guilty and were granted US$200 bail.
ZLHR has accused the police of assaulting some of the women who had been placed on initial remand.
They were reportedly beaten with batons and were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.
“They were even denied sanitary wear while they were in custody,” read part of the statement from the ZLHR.
‘Police conduct grossly unfair’
Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development and MDC candidate for Harare West, Jessie Majome said arresting women in bars was “barbaric, draconian and grossly unfair”.
“This is so primitive and downright unconstitutional. Police acted outside the mandate of the Constitution by infringing on the right to freedom and movement for these women.”
Majome said it was ironic that a new Constitution dictated equal rights for men and women but on the ground it was a different story.
“As women, we have been robbed of that opportunity to freely exercise our rights. This is not the way to address social ills. There has got to be a better way which does not discriminate against women,” she said, adding that it was shameful that female police officers were part of the operation.
The operation is a sequel to another infamous “Chipo Chiroorwa,” which also targeted female patrons a few months back.