Zimbabwean Women Receive Award For Human Rights Campaign

Tonight President Obama will present the co-founders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) with the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for their commitment to social justice.

Jenni Williams and Magondonga Mahlangu formed WOZA (the acronym is also a Ndebele word for "come forward") in 2002 after Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, claimed victory in an election that many believe was fraudulent. The group has held more than 100 peaceful demonstrations since 2002, many of which resulted in arrests and beatings for WOZA members and founders. Together, Williams and Mahlangu have been arrested more than 50 times. They have been subjected to beatings by Mugabe's policeman, held in overcrowded cells, and repeatedly strip searched, all for their participation in nonviolent protests. But WOZA continues undeterred, and only asks that its members come to demonstrations prepared for jail, leaving any children and medication at home.

More than 70,000 Zimbabweans consider themselves members of WOZA. Williams and Mahlangu estimate that more than 3,000 of their number have been arrested for demonstrating. However, the central tenant of WOZA is nonviolence, and the founders insist that no matter what happens, WOZA members must not strike back. They explain that their movement has been modeled after the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Says Williams: "We do it for social justice."

Their most recent struggle began a year ago, when they were attacked and jailed for leading a sit-in to demand food for starving Zimbabweans, the Record Eagle reports. They also asked that Mugabe share power with Morgan Tsvangirai, who ran against Mugabe in a controversial election last year. They ultimately hope that Zimbabwe will be able to write a homegrown constitution, which could lead to real elections not determined by government intimidation and corruption.

Tonight Mahlangu will be at the White House to receive an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, which honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to human rights in their country. Winners are selected by an independent panel of experts. According to Monika Kaira Varma, director of the Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the award is intended to show support for WOZA at a particularly difficult time: "When they are doing the most difficult things, we want to let them know that we stand in solidarity with WOZA. This is about the people."

Zimbabwe Women, Receiving Rights Award, Speak Out [Record-Eagle]
President Obama Presents Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award To Magodonga Mahlangu [Examiner]
Zimbabwean Rights Organization To Get Kennedy Award [Washington Times]