A few days ago the BBC reported on Zimbabwe’s impending elections, amidst concerns of renewed violence and human rights abuses in the country. However, what is often lost in the sensationalization of political violence, by this and other news articles is the revolutionary impact that non-violent actions can have in transforming a national political landscape. Performative democracy provides a perspective through which to understand the importance of a parallel nature of collective shifts in consciousness of a country’s citizenry as a catalyst for political change. Take the Zimbabwean women’s organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, also known by its acronym WOZA. WOZA operates within what is considered the realm of the forbidden, engaging in organized protest and bringing to light previously suppressed narratives. The group’s members inhabit this realm comfortably — or rather uncomfortably as many WOZA members face arrest on a daily basis for their peaceful actions to promote justice and fairness in the country.
The organization’s name means “come forward” in Ndebele. What better phrase to call to action the masses of Zimbabweans who have long been disillusioned by a violently repressive state? Below is an excerpt from an article by the Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group. The writer aptly captures the power of the “speech act” with which WOZA calls its members to action, and is reminiscent of the war cries of Zimbabweans’ ancestors preparing for battle.
It could be just another ordinary week day in Bulawayo … But to the experienced eye, there is something afoot! As long as I live I will never forget those familiar words that will, on the stroke of the hour, peel out across the noise of the traffic. “Hey Ta” which calls the thronging women to attention followed by “Woza moya”, which means “Come Holy Spirit”. The reply from the multitudes is “Woza”!! The word reaches a crescendo and goes up in a mighty roar. “Umkhonto wo thando” again a mighty roar from the rapidly swelling masses. This means a love spear and the retort is “Zhii” a mighty cry which sends shivers down the spines of all who know just how strong is the bond and might of these women who have dared to make such a difference to the lives of so many, who have been down trodden for so long. “Woza” choruses the response and yet another WOZA march begins in the City of Bulawayo, founding home of the many thousands of WOZA and MOZA men and women. Suddenly as if from thin air, a crowd amasses, banners are unfurled from beneath long skirts, posters and flyers emerge from shopping bags and the Women of Zimbabwe arise once more, as they have done countless times since 2002.
WOZA has conducted hundreds of projects since 2003 and has run a series of campaigns aimed at raising awareness about human rights abuses and violations within Zimbabwe, all utilizing the simple notion that the power of love can conquer the love of power.
Despite continued ill-treatment at the hand of the state, WOZA continues to struggle, non-violently for positive change in Zimbabwe. The organization’s commitment to that simple but effective notion of love conquering hate illustrates the power of “speech acts” and performative democracy, particularly in light of the much anticipated violence-fraught upcoming elections. Basic words and concepts serve to highlight what should also be basic — the right to fundamental rights, currently being infringed upon by the state.
Instead of living under a shroud of fear, WOZA members have chosen to publicly equip themselves and each other with the armor of rhetoric, the armor of love. Such a simple approach to the reprehensible, hate-filled actions taken by the state to repress the Zimbabwean people does more to highlight the need for change from this regime than anything else could.
* Jacquelin Kataneksza is an international affairs practitioner.