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Zimbabwe Women's Group Reports Mistreatment by Police

A group of 12 Zimbabwe women who say they regularly have been mistreated in police custody have produced an interim report they say documents shocking statistics of violence against members of their group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise. Peta Thornycroft reports the women presented their report on their first trip to South Africa.

The women came by bus, on the long journey from Zimbabwe. Their first reaction, on arrival, was amazement at all the food available in the hotel where they were staying.

Most of the women say they have not seen bread or meat for nearly three months - since President Robert Mugabe froze prices at their mid-June level, in the face of inflation of more than 6,000 percent.

The report released by the group says 40 percent of WOZA women arrested during peaceful demonstrations were physically abused in detention.

The group says WOZA members in Harare suffered more in police custody than their counterparts in Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo.

The WOZA report says many women were held naked in prison. It says more than 20 percent of those arrested were hospitalized after being attacked by policemen, mostly from the Law and Order Department.

Police spokesmen in Harare were not available for comment on WOZA's report.

National Coordinator Jenni Williams, who says she has been detained 29 times, says the women are not aligned with any political party in Zimbabwe.

She describes Zimbabwe as a "heartbroken nation." She says the death rate in Zimbabwe from HIV / AIDS is exacerbated by food shortages, across the country.

Mary Ndlovu, veteran human rights activist, living in Bulawayo, is the widow of a Zimbabwe liberation war hero buried in Heroes Acre. She says her late husband was detained, without trial, by President Mugabe in the 1980's and died shortly after his release. She is a leader of the WOZA group.

"I joined WOZA because I felt there was a great need for a movement of people to come together, be brave together, to redefine goals, take a step away from the political power issue," she said.

Mary Ndlovu said they have women around the country who want to join WOZA, but they do not have the capacity or the logistics to get to them.

Magodonga Mahlangu says she has been detained more than 20 times in five years, the last time just two weeks ago. Recently her dog, Snowy, was beaten to death at her home.

"I joined WOZA because I come from a region where there are a lot of gross human rights violations, that is Matabeleland. For 27 years people have been suffering in silence. I have to be involved," said Mahlangu.

All her siblings have left Zimbabwe. Mahlangu says she has to remain and help create a better country so they can return home.

Williams says WOZA is not against the present negotiations between the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

But she says there never will be free and fair elections, while violence against citizens continues.