Activistâ€™s Zimbabwe Hunger Strike
Nomboniso Gasa, a leading South African political activist discusses her pledge of solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe.
"The more we talk about the crisis in Zimbabwe, the better," she said, summing up her determination, after fasting for 21 days to highlight the crisis. “We need to amplify our voices—we can no longer be silent about what is going on.”
Activist Nombinoso Gasa is a petite woman at five feet one inch at best; but don’t let her small frame fool you. She has a firm handshake, and a firm agenda. Gasa, the chair of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) in South Africa, was recently in New York for three days to attend the UN Commission of the status of women meeting.
Hailing from Johannesburg, Gasa has been an activist for civil rights from an early age, experiencing her first detention aged 14 after a student protest. Her current focus is Zimbabwe. She recently completed a 21-days hunger strike to highlight that nation’s economic collapse and the authoritarian rule of President Robert Mugabe and attacks on the political opposition there.
“It was hard to take,” she recalled in an interview with The Black Star News, “Physically and emotionally.”
She survived on water only. In a unique protest strategy, another activist will take up the hunger strike for 21 days before passing the relay off to other protestors. On day six of the fast, Gasa suffered a medical emergency. Doctors told her she was severely anemic and needed immediate intravenous iron, which took eight hours to administer.
"The more we talk about the crisis in Zimbabwe, the better," she said, summing up her determination. “We need to amplify our voices—we can no longer be silent about what is going on.”
The fast is a part of a larger, Save Zimbabwe Now, campaign, made up of a wide variety of groups and individuals attempting to draw attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Southern Africa nation.Since the campaign started in January, Gasa has noted the growth in supporters and said that 72,000 people have pledged to follow in her footsteps and take part in a fast.
"We want to emphasize people-to-people solidarity,” Gasa said. “Zimbabwe is a problem that affects the world."
According to UN statistics over 4,000 people have died as a result of the cholera epidemic since its outbreak last August, which many attribute to the collapse of the country's health and water infrastructure.Zimbabwe currently has the highest inflation rate in the world, at 100,000 percent and food and fuel shortages mean that up to 80% of the population survives on less than $1 a day.
"The tragedy about Zimbabwe is that it has never captured the imagination of people like Sudan has,” she said."You don't need genocide to act."
It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu's decision to fast for a day that prompted Gasa to take action as well as her own experiences in her home country. "South Africans have freedom as people around the world believed in our struggle; it's got to be solidarity with the Zimbabwean people," she said.
Gasa said she was outraged by the repression of Zimbabwean women,and the use of rape against women and young girls as a weapon;something she was confronted when she visited a refugee camp in Musina, a town close to the Limpopo river border between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Gasa said the camp she visited held about 4,000 refugees in dire circumstances, with an "absence of anything you would associate with human dignity."It was at this camp that she was told about the use of sexual violence, how some women are raped while crossing the border,others are openly raped in camp.
"I wanted to use to the 21 days to highlight the use of women's bodies as a battlefield," she said. "As an African woman I wanted to choose to use my body as a battlefield in an active and conscious way in solidarity with my Zimbabwean brothers and sisters."
Gasa interacted with a variety of refugees, from different places, with different skills; but she said they shared a common sense of hopelessness."I could handle the fast," said Gasa. "What I could not handle was the situation I saw in Musina."
"Tell them we are here, that we aren't dead yet, we are here,’” was the plea she heard in the camp, Gasa recalled in the interview.“Here is an opportunity to be daring; we'd like to see the U.S government play a different role from the Bush government,” she added.
Gasa stressed the importance of making sure the people of Zimbabwe do not feel isolated, and that people who can, should make a stand."Write to your congress, write to your leaders," she said.
“What the people of Zimbabwe need most is to be free."
Find out more about the Save Zimbabwe Now Campaign: