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Peace Prize for Sekai Holland

Sekai Holland has made a sustained and powerful contribution to peace and justice in Zimbabwe and the empowerment of women more broadly in Africa. She learned many of her skills in 1960s and 1970s Australia, from the Aboriginal peoples’ rights movement, the anti-war and anti-apartheid struggles, the women’s liberation movement and the militant trade union movement.

She returned to a free Zimbabwe in 1980 to teach media skills and journalism. Later she became the Chairperson of the Association of Women’s Clubs, helping to make it a dynamic development movement of rural women. In the late 1990s, after AWC shared in the whole community’s victimisation by the Mugabe government, Ms Holland took part in the Working People’s Convention which later launched the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999.

She projected the lessons from the historic civil disobedience campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and the women, youth and trade union sections of MDC developed a non-violent mass democratic resistance campaign from late 2005. It came to a head on March 11, 2007, when Ms Holland and 40 other senior leaders of MDC were seized at a SAVE ZIMBABWE prayer rally in Harare, and savagely beaten before being put into police cells and denied medical attention. Her injuries were the worst, it was intended that she die.

However, the reaction by all of Africa to Mugabe’s political thuggery triggered moves for elections under improved rules. Sekai Holland recovered in Sydney, and to the surprise of all, returned to Zimbabwe to contest the synchronized national elections on March 29, 2008. She won the Senate seat of Chizhane in a landslide, while MDC won the entire election, including the presidency, only to be cheated of it through enormous state terror.

These terrible 2008 elections were a watershed, and eventually led to the three-party Transitional Government of February 2009.

As part of the new government, an Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration was established, with three co-Ministers, one of whom is Senator Holland, the only woman.

With no budget and no staff, she mobilised domestic and international support for action in the community, in the hate-filled media and in the security forces. With the input of Mary Robinson and a women’s delegation to Zimbabwe in April 2010, and modest funds from the UN Development Program, Senator Holland and National Healing engaged traditional healers, traditional chiefs, academic professionals, school communities, and finally political leaders, in a national dialogue on how to heal the nation’s deep trauma.

The awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize is a huge affirmation by Sydney and Australia of the work of Senator Holland, the broader democratic movement in Zimbabwe and its women’s component.

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