Leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in prison
southern africa |
repression / prisoners |
Friday November 11, 2005 17:59 by Oread Daily
Marches were planned simultaneously for six main cities
"We are being held in a cell at Harare central (police station)," said ZACTU president Lovemore Matombo. "There are about 80 of us (here), including trade union leaders, ordinary citizens and women with children. We have just been gathered. We have not been told what charge we are facing," he said.
TRADE UNION LEADERSHIP OF ZIMBABWE BEHIND BARS TODAY
The top leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)
was still in prison on Wednesday after being arrested ahead of an
anti-poverty march in the capital, Harare.
ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo, secretary-general Wellington
Chibebe and some 200 members were arrested on Tuesday as they were
preparing to take part in what the police called an illegal
demonstration to highlight growing unemployment and the rocketing
cost of living.
"We are being held in a cell at Harare central (police station),"
said ZACTU president Lovemore Matombo. "There are about 80 of us
(here), including trade union leaders, ordinary citizens and women
with children. We have just been gathered. We have not been told what
charge we are facing," he said.
Several other ZCTU leaders were still at large yesterday and fears
have been expressed about the safety of four more executive members
taken into custody by the army. Mlamleli Sibanda, Last Tarabuku,
Tabita Khumalo and Leonard Ngwenzi were last seen being dragged from
a ZCTU minibus by soldiers at a roadblock in central Harare shortly
Lucia Matibenga, a senior ZCTU official, told IRIN she was unable
to comment on the labor federation's next move, as it was "operating
in an uncertain terrain".
The ZCTU said marches were planned simultaneously for six main
cities and towns across Zimbabwe and were meant "to remind the
government and employers that workers are hungry, angry and tired".
The labor union is demanding what it called a "living wage for
workers" and reduction of income tax from 45% to a maximum of 30%. It
also wants job protection in the face of threats of closure of many
companies because of the flooding of the Zimbabwe market by cheap
Chinese imports. Further demands included better availability and
free access to antiretroviral drugs for people with HIV/Aids. The
ZCTU said they also were protesting about the acute shortages of
petroleum-based fuels in the country, which has been hit by its most
severe crisis since independence in 1980.
Before the planned march, police mounted roadblocks on all routes
into Harare, stopping any vehicle with more than one passenger.
Paramilitaries with dogs, shields and batons were conspicuous on most
street corners and in the city's central Unity Square Gardens outside
The marchers sang songs and waved tiny placards before police
moved in. Journalists watched from a safe distance for fear of arrest
under Zimbabwe's draconian press laws.
"Those arrested continued to sing in the police van as it drove
off," a witness said.
Scores of protesters, including the labor leaders, were charged
for taking part in potentially riotous activities, while others --
including a town mayor -- faced charges of inciting violence, a
defense lawyer said today.
"They have been charged with the usual -- taking part in a
gathering conducing to riots or disorder," lawyer Alec Muchadehama
The mayor of Harare's dormitory town of Chitungwiza, Misheck
Shoko, and outspoken pro-democracy activist and lawyer Lovemore
Madhuku, along with seven university students, were charged with
"All the arrested are denying the charges," Muchadehama said,
adding they were still in police custody.
The situation in other cities was not immediately clear.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai
angrily reacted to the arrests, saying the "rogue regime in Harare"
has criminalized an action to express displeasure, anger and disgust
over the state of affairs.
"Let me warn the Mugabe regime that targeting civil society for
regular attacks means declaring a war against the people and the
people shall respond," Tsvangirai said in a statement.
"We cannot let the situation continue to worsen at a time when all
forms of relief have vanished; when our entire coping mechanisms have
been exhausted," he said.
Tsvangirai, who last month vowed his party would mount a national
crusade against the Senate elections, said preparations for "peaceful
democratic resistance" program have reached an advanced stage.
"The eye of the storm is now on the horizon," he warned. "The
people's power is strengthening and soon every village ... hamlet,
town and city shall register the national sentiment on a scale never
seen in this country."
The South African trade union federation COASTU expressed its
solidarity with the detained union leaders and called on President
Robert Mugabe to intervene and ensure the immediate release of those
arrested and for the scrapping of the draconian Public Order Security
Act, which it said would soon allow only cabinet ministers to gather.
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) sent a
letter to Mugabe which read,
"The ICFTU has learnt with utter shock and dismay the reaction of
your government to the ZCTU-led peaceful demonstration yesterday
aimed at highlighting, amongst other pressing issues, the ever
growing poverty and high unemployment. Workers worldwide are at pains
to reconcile the action by the police to proceed instead at arresting
over 200 demonstrating workers and their leaders for what is
considered a legitimate action by trade unions in line with
internationally accepted norms and practices."
"Mr. President, the ICFTU appeals to you for your prompt
intervention for the full respect of trade union rights, the
immediate release of all detained trade unionists and urgent
initiatives to involve the trade union movement in serious talks
aimed at reaching a consensus on the issues raised by the ZCTU."
"The ICFTU would also like to draw your kind attention to the
abuse that is being made of the provisions under the Public Order
Security Act (POSA), which seriously undermines freedom of speech and
assembly and hence the normal conduct of trade union activities. The
ICFTU therefore supports the ever growing call for the abolition of
"We trust, Mr. President, that you will act decisively to put a
stop to all abuses of trade union rights, open dialogue with the
trade union movement and ensure that all laws promote full respect of
human and trade union rights."
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe economic crisis and facing
serious food shortages due to recurring droughts and the government's
fast-track land redistribution program, which disrupted agricultural
production and slashed export earnings. The country has been
described as having one of the fastest-shrinking economies in the
world, with unemployment at 80 percent. Sources: IRIN, News24 (South
Africa), Star (South Africa), International Confederation of Free
Trade Unions, Independent (Zimbabwe), Mail and Guardian (South
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