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Leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in prison

category southern africa | repression / prisoners | news report author Friday November 11, 2005 18:59author by Oread Daily Report this post to the editors

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.


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 before 1pm.

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 Parliament.

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 said.

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 inciting violence.

"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 POSA."

"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 Africa)

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