afrol News, 4 December - "About time too" was the response of ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan on hearing of the radical shift in policy from South African President Thabo Mbeki towards his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe.
For the first time, President Mbeki had spoken out against the disastrous policies of the increasingly tyrannical Mugabe, claiming that he was endangering the economic situation for the whole of the region.
His words echo those of a letter sent by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to Mugabe in July this year, in which Bill Jordan protested "at the deteriorating trade union and human rights situation, as well as the economic, social and political crisis, which continues to take a heavy toll on the majority of the people."
The Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is an affiliate member of the ICFTU. During recent 'stayaway' protests at government fuel price increases, ZCTU members were continually harassed and intimidated.
Supporting the ICFTU belief in the necessity of free elections in Zimbabwe in April next year, a spokesman the South African President, Bheki Khumalo, explained, "if the elections are not fair, the situation will be a lot worse than it is now."
The change in direction from Mbeki was triggered by frustration at Zimbabwean hindrance of the 'New Partnership for Africa's Development,' which is aiming to improve the economic situation in the region.
- Robert Mugabe has long failed to respect the most basic of trade union rights, as well as the suppression of the freedom of expression and freedom of information, said Bill Jordan. "His policies are greatly undermining democracy in the country and the prospects of the region as a whole. This firmer stance from his African neighbours is an important step forward," he continues.
Also the leading South African trade union COSATU had pressured President Mbeki to take a harder stance against Zimbabwe's Mugabe. Especially the government attacks on ZCTU earlier this year had provoked hard protests by COSATU, noting "with utter dismay this unbecoming conduct by the security forces."
The Zimbabwean government now only seems to have some support among his Namibian counterpart, lead by autocrat President Nujoma, in the Southern Africa region. South African pressure against Mugabe is seen as having strong weight in the region.