- International and Zimbabwean trade unions fear a repetition of last year's police violence and mass arrests when the National Day of Union Protest is marked tomorrow. Trade unions will protest against human rights violations.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is calling for protest against violations of human and trade union rights, increases in the cost of living, high levels of taxation and increased unemployment, now reaching 70 percent of the workforce.
Protest marches will be arranged in the capital, Harare, at 12:30 (local time) tomorrow. The demonstration will march towards the Ministry of Finance, where ZCTU is to present a list of demands to the Minister. The trade union is planning a peaceful demonstration.
Its counterpart, however, is already said to prepare violent action. The government and police troops are in the possession of "detailed plans" on how to crush the demonstration and ZCTU leaders have received threats from the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Detailing reports of threats made by police officers to quash the national protest and concerned at attempts to label the demonstration as illegitimate, the ZCTU is now asking President Robert Mugabe to ensure that the mass protest proceeds peacefully. In accordance with the 'Public Order and Security Act', the ZCTU had of course notified the police of the planned action.
Zimbabwe Police spokesman, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, is quoted as having said: "Any illegal demonstrations targeted at disturbing peace and stability in this country will be dealt with in terms of the law." He went on to term tomorrow's protest an illegitimate demonstration, despite ZCTU's notification of the protest.
ZCTU and international trade unions are now calling for calm ahead of the national protest tomorrow. Unions were "seeking to avoid a repetition of the events on 8 October 2003 when 165 trade unionists were arrested at a ZCTU demonstration, some of who were severely assaulted," according to a letter to President Mugabe from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
The Zimbabwean union also has received unprecedented support from its Southern African brother unions. The South African union federation COSATU - which consistently has taken a tough line on the Zimbabwean government - has now been followed by the trade unions of other countries in the region, calling President Mugabe to respect human and workers rights.
COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven today issued a statement, again emphasising the South African trade unionists' strong support for their Zimbabwean colleagues. COSATU called upon President Mugabe "not to interfere with the ZCTU's bonafide trade union activities and to let the workers of Zimbabwe express their feelings over the mess the economy is in."
We agree with the ZCTU that there is no valid reason for the Police not to let the protest go ahead and views this statement as a blatant misinterpretation and contempt of the law by the Police, Mr Craven added.
Southern Africa's trade unions are now turning into the core of protest against the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe and Swaziland. At a meeting in Harare last week, the 11 affiliates of the Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council called on their governments to put pressure on the two countries to respect human and workers rights.
Earlier this year, COSATU blockaded the South African border with Swaziland, but so far no action has been taken against Zimbabwe. Mr Craven said if the idea for similar action were called for by the Zimbabwean trade union, "I am sure this would be considered very sympathetically." He added any action against the Harare government would have to be in support of its counterpart in Zimbabwe.
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