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Zimbabwe | South Africa
Politics | Labour

Zimbabwe deports South African unionists

afrol News, 26 October - A mission from South Africa's leading trade union, COSATU, was today deported from Zimbabwe after staying the country without permission. Zimbabwean police used the opportunity to again raid the offices of the local ZCTU trade union. COSATU has repeatedly criticised South Africa for being too soft on Zimbabwe and now threatens a blockade of the country's border.

The COSATU delegation of 14 South African trade unionists was to be a "fact-finding mission", aiming to "get a full picture of the situation in the country." It planned to meet its local counterparts, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and several civil society organisations to map out the position of democracy and human rights in current Zimbabwe.

Already at Harare Airport, Zimbabwean officials tried to persuade the mission to agree not to meet six organisations, the Crisis Coalition, the National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. The COSATU mission however refused to accept this restriction on their visit, but nevertheless were allowed into the country.

Upon meeting ZCTU leaders at their headquarters in Harare, the trade unionists' building was invaded by a large police force, who occupied all the floors. Police then escorted the COSATU mission members back to their hotel, where they were put under temporary house arrest.

According to COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven, the police had announced that the government of Zimbabwe "had decided that the mission must be stopped and that its members must leave the country immediately." Thereupon, the South African trade unionists were deported. The formal reason given for their deportation was that they had only been granted a one day's stay at Harare airport.

At the Harare airport, "a large contingent of police" was following the COSATU delegation, ready for deportation. COSATU warned that "if any members of the mission are arrested, attacked or injured, the federation will organise a blockade of the South Africa-Zimbabwe border within 48 hours," Mr Craven said in a statement this afternoon.

The COSATU mission made sure to invite South African, Zimbabwean and international media to oversee their deportation. Mr Craven told the international press that this move had been "a snub to the South African government as well as to COSATU." The trade union, which is an ally to the ruling ANC, now expects President Mbeki to get tougher on his Zimbabwean counterpart, President Robert Mugabe.

COSATU repeatedly has cried out over the violation of trade union rights in Zimbabwe, but has also been strongly engaged in securing respect for democracy and other human rights in the neighbouring country. It has on several occasions appealed to the ANC government to step up its pressure against President Mugabe.

Also South Africa's main opposition party, the conservative Democratic Alliance (DA), has for a long time maintained that the ANC is too compliant towards the Zimbabwean regime. Today the DA's Chief Whip, Douglas Gibson, repeated his call to President Mbeki to end his alliance with the Zimbabwean dictator, in particular as it now was demonstrated that "President Mugabe has little regard for diplomatic relations with South Africa."

- President Mugabe knows that COSATU is a member of South Africa's Tripartite Alliance, yet he does not seem to care, Mr Gibson said, referring to the trade union's alliance with the ANC. "This should provoke President Mbeki to break his silence on the Mugabe regime's methods," he said, adding, " after all, what kind of democracy needs to resort to using police escorts to remove members of a legitimate South African organisation on a peaceful visit?"

There is as yet no official reaction from South African government officials. Spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa of the Foreign Ministry only said South Africa's Harare embassy was "monitoring the situation." ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama refused to comment the situation.

The COSATU fact-finding mission before its departure said it was to look into the political situation in Zimbabwe ahead of next year's parliamentary elections. Violet Seboni of the COSATU mission, before the trip, was quoted as saying: "If the delegation was deported, it would be the clearest indication yet that there was no democracy or rule of law in Zimbabwe."

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